House debates

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Matters of Public Importance


3:13 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for McMahon proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The Government's failure to improve the fairness of the retirement income system for women.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

3:14 pm

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

It needs to be said: our economy does not treat women equally or fairly. It needs to be said: there is too much gender inequality in Australia, and we are making far too little progress in dealing with it. It needs to be said: our superannuation and retirement income system does not treat women equally or fairly. We know that there's a gender pay gap in Australia. We know that women earn around 19 per cent less than men, across our economy. But we also know that, over a woman's working life, that compounds year on year and is worsened by the fact that women take time out of the workforce to raise their children. It means that the income gap in retirement is even worse, and that women retire, on average, with 40 per cent less than men. If we look at the median account balances of men and women, the story is even worse. The median account balance for a man at retirement is $110,000. The median account balance for a woman at retirement is $36,000. We know that only two in 10 women in Australia in 2018 retire with a level of income high enough to be regarded as retiring in comfort. We know that the biggest single cause of a rise in homelessness between 2011 and 2016 was a 31 per cent rise in homelessness for older women.

This is not okay. In Australia in 2018, a country that prides itself on being the land of the fair go, we should be doing better. We can be doing better. Today, with the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the member for Barton, the member for Hotham and I together, Labor announced a concrete plan. It won't fix all the problems, it won't solve all the issues, but it is a serious, concrete plan when it comes to women's retirement income. Our plan to pay the superannuation guarantee during paid parental leave will help 250,000 people a year. It will mean a payment of about $1,200. But of course it unleashes the miracle of compound interest. That $1,200 will be paid early in a woman's working life, almost by definition. It will compound year on year. Taking the example of a woman who has three children, at the ages of 27, 29 and 31—quite a common pattern—that will compound to an increase in that woman's superannuation balance at retirement of $18,590.

There's a second element to the plan we announced today. Many Australians perhaps don't realise that when we talk about universal superannuation, it's not actually universal. If you earn less than $450 a month from any one employer, you don't get paid your superannuation; it's not compulsory to be paid superannuation. This was done at a different time, when payrolls were a lot less automated than they are today. It's been that way for a long time. But the increase in casualisation has actually made it worse. Many people, not just women but mainly women, work more than one job, and they have to work more than one job because those jobs pay less than $450 a month. Those people don't get superannuation. There's no requirement to pay superannuation to those people. It's time to end that. It's time to say that superannuation should be truly universal. It's time to say that Australia's lowest-income earners deserve superannuation too.

Today we announced a plan to do just that. We'll phase it out, to give business time to adjust, but we'll get rid of it. The $450-a-month threshold should be zero and will be zero under a Shorten Labor government. Sixty thousand people will benefit from this in the first year, and, by the time we've entirely abolished the threshold, 400,000 people will benefit. If you bring these two elements together, the superannuation guarantee and the $450 threshold, and you take a woman who's had three children and spent some time doing a job that pays less than $450 a month, she'll be around $30,000 better off when it comes to her retirement income.

We've announced other things today as well. We've announced that, if an employer wants to pay more into a female's superannuation account because they're concerned about the gender imbalance in their workplace, we'll get rid of the red tape. At the moment, if an employer wants to do that, they have to go to the Human Rights Commission and seek permission. The government say they want to get rid of red tape. Let's get rid of that red tape. Let's let an employer do that.

Today we've recommitted to a Labor government also releasing—I as Treasurer in a Labor government, when bringing down the budget at the despatch box, will also release—a women's budget statement, because, when I bring down a budget, I will be comfortable with people being able to look at the budget and say, 'What's the impact of this budget on Australia's women?' I want to be held to account for that. When we make policy decisions, I want to be held to account, as Treasurer, for the impact of those decisions on Australia's women.

Of course, we would welcome it if the government adopted these plans. We would welcome it if Australians didn't have to wait for a Labor government for these plans to be implemented. I have to say, and I say in all seriousness: we've seen a lack of progress from this government on matters of gender inequality in our economy. There are some areas where they've just done nothing, and areas where they've taken very little action. Superannuation is one. They abolished the low-income superannuation contribution, before bringing it back. As I said: in fairness to the government, you can't bring something back until you've abolished it—that was probably their logic!

There has been a lack of action on domestic violence leave. The government will say they've introduced domestic violence leave—five days—

Opposition members: Unpaid!

Five days, unpaid. Well, we think Australian victims of domestic violence—not all women, but mainly women—deserve 10 days paid domestic violence leave. We can afford that in 2018 in Australia.

The things that we've announced today don't fix all the problems. There is more to do, and we'll have more to say. Women in Australia earn, on average, around 77c in the dollar compared to men. There's more to do. Women are under-represented in the most senior ranks of our economy—under-represented on boards, under-represented when it comes to senior corporate positions, under-represented in government, under-represented in parliament, and particularly under-represented on one side of parliament. We're one of the very few OECD countries that has not had a female in positions equivalent to Secretary of the Treasury, Governor of the Reserve Bank, Chair of APRA, Chair of ASIC and Chair of the ACCC—all of those positions. Not once in our history has a female filled those roles. We're pretty unique around the world for that. We can do a whole better.

Ms O'Dwyer interjecting

If there are more women in the senior ranks of decision-making in the economy, women will be at the centre of decision-making more often. More often, the decision-making bodies, whether they be the cabinet room or the Reserve Bank board, will say: 'What are the impacts of our decision on women? What are the impacts of what we do on Australia's women?'

Women deserve more than cliches. And this government has not only taken very little action; in many instances, they've taken adverse action. This government has sat by as penalty rates have been cut. We on this side of the House have pointed out that Australians who work on weekends and Sundays deserve to be paid that bit extra. But the majority of those people are women. The majority of people who work on Sundays are women in low-paid jobs; women, predominantly, do those jobs, and younger women do those jobs, to make ends meet. This government has sat by while their wages have been cut—the first non-negotiated, non-traded-off wage cut we've had in Australia since the Great Depression. And the government says: 'That's okay.' 'There's nothing we can do,' they say. Well, there's something they can do—they can legislate, as an incoming Shorten Labor government will do, to correct the error, so that women and all people who work on Sundays get paid what they deserve.

Women deserve more than cliches. They don't need to be told that women hold up half the sky. They don't need to be told that women are an important part of our economy and our society and we couldn't do without women. Women actually deserve action. It's Australia, in 2018. That's why: because it's 2018, and Australia can do better when it comes to women in our economy.

A lack of females at senior levels makes a difference; a lack of females in the senior levels of government makes a difference. I'm very proud of the fact that I've worked with great colleagues—the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the member for Hotham, the member for Barton and others—in getting this policy done. We're men and women working together, men and women who know that women deserve better—men and women who actually think it should be a priority for a Prime Minister and a Treasurer to say: '27 years of uninterrupted economic growth is good, but women deserve a slice of the action.' (Time expired)

3:24 pm

Photo of Kelly O'DwyerKelly O'Dwyer (Higgins, Liberal Party, Minister for Jobs) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to be able to contribute to this debate. I welcome it because it's almost like a dorothy dixer for our side, because it allows us the opportunity to talk about our proud record in working hard in this place each day to help the financial security and financial retirement of millions of Australian women.

We understand that the best way to achieve financial security and to boost your retirement savings is to be able to get a job. I'm pleased to say that under our government there are more Australians in work than ever before. And there are more Australian women in work than ever before, and they are working full-time. There are more Australian women working full-time than ever before—unlike the statements that those opposite have made.

By contrast, when Labor left office, women's full-time employment was going backwards. In fact, on other measurements, like the gender pay gap, under the previous Labor government the gender pay gap increased. It increased from 15.5 per cent to 17.2 per cent. But under our government it's, in fact, come down. It's come down to a record low of 14.5 per cent. But, of course, we're not prepared to accept that pay gap. We will continue to work hard to make sure that it is closed even further.

We hear that Labor claim that they are interested in improving women's superannuation. I'm pleased to hear that, and I'm pleased to hear that they are interested in measures that will assist with this. Let me just remind them of the coalition's record. In the 2016-17 budget, the government announced a number of changes that directly improved the flexibility, sustainability and equity of our superannuation system. Most of these changes commenced on 1 July, and they include the low income superannuation tax offset. This supports low-income earners and makes sure they are not paying more in tax on their superannuation than they would otherwise be paying at their marginal tax rate. The LISTO benefits around 1.9 million women by over $500 million.

We've levelled the playing field by expanding access to personal deductible superannuation contributions. We've removed the restriction on individuals earning more than 10 per cent of their income through salary and wages. This benefits around 800,000 Australians and is particularly useful for those men and women working in roles without access to formal salary-sacrificing arrangements. From 1 July this year, we're allowing the rollover for five years of unused concessional contribution cap amounts, which means that individuals for the first time will have the capacity to catch up on their superannuation contributions if they are in a financial position to do so. It benefits around 230,000 people—in particular, those people with interrupted work patterns or irregular incomes. We are increasing the number of people who can claim a tax offset of up to $540 for spouse contributions to superannuation by increasing the income test threshold for recipient spouses to $40,000. Previously, the limit was $13,800.

These measures complement the government's existing superannuation co-contribution scheme, which matches after-tax contributions of low-income earners at a rate of 50 per cent up to $500. In 2015-16, almost 320,000 low- and middle-income women were paid $100 million of co-contributions as a result of this.

We are not resting on our laurels though. We know that there is more to do in protecting people's superannuation. That is why the government has introduced a Protecting Your Superannuation Package, which caps fees on low-balance accounts—those accounts with less than $6,000 in them. This will help around seven million Australians save around $570 million in fees in just the first year. Why is it necessary? It is necessary because the Leader of the Opposition, when he occupied the treasury bench, scrapped the protections for low-balance accounts. He let it be a fee free-for-all. It is not acceptable and not right, which is why it will change under us.

We are banning exit fees on all accounts. These exit fees are charged by about a third of the industry and cost people around $52 million in the most recent year. We are going to make insurance opt in rather than opt out for those categories of people who are most at risk of having their superannuation eroded. Those are young people aged under 25, low-balance holders and those with inactive accounts. This will provide around five million Australians with the opportunity to save up to—wait for it—$3 billion in insurance premiums in just one year, whilst still giving them the opportunity to have insurance cover should they wish to do so. For the first time ever, as a result of our bill, we are going to provide the Australian Taxation Office with the power to proactively reunite people with inactive funds that they have scattered about. We know from the Productivity Commission that this multiplicity of accounts is costing people billions of dollars in retirement income. It will mean around $6 billion will be reunited with around three million Australians.

This is legislation that those opposite should support, but they're not supporting it. I'll tell you why they should support it. As Minister for Revenue and Financial Services I received letters from so many people right across the country who talked about why it was necessary. Young people wrote to me to say:

In year 10 I learned that "money is exchanged for goods and services". In this case I had paid for a service—

because they had a part-time job and were putting money into their superannuation—

that quickly took what I had and shut me down. I didn't receive any of these elusive 'goods' or 'services'.

We also had letters from older Australians who said:

I've just spoken to your office regarding superannuation. My problem, and that of many others I know, is that we only work part time now and then—

this is from an elderly woman—

My position is I am 76 years old and I work at a school supervising exams on a casual basis, I also supervise the HSC at the end of each year. I have been forced to have another super fund for this purpose, but each year it gets eaten up with fees and I have to open another.

She goes on to say:

I now have a letter to say that it has been closed (again eaten up with fees). This is happening to so many people I know, we are all cross, as it is the employers money and our money going to a superannuation fund for free. I now have to open another fund so that I can work for the HSC this year, and I won't see any of the money going into that fund. I am a self-funded retiree, not costing the Gov a cent as such, pay my own way everywhere and all I want to do is keep my mind busy, enjoy working supervising exams so I'm not a burden on society.

These people are crying out for these changes that would make a difference, but those opposite refuse to support them. They like to talk about how people will benefit from their changes, but let's test that. As part of their announcement today they said they had removed the $450 threshold and said that would increase retirement savings by around $30,000 for those impacted. Let me tell you: our bill will benefit Australians by billions of dollars. Let's take the example of Emily, who's 32 years old, earning $40,000 a year and, like many Australians, has more than one superannuation account. She would be, after our bill passes, more than $36,000 better off by retirement. Julie, who started her first job at 25 with an annual income of $24,000, changed jobs, defaulted into another superannuation account, would be better off to the tune of $57,000 if our bill passes. Those opposite, who claim—

Mr Bowen interjecting

It has been brought in. It's in the Senate. You can vote on it. Use the opportunity in the chamber today to tell us that you're happy to support it and we will bring it on for a vote. (Time expired)

3:34 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Justice) Share this | | Hansard source

It really is a great day today for Australian women. I was so proud to be there this morning when I stood behind the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Treasurer and the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party while they made a really significant announcement that is going to improve the economic security of women. I'm very proud to be in a political party that places this issue right at the front and centre of the political debate. We do that as a Labor Party not because our leaders support it, although they very much do, but because we're part of a movement of people who are trying to ensure that more Australian women retire into comfort. That movement includes incredible women who are part of the trade union movement, and it includes these amazing women who sit behind right me now in the chamber. I have behind me the member for Newcastle, who is the chair of our women's caucus. It was fantastic to be there this morning with the shadow Treasurer to talk to that caucus about the big reforms that Labor is planning to make for Australian women.

Labor is incredibly proud of our superannuation system. It is a system that we designed, that we put into practice and that has helped millions of Australians retire into more comfort. But the truth is it's a system that's not working perfectly today for Australian women. We know that Australian women retire on average with 40 per cent lower superannuation accounts than Australian men. In 2015-16, the average retirement balance for a man was $270,710. For a woman it was just over $157,000, a difference of $113,600. That's a very significant difference in the standard of living that you're going be able to achieve in retirement. We also know that women who are at that lower end when they retire are growing in number. The shadow Treasurer spoke earlier about the fact that just two in 10 women in today's Australia are retiring with the level of comfort in retirement that we would expect for them. We know that Australian women who are over the age of 55 are the fastest growing group of Australian people living with homelessness.

This is not something that the group of people who sit behind me in the chamber can stand by and watch happening without doing anything to fix. That's why today Labor made this incredibly important announcement about some big changes that we will make to retirement incomes for women if elected in the future. The most important part of the change that we're announcing today, the most significant amount, is that for the first time Australian women will receive superannuation payments when they're taking paid parental leave. That's an 18-week payment that, again, Labor members of parliament brought into Australian law in this parliament. For the first time we're going to pay superannuation on those accounts.

Deputy Speaker, you're also probably aware that there's a $450-a-month threshold that has to be met before an employee can be due superannuation. We're going to scrap it. The reason we're doing that is that we acknowledge that, especially in the workforce of today, there are so many people who are working casually and part time who are not reaching that $450 threshold. There are other important changes that Labor has proposed today, but the two that I've talked about are the ones that are going to have the most impact.

What is so exciting about these changes is that we talk in the parliament about the different regulations and that sort of thing, but what really matters is what happens at the end of a woman's working life and how much money, essentially, she ends up with in retirement. One of the examples that we've talked about today is that a woman under the age of 30 who has two children, with the combination of the changes that Labor's announced today, would be $24,000 better off. This is a powerful difference. A woman who has three children around that same age bracket might be $30,000 better off in her retirement just because of the changes that Labor is announcing today.

Again, can I just say how incredibly proud I am to be in a political party that is willing to accept the centrality of this issue to the Australian people. I have to say I don't think it's an accident that you see two very different political parties that oppose one another in this chamber: one party in which almost half of our members of parliament are female, and one which is having a very significant and deep-seated problem in getting and keeping talented women in this parliament. I take no delight in that problem, because the truth is that, above being a member of parliament and a member of the Labor Party, I'm an Australian woman, and I need governments to make good public policy, and we don't see that on that side of the chamber, because they just can't get the representation they need. Today Labor showed once again that we are there for Australian women when they need us.

3:39 pm

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Corangamite, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

It's my great pleasure as a strong Liberal woman to rise and speak in this MPI debate on retirement income, following a wonderful Minister for Women and soon to be followed by the member by Boothby, another wonderful Liberal woman in this parliament. There's one way to keep Liberal women in the parliament, and that's to vote Liberal at the next federal election. So I call on all my constituents in Corangamite to vote Liberal at the next federal election, for a strong Liberal woman.

It is quite ironic that the member for Hotham, for whom I have a lot of respect personally, didn't mention the member for Lindsay in her contribution. And where is the member for Canberra? Have we heard from the member for Canberra about what she has endured over her terrible preselection loss? She has been absolutely savaged, kicked out. It is absolutely appalling what we are seeing—and such great hypocrisy. But the most hypocritical part of this whole debate is the $10.7 billion tax slug—which hurts women more than men—because of Labor's retiree tax. That is $10.7 billion, hitting some pensioners and self-funded retirees. Do you know how much this is impacting Australians around this nation? Almost 900,000 Australians will be worse off as a result of this terrible, terrible policy. Women are impacted around 30 per cent more than men. If Labor cared about women in retirement they would reverse this dreadful policy, which is the most inequitable policy for women, hitting those who earn the least and who rely on this for their futures—both women and men who rely on these franking credits for their savings. This has been absolutely ripped away by the Labor Party, and they know it—$10.7 billion. It is savage, and it is a disgrace.

We as a government are incredibly proud of our achievements for women. Look what we are doing: looming at 17 per cent under Labor, the gender pay gap now has been reduced to 14.5 per cent. We've got more work to go, but this is a record low. Economic security for women is clearly a critical priority for us, and more than one million jobs have been created since the government's election in 2013, the majority of which have been taken up by women. Women are now employed at record levels. The other very significant change we have introduced is our childcare changes, which are encouraging greater workforce participation, for both women and men who are parents, by improving access to child care by investing an additional $2.5 billion in childcare assistance. Of course, we have a really proud record of introducing tangible measures to help women save for their retirement, including the low-income superannuation tax offset, which benefits around 1.9 million women by over $500 million, levelling the playing field by scrapping restrictions on who can make personal deductible contributions, and the catch-up concessional contributions, which will benefit 230,000 Australians, including women who have interrupted work patterns or irregular income, and including cohorts such as farmers and carers. Shame on Labor for opposing those measures.

The government has very proudly introduced a comprehensive Protecting Your Super package, which will stop the rorts and rip-offs in the superannuation sector, providing significant benefits for the financial security of millions of Australian women. And I say, shame on Labor for opposing this package.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That's all you've got to say—'shame'.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Newcastle is warned.

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Corangamite, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, shame—and it is shameful. It is shameful that the package has been opposed by Labor, leaving many thousands of women worse off. We've heard from the Minister for Women how important this is, and I would urge those opposite to pass this package in this Senate.

3:44 pm

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a great day, it's a momentous day, to be a member of this parliament. It's a great day to be a Labor woman. It's a great day to be one of the 29 women who sit on this side of the chamber, representing electorates around this country. It's a great day because Labor created superannuation, and today Labor has committed to making superannuation fairer for Australian women. It is a great day.

I'm pleased to follow the member for Corangamite, because the member for Corangamite made some extraordinary statements that need to be corrected for the record. For the record, the member for Lindsay was in this chamber and delivered a 90-second statement. The proud secretary of Labor's caucus for women was in here talking about this very issue on this very day. Also, I think the member for Corangamite cast an aspersion on the member for Canberra, which cannot be left unchallenged. The member for Canberra has made a personal decision to leave politics. There was no preselection battle for the member for Canberra, Member for Corangamite.

Ms Henderson interjecting

There was no preselection battle for the member for Canberra. It is typical of those opposite to get their facts confused in this place. They have their facts confused not only in this space but in many other parts of the debate today.

Ms Henderson interjecting

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Corangamite is warned!

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have sat with many women in my electorate office, women over 50, who were on the verge of homelessness. I am proud to be a member of the Labor Party that commits today to making that a thing of the past. Those opposite scoff and say, 'What difference will $30,000 make to your retirement income?' As a woman who had three children before she turned 30, I would have appreciated the compound interest on that $30,000 in my retirement income, if this superannuation package had been there then. Like many teachers who took time out of work to have their families, I would have appreciated this policy being in place back then. I'm proud to be part of a party that is making sure that it won't happen to other women in the future.

Sitting beside me is the member for Newcastle. She led Labor's Setting the Agenda consultation program across this country. The No. 1 issue that women—not just Labor women but women from business and all walks of life—raised with us around the country was women's superannuation. I am absolutely thrilled today to speak on this MPI to highlight what the government won't do but what Labor will do, and that is make a start down the road to making superannuation fairer for Australian women.

I want to give a shout-out to the labour movement. On my desk is a photograph of me with Ingrid Stitt and other members of the ASU, which was taken when they came to talk to me about this very issue. It sits on my desk to remind me every day that my job in this place is to ensure that women are given a fair go from the government of the day. I just want to mention this very important thing. When I joined the caucus, I was shocked on budget night in 2014 to learn that the then Prime Minister, the member for Warringah, had made himself the Minister for Women and had cut—cut!—the overview of the budget's impact on women, and I am shocked that three Prime Ministers later we still don't have a commitment to bringing that back in. Documents and actions like that highlight the problems in our economy where women are suffering, where this government is failing to look at things through that particular lens. It's not a surprise that they're failing to look at it through that particular lens. We've seen it all this week: 29 women on this side of the chamber; 29 women proudly fighting for things in our policies and helping to take the tough decisions so that we can do things like we've done today. It's not a surprise that those opposite don't understand women's issues or women's place in the economy. It's clear on their benches that they don't understand the importance— (Time expired)

3:49 pm

Photo of Nicolle FlintNicolle Flint (Boothby, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to speak on this matter today because our government has a very strong record of introducing real measures to help women to ensure that they are financially secure not just in retirement but right throughout their lives. This is an issue that young women are increasingly aware of—the need to be financially secure throughout their lives. More and more young women are thinking about what they need to do to ensure their financial security from the start of their working life right through to when they retire. Young women around Australia are taking responsibility for their financial security and for their financial literacy, and they're informing themselves about how they can best look after themselves and prepare for their future. In fact, I was recently contacted by some thoughtful young women, Georgina Southcott and Miranda Stahl, who are year 9 students studying the issue of equality in the workplace, particularly equality of income. For many industries where there is an award in place or where there is legislated pay, like we're paid here in parliament as members of parliament, women and men are already paid equally. Where a job is not subject to set wages, one of the key things, we know, is to help women gain the skills they need to negotiate and bargain when it comes to their incomes so that they can get the best deal for themselves.

Our government is taking a range of steps to improve economic security for women, whether these women are school leavers, jobseekers, new mums returning to the workforce or senior Australians nearing retirement age. Unlike those opposite, we on this side of the House know that no-one gets superannuation if they're unemployed. You need to have a job to earn money to put into your super and to top up your super. So we are supporting women—and, in fact, all Australians—to get a job. So I say to Georgina and Miranda: one of the most important things that we are doing for women in Australia is making sure that they can get a job. Almost one million jobs have been added to the Australian economy since September 2013, when the Liberal-Nationals coalition came to government, and, significantly, 58 per cent of these jobs went to women. In the year 2015-16 alone, around 90,000 more women than men joined the labour force. By contrast, when those opposite left office, when the Labor Party were kicked out of government, women's full-time employment was going backwards.

What we're doing on this side is helping women access the job market by providing affordable and accessible child care, because we know this is one of the biggest barriers for a lot of women returning to work. We've started the national rollout of the ParentsNext program, which helps eligible parents prepare for employment, with approximately 96 per cent of participants expected to be women, including around 10,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. In the May budget we committed $64.3 million to establish a Jobs and Market Fund to grow the National Disability Insurance Scheme workforce and service providers, because we know that women make up almost 80 per cent of employees in the health, social assistance and disability-care industries. We've extended the pension work bonus to allow pensioners to earn more income without reducing their age pension, and mature aged women will benefit from expanded access to the Restart wage subsidy, offering an incentive of up to $10,000 to encourage businesses to hire and retain mature aged employees. Women aged 45 to 70 will benefit from the Skills Checkpoint for Older Workers Program.

When it comes time for women to retire, our government has provided a superannuation system with flexibility, sustainability and equity. We introduced the low-income superannuation tax offset to support the accumulation of super for low-income earners. We have levelled the playing field by scrapping restrictions on who can make personal deductable contributions, benefitting 800,000 Australians, including those women working in roles without access to formal salary-sacrificing arrangements. In fact, in 2015-16, almost 320,000 low- and middle-income-earning women were paid $100 million in co-contributions. And we, of course, have the Protecting Your Super Package, which will help many, many women. Also, we are assisting 1.6 million women who are still contributing to low-balance accounts by helping to protect their super as well. We know the biggest risk to some of our senior Australian women is actually those opposite and their retiree tax, which is going to do so much damage to people who've worked hard and saved for their retirement.

3:54 pm

Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to speak on today's MPI, as indeed it is a matter of public importance and, I contend, a matter of historic importance. This December marks the 46th year since the arbitration commission ruled that women should be paid the same rates as males for the same jobs. A couple of years later, the basic wage was applied to women as well as men. The idea that male wages, as was contended by the Higgins decision of 1908, should be designed to be family wages and support a wife and children was gone. It was a historic decision, and it was the Whitlam government in that year that sent Mary Gaudron to fight for equal pay for equal work. However, here we are 46 years along, and there is still a full-time gender pay gap of approximately 14.6 per cent, or $244.80 less than men per week on average. We're told it's going to take 150 years to close that gap. I have been joined by the terrific ADF Squadron Leader Dominique Hoffman. When I shared that news with Dominique, she said, 'I hope not.' I thought, 'Indeed.' She is a woman serving her country, wearing the uniform and making an observation.

Aside from the real-time earnings, this often has far severer ramifications when women stop earning. On average, women currently retire with superannuation balances that are over 40 per cent lower than men's. The poorest people in our country today—and the numbers are on the rise—are women over 50, many of them trying to survive on Newstart, $590 or thereabouts a fortnight. It is absolutely crippling for them.

So this is why today's announcement is another milestone and another step towards a fairer system for Australian women. Interestingly, all of the landmark positive decisions about superannuation have been taken by Labor. In 1983, after the Whitlam years paved the way, the Hawke-Keating government began the Accord process, which really paved the way for the implementation of the superannuation guarantee that was set in place in 1992, where wage rises were given away by workers in lieu of superannuation co-contributions. Of course, in 1992 we saw that increase to nine per cent. An interesting point is that the other seminal moment in superannuation came in 1977, under the Fraser government, when cabinet took the decision—decision 3435 on 20 July 1977—not to establish a contributory national superannuation scheme.

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is indeed a shame that that conservative government didn't have the mettle to take that decision. So, in the fashion of Hawke and Keating, a Shorten-Bowen Labor government, should we be given the honour of being elected, will take the higher road. We will set another milestone in this country for superannuation. We will really create a platform that paves the way for future decisions for women, paying the superannuation guarantee on paid parental leave and, I might add, dad and partner payments, because we want everyone to do well. But we know that women have a way to go and need to catch up.

We're also going to phase out the $450-per-month minimum income threshold for eligibility for the superannuation guarantee. That is so important to all of those young people, particularly women, who are working two, three or sometimes even four jobs where the monthly income may not rack up to $450. But I tell you what: in the next 50 years they are going to need that superannuation and, more to the point, our tax base and our income generation are going to need that as well.

When I was talking about this this morning with an employee here in Parliament House, he said to me, 'Don't tell me that you guys are starting to plan more than three years ahead,' and I said, 'Well, we are, because now, if we start to include more people in the truly universal superannuation system, we will have more money put aside in years to come, and this will add an infinite amount of discretionary spending in the economy, but also it will take the pressure off the tax base in the future.' It's an important decision. (Time expired)

3:59 pm

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to say in the House today and to all the people in my electorate that I really encourage people to put away money for their superannuation. As your federal MP, I'm a big believer in superannuation. My father gave me some great advice as a 19-year-old. He said, 'Luke, put away $80 a month,' when I was 18. At the time, I thought: '$80 a month! That's a lot of money!' But, in hindsight, it helped me build a superannuation balance. So I say to all women and all men in my electorate that I would encourage you to put away money into super because you can put your cash away and save a lot of tax. At the moment, most people are on a 32½ per cent tax rate. Under super, they can put in contributions at 15 per cent and save a lot of money, so it's well worth doing.

I want to congratulate the coalition's first speaker today, the Minister for Jobs, Industrial Relations and Women, the Hon. Kelly O'Dwyer, for reducing the gender pay gap since the Labor years. In the Labor years, just five short years ago, the gender pay gap was 17.2 per cent. That's a fact. Now it's down to 14.5 per cent. That's also a fact. If we were to keep that rate up for the next few years, the gender pay gap would be solved very quickly. So congratulations to the minister for women. Congratulations to the government. We've got a lot more work to do, but we'll keep going.

Labor, on the other hand—we hear a lot from members opposite. They don't talk about the $200 billion in new taxes that they want to hit the ADF and everyone else who works in this country with—another $200 billion in new taxes because they can't balance the budget or organise spending properly. The fact is that Labor's retirement tax will hurt women the most. For women who might be on a pension, who are being left shares and who are getting a refund, they're going to take that refund from them—fact.

They also talk about the Fair Work Commission and penalty rates. They don't talk about the fact that penalty rates are being reduced from double time and a half to double time and a quarter in many rates and that the reason the Fair Work Commission mentioned that was that they thought it would give more women increased hours.

Ms Lamb interjecting

Don't shake your head at me, Member for Longman. You're the one who supports Coles under EBAs that have cut the guts out of penalty rates. You get up there with your Easter card. I'm onto you.

The fact is that those opposite—I like the member for Longman; it's all right—voted against the First Home Super Saver Scheme as well. The First Home Super Saver Scheme is a good scheme. It helps women get into their first home, and it helps them keep more of their own cash, taxed at 15 per cent rather than 32½ per cent.

Those opposite also voted against the massive income tax cuts that will help members of the ADF, people who work at Coles, teachers and a lot of people in the gallery. Everyone earning up to $200,000 will pay no more than 32½ per cent. Labor have stated that they'll unwind that and they'll reinsert a 37 per cent tax rate, with everything over $180,000 at 45 per cent. Higher taxes—that's what you'll get if you vote for Labor.

The fact is that we're helping women into work. We heard the minister for women say there have been a million jobs created in the last five years. Fifty-eight per cent of those new jobs have gone to women.

We've also brought in the Protecting Your Superannuation Package. The Protecting Your Superannuation Package will basically stop the rorts and the rip-offs in the superannuation sector, providing significant benefits to the financial security of millions of Australian women. It helps their super not to be eroded. We've also brought in the superannuation policy top-up for women. At the moment, women can put in $25,000 a year maximum, but, if you have a child and you're out of work for three years and you can afford to perhaps put in $55,000 the next year when you're back in the workforce, we're enabling women to do that.

Finally, I want to say, on the Labor policy, that I think, as a member of the government, that super on paid parental leave is actually not a bad idea. I actually support that idea, and I'm happy to put that on the record. I would encourage the government, if we can afford it, to implement that. I don't, however, think that the $450 a month is relevant at all. It equates to a $16,200 saving over 30 years and with compound interest might reach $30,000. We do have a strong pension scheme that will help women.

4:04 pm

Photo of Susan LambSusan Lamb (Longman, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't think the member for Petrie is a bad bloke. I think he supports bad policy, but I don't think he's a bad bloke. We're both parents of young men and we both know that on average our sons will retire with more money than their friends who are women. I'm a proud member of a party that comprises many different people from many different backgrounds who stand together and represent all Australians. Just this morning at a special meeting of Labor women's caucus I looked around the room and saw a number of very strong, meritorious women who all share a goal—that is, to make our country a better, fairer place for all Australians.

This is not a goal that's shared by the LNP—or if it is, and I'm wrong, I think they're doing a pretty atrocious job of showing it. There's a lot to do before women are treated equally and have the same opportunities available to them as men do. This government has made far too little progress in closing that gap. Over these past few weeks we've seen just how vehemently government members have fought against making things a little fairer for the women of their party. How could we ever expect them to do a complete about-face and start making things fairer for the women of this country?

There is still a pay gap in this country. Multiple factors have contributed to that, like glass walls, glass ceilings, undervalued work and underappreciated motherhood, which combine over the years, snowballing over a woman's working lifetime before ultimately coming to a head in retirement. On average women currently retire with superannuation balances that are over 40 per cent lower than men's. It's truly shameful. It is very true that super is not super if you're a woman. In 2015-16 the average super balance for a man was $270,710; for women it was only $157,050. This is a huge difference. We're talking $113,000.

It's no wonder, then, that we've seen a 31 per cent rise in homelessness amongst older women. This government needs to take action immediately. It is indefensible that they stand idly by while one in three Australian women retire into poverty. I'm not going to hold my breath. We all know that this government doesn't represent the needs of women. This government has no analysis on how their budgets will affect women, ultimately resulting in haphazard policies like their proposed income tax cuts that benefit men twice as much as they benefit women. This government has stood in the way of providing paid domestic violence leave for victims to get their affairs in order and escape abusive relationships. Members of this government argued for a tax cut to the GST on a superyacht but fought tooth and nail against a GST cut for tampons—go figure!

Labor pride ourselves on our policies that give a fair go to regular Australians. We pride ourselves in the superannuation policies we have announced today. This is a suite of policies that bring fairness to the superannuation system and will help close the gender gap in super balances. Labor will ensure that the superannuation guarantee is paid on all paid parental leave, and dad and partner pay, from 1 July 2020. This means parents can take time off work to care for their newborn without sacrificing their retirement. Ultimately this will strengthen the superannuation system for 167,000 recipients of paid parental leave and 80,000 recipients of dad and partner pay in the 2020-21 financial year. The other feature of Labor's policy is to phase out the $450-per-month minimum income eligibility threshold for the superannuation guarantee from 2020. We know women are more likely to work in Australia's lowest paid industries, so they are most likely to be affected by this policy. This policy ensures that low-paid workers aren't discriminated against and are able to contribute to their superannuation accounts even when they're on a low income.

4:09 pm

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Those opposite really do have a hide. They really do have a hide bringing to this place this fraudulent proposition, which is critical of the government, and dressing it up as a matter of public importance. The opposition talks of fairness of the retirement income system, but what jaw-dropping hypocrisy—

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes. As the member for Dawson knows, it is jaw-dropping hypocrisy, especially when you consider the raid that those opposite are perpetrating on the retirement savings of ordinary Australians. They are coming like thieves in the night. Make no mistake about it, they are coming for the money of hardworking Australian retirees, about 900,000 of them.

On the weekend I went to the Eugowra Show. On the way to the Eugowra Show I passed a place called the Escort Rock, which in 1862 was the scene of Australia's biggest gold heist, perpetrated by Frank Gardiner and Ben Hall. It still is Australia's greatest gold heist, but that heist has nothing on the heist that those opposite are about to perpetrate on Australia's retirees. They're planning to snatch $56 billion from Australia's hardworking retirees. It's a stick-up job on 900,000 Australians who have saved in good faith, served their country, paid their taxes and are entitled to retire on the incomes that they've planned for. It's not going down very well for them. The retirees are not happy.

For example, John Kalkman, who is a former vice-president of the Australian Investors Association—most of whose members are self-funded retirees—said, in The Australian Financial Review, that seniors of modest means would suffer if Labor's changes came to pass, not the rich. Then The Australian Financial Review goes on:

"This policy treats some retirees very unfairly it creates perverse incentives for some to give up their self-reliance in retirement and allow the taxpayer to take responsibility for their income, healthcare and age care," he said.

Mr Christensen interjecting

It is shameful. John goes on to say:

They are offended at the misrepresentation with the sneering suggestion that all self-funded retirees are multimillionaires who are using a tax rort at the expense of hard-working Australians.

It is a sneering suggestion. If you look at the figures though, John, I think you're right. Check out the figures, because who is going to be hit by the $56 billion tax heist? Low-income earners. More than half a million Australians on taxable incomes of less than $18,200. Yes, just over 40 per cent of individuals impacted are 65 years old or older, so big hits there. It overwhelmingly hits low- and middle-income earners. Eighty-five per cent of the individuals impacted are on taxable incomes of less than $37,000—

Photo of George ChristensenGeorge Christensen (Dawson, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That would be mainly women—

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes. And 96 per cent of the individuals impacted are on taxable incomes below $87,000. Around 40 per cent of all self-managed superfund member accounts will lose their tax refunds—

Photo of George ChristensenGeorge Christensen (Dawson, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Why do they hate grandmas so much?

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Here's the kicker, member for Dawson: Labor's retiree tax grab will hit around 30 per cent more women than men. This is what they're doing. What arrant hypocrisy of those opposite! They come to this chamber with platitudes about fairness of retirement income systems for women on the one hand, yet they grab their retirement savings on the other. It's absolutely disgraceful. You're not about helping women in retirement; you're all about taking their hard-earned money.

In contrast to the hypocritical opposition, those robbers of Australian retirees, we are helping women and men save for their retirement by giving them jobs. We've got more women working than ever before. We've got more women working full-time than ever before. Employment overall is at a record high of over 12.5 million people. We have the runs on the board, as opposed to the hypocrisy and the bushranger-like behaviour—I'm looking at you, member for Paterson—of those opposite, which is absolutely disgraceful.