House debates

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Matters of Public Importance


3:24 pm

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

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

The Government's attack on the superannuation balances and retirement incomes of ordinary Australians.

I call upon those honourable 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—

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

The Morrison government is declaring war on retirees. They've frozen pensions—

Mr Tim Wilson interjecting

they've trashed the aged-care system and now they're coming after your superannuation.

Mr Tim Wilson interjecting

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

The member for Goldstein will leave under standing order 94(a).

The member for Goldstein then left the chamber.

What does he expect me to do? I just said a minute ago that standing order 94(a) applies beyond question time.

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

The Morrison government has declared war on retirees. This den of thieves opposite are coming after your superannuation. They promised they wouldn't, but that's exactly what they plan to do. They've not only frozen your pension, they've not only trashed the aged-care system, but they're also coming after your house. That's how the Liberals think of the generation that has worked so hard to build this great country—robbing them of a decent retirement income and throwing them out of a house they've spent a lifetime paying off.

Shame on them for presiding over an aged-care system which is an utter disgrace—homes where the meal budget is a meagre $7 a day, where insects crawl out of open wounds, and where there just aren't enough staff to properly care for the frightened and the vulnerable. Shame on them for presiding over a healthcare system where out-of-pocket hospital expenses have gone through the roof, where two million Australians say they haven't been able to afford the prescriptions that their doctor said are essential for their healthcare, and where out-of-pocket healthcare costs, such as a joint replacement, can send you into a spiral of poverty.

I say to the retirees of Australia that this is what the Morrison government thinks you're worth—health care that you can't afford and nursing homes that put profits first and resident care a distant second. And what's their solution? Where do you think the money is going to come from to pay for the mounting medical bills and the half-decent aged care? They're cutting your super, they've frozen the pension and they're telling people, 'If you can't make ends meet, then the answer is to sell your house.' What an insult to the retirees of Australia, who were told at the last election that there was a death tax coming around—the same election where the mob opposite ran around telling Australians that they were going to stick up for retirees. Instead of sticking up for retirees, they're sticking it to them. We know that the real plan hidden in the 650 pages of a retirement income review, covered in darkness, is to tell people that they're currently getting too much and that they do not see the house as a home. They see it as something that you can sell off in retirement to pay for your medical bills and an aged-care system which is insufficiently funded by this mob.

They promised before the last election that they were going to look after super. They promised before the last election that they wouldn't cut your super, but that is exactly what they are going to do. Our superannuation system is already delivering for Australians. Today, it's ensuring that Australians retire with more money than they ever have in our nation's history. Superannuation is already contributing more to retirement incomes than the government does through the pension. Eighty billion dollars a year is contributed through the superannuation system to retirement income, in contrast with the $44 billion that the government contributes annually to the pension system. It's providing ballast to our economy during the global crisis—the economic crisis brought on by the COVID health epidemic. It's ensuring, through a feted scheme, the $35 billion that has been withdrawn out of retirement savings because the government was not providing enough support early enough and soon enough to people who lost their job—without superannuation, that money would not have been there. It's providing recapitalisation to businesses to ensure that they could get through the economic crisis as well.

When we put in place universal superannuation, the purpose was not to replace a meagre government funded pension with an equally meagre privately funded pension; it was to ensure that every Australian had the right to retire with dignity—and it is working. But these guys want to pull it apart. What sticks in the craw of ordinary Australians is that they know that, at the very same time as this mob opposite are campaigning against superannuation and saying 9.5 per cent is enough for the people who clean our offices—enough for ordinary Australians—they are taking home 15.4 per cent themselves. So the Prime Minister has left question time today and gone back to relax, patting himself on the back for what a great job he's done. He's put his feet on the desk, and in his office somebody's scurrying around, cleaning up after him. That person gets 9.5 per cent, whilst the Prime Minister, with his feet on the desk, takes home 15.4 per cent. It's not fair, it's not right, and the people of Australia know it.

This government has presided over a crisis for older Australian workers. If you look at the recently published Retirement income review, it's there in black and white. They like to think of people who are on unemployment benefits as 'dole bludgers', as 'leaners, not lifters'. What they won't tell you about is the absolute and abject failure of their management of the economy which means that one in five Australians between the ages of 55 and 65 is unemployed. We call them the forgotten Australians; they call them bludgers and they call them 'leaners, not lifters'. They won't tell you that nearly 37 per cent of those people were made redundant at some stage before they retired. These are the people to whom the government say: 'You can just deal with your 9.5 per cent. That's enough for you. I'll take my 15.4 per cent, but 9½ per cent is enough for you.' In the government's own report, the majority of these people run out of retirement savings before they hit the age of 80. But these are the people to whom the government is saying, 'You're too greedy; 9½ per cent is enough for you'—the very people they looked in the eye and promised they were going to leave superannuation as it was.

And, as if it's not enough that the government is saying to older workers, 'We're going to freeze your pension, we're going to make it tough for you on unemployment benefits and you can sell your house if you run out of money in retirement,' they're actually discriminating against them in the labour market. Policies that were put in place by this government at the height of the pandemic are making it harder for those older workers—wage assistance programs that discriminate against older workers and the undermining of the industrial relations system, which makes it easier to sack those older workers. They consider them 'leaners, not lifters'. We don't think these people should be the forgotten Australians; we think they deserve a better deal out of this government.

Since the election, we've seen members of the government's backbench running around on an authorised campaign to undermine the superannuation system and on an authorised campaign to try to build up hype. But we're going to call them out on it. If the government thinks we are going to let them get away with breaking a solemn promise that they made to the Australian people to leave superannuation alone, they've got another thing coming. They are in for a bare-knuckle fight. We will not let them get away with it. We will not let them cut superannuation. This government has visited enough upon older Australians—freezing the pension, making a mess of the aged-care system, making a mess of the healthcare system and now, to visit more indignity upon them, cutting their superannuation. We won't let them get away it, and we won't let the workers of Australia forget, either.

3:35 pm

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and Community Services) Share this | | Hansard source

It's great to talk about superannuation. It was really interesting, listening to the member for Whitlam—this coming from a member opposite, along with every other member over there, who voted or wanted to vote at the last election but went out and told the people in their electorates why the retiree tax and getting rid of franking credits was a great idea. For every senior Australian right around the country who's got some income in shares, who saved for their retirement, who earned some kind of dividend on it, these guys wanted to take it away. These senior Australians are thankful that the Morrison government was re-elected in May last year, because we made sure that that wouldn't happen. We made sure that the investments they'd had in place wouldn't be taxed further like the Labor Party wanted to do. In relation to superannuation, I support it. The Morrison government supports superannuation. I think it's a good investment for all Australians' future. I think it's a great investment. I think home ownership is very important as well.

I put up a Facebook post just a couple of hours ago, and I said to people on my page, in my own electorate, 'I'm about to talk on superannuation. Have you got any questions you'd like to ask?' and so forth. To my surprise—a lot of those posts get good engagement, with a couple of hundred 'likes' or 100 'likes' or whatever. This post, I think, got one 'like' and two shares. It is unfortunate that many Australians see superannuation as compulsory, and they're also disengaged from their super. They're very disengaged from their super. But superannuation is a good thing.

I was very fortunate that my father taught me when I was 18 years of age to put a little bit additional money away on top of what is a compulsory superannuation system. Whilst in Australia we have a compulsory and universal system that was put in place under the Keating government, it's not perfect. Those opposite, in the Labor Party, I think, are sometimes blinded by that fact. What I was taught was to put a small amount of superannuation away. I think it was $50 a month and $600 a year when I was 18. I said, 'Wow, that's a lot of money,' when you're earning a small amount, back then. But it is really important.

I'd say to people in my electorate and right around the country that, where you can—particularly if you're living at home and you've got your first job and you might be earning over $45,000 a year—it's really worth putting a little amount of additional superannuation on top: salary sacrificing, particularly if you earn over $45,000 when you're being taxed at 32½c in the dollar, because everyone who earns under $250,000 is taxed at 15 per cent and that adds up over time. So, for people right around the country, consider doing that. If you're able to do it while you're living at home and paying a small amount of rent each week to your parents, or you might be DINKs—double income, no kids—and you're able to put a little bit of additional funds, salary sacrifice, into your super, I'd encourage you to do it, or you might be a family with children that's earning above average income, or you might have two people working. Try to put a little bit of money into your super.

The rates, at the moment, on housing loans too are very cheap. On this side of the House we also care about home ownership. Home ownership's very important, particularly a first home. We want to encourage, as all members in this parliament do, more people to buy their first home. It isn't lost on me that the member for Hotham and others on that side of the House don't support the government's First Home Super Saver Scheme. They went to the last election and said they'd scrap that. That's what they said. They didn't like the policy of the First Home Super Saver Scheme, where it was putting money into super, saving money on tax, and people then being able to withdraw it to get their own home. I'd say to those opposite: that's unacceptable. We do have, as I said before, a compulsory and universal system that the Keating government put in place. But don't be blinded by it. Look at all options.

The Morrison government supports all Australians and their choices when it comes to their retirement. As a result of the difficulty in 2020 because of COVID-19, the government decided to extend the application date for early release of super as well. Mind you, those opposite voted for that. They voted to give Aussies who need that lifeline the helping hand they deserve. We know that making that decision doesn't come easy and needs a lot of consideration. However, for those who have taken advantage of the availability of this scheme, it's a better option than other options available to them, As I said, the parliament voted on that, so it is ironic that the member for Whitlam has put forward this MPI today, given some of his comments in the past criticising that policy that he voted for. The Assistant Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and Financial Technology called out the comments made by the member for Whitlam recently in The West Australian. I remind those opposite that the Morrison government's policy on superannuation is important policy and that we do support super. We want Australians to have super. We also want Australians to get into their first home and be able to own their own home. The member opposite also said that we were somehow taking away super. Nothing could be further from the truth. We know that as super increases from nine per cent or 10 per cent at times, there are organisations out there that have said that it is a balancing act. Organisations like ACOSS, the Grattan Institute and the Reserve Bank have all said that. We are getting on with helping all Australians when it comes to superannuation.

The Morrison government remains focused on having a superannuation system which is competitive and transparent and which puts Australians in control of their own super. There are a couple of things that I'd just like to mention for the benefit of those people in the House. First of all, when it comes to young people under the age of 25, the Morrison government is going to help them by ensuring that their nest egg is not eroded. For young men and women—young adults who might have a part-time job and are at university—who previously had superannuation going into a fund, that money could have been, and often was, eroded through life insurance and death benefits. We've now ensured that you need to opt into that system, so that you're not automatically in that system. So, in a case where a person of 19 years of age with no home loan, no dependants and no children had a small amount of super going in each month, it was ludicrous that they were losing their super because they were being opted in by their super scheme to pay death benefits. We've now made it so that they opt out and then, after the age of 25, they go back in. That's an important point for young people that those opposite and the parliament might not know.

We've also given choice to young people. We know that some 800,000 Australian retail workers had no choice when it came to superannuation. Only three funds were available to them, and one of them was Rest. My understanding is that those opposite, including the member for Whitlam, voted against this policy change. They didn't want to give those 800,000 people choice. Those 800,000 Australians should be able to go into any industry super fund they want. They should be able to have a self-managed fund, if they like, or a retail fund.

Hon. Members:

Honourable members interjecting

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and Community Services) Share this | | Hansard source

It just shows the ignorance of those opposite, given that this government has also allowed more family members to go into a self-managed fund. I had a self-managed fund before I came into this place. I had to fight those opposite tooth and nail to be able to actually put my super into that.

Mr Stephen Jones interjecting

The member for Whitlam laughs. I've got an 18-year-old son. My 18-year-old son might want to contribute to the family self-managed super fund. So don't laugh about it, right? I'm just saying to the member opposite that there are plenty of people out there who want to have choice, and I would encourage all Australians to contribute more to super and to be interested in it, because we want to make sure that, in retirement, you're not dependent on government. We don't want you to be dependent on government. That's exactly what our plan is. We have strong safety nets in place. But we don't want Australians to be dependent on government. When they're over 67, they will have their superannuation. We support it. Those opposite want to keep Australians down. That's what it is.

Opposition members interjecting

Yes, it is. You want to keep Australians down. You don't want to give them choice. You don't want to see Australians get ahead. With everything that you bring into this place, this is what you vote for time and time again. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, the whole lot of you.

3:45 pm

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Technology and the Future of Work) Share this | | Hansard source

I was going to open by saying something quite complimentary about some of the comments that were made there, but, really, coming into this House and accusing members of the opposition of trying to hold Australians down and saying we're a disgrace—can we just elevate the standard a little bit in here? We're trying to debate something that's actually quite serious. What I wanted to say about the member opposite's speech was that you could have blown me over with a feather there because he actually had something good and something positive to say about our retirement savings system. I think he missed the memo that went to the member for Mackellar and that went to Senator Andrew Bragg in the other place and that goes frequently to the member for Goldstein, who do nothing other than try to tear this system down.

It's time to add a bit of perspective and a few facts to the discussion about our superannuation system. The truth is that this system works. It is, in fact, one of the systems around the world that is performing incredibly well when we compare ourselves to other countries. Millions of Australians have retired into more comfort because of this system, and there are millions more who are working today who will live a better retirement because of this system.

The government initiated the Retirement income review and, of course, we always knew that part of this would be some kind of battering ram to try to get some reform going. That's been very much idolised by people on the other side—knocking off the super guarantee and other types of changes that they want to see which will inevitably leave people worse off in their retirement. But what did the Retirement income review actually tell us about the system? It told us that the system works. This is the first line of the review:

… the Australian retirement income system is effective, sound and its costs are broadly sustainable.

How this government is using that review as an opportunity to try to trash the system and to stop the increases that are due to Australians is just totally, clearly and obviously ideological.

The member opposite talked about his great support for the system. I have to say that, if members opposite truly believe that, they have a very odd way of showing their support for a system. This is a system that has been undermined from every direction in the last almost eight years that the government has been in office. The clearest example here is this continuous deferral of the increase to the superannuation guarantee. The member for Whitlam next to me here gave a really eloquent description of the unfairness of this system. Why should members of parliament who sit in this House get paid 15 per cent superannuation and that's good enough for us and yet ordinary Australians get 9½ per cent? It is just completely wrong.

We know that this is important to Australians. If it weren't, then the government wouldn't have promised that they would increase the superannuation guarantee—a promise that it very much looks like they are going to break. We saw exactly the same thing in 2014, when Tony Abbott promised. He promised us a lot of things, but one of those promises was that the increase to the superannuation guarantee would go ahead. And—lo and behold!—come 2014, he changed his mind and dudded Australians out of the billions of dollars they would have earned for their superannuation retirement accounts during that period of time.

We get told by the government that this is going to lead to some huge wage rise because Australians are not going to get the superannuation guarantee that they deserve. That is absolute hogwash. We have a real-life example of this, because that's what Tony Abbott promised us in 2014—that it would be a great period for wages. What happened when the superannuation guarantee was deferred was that it led to the lowest wages growth that we've ever seen in Australian history—so much so that, in the almost eight-year life of this government, the average Australian has seen their living standards go down because wages have been so low. That's the consequence we've seen.

It's incredibly unfair. What we know is that, in the last decade, labour productivity has actually increased 10 percentage points. Yet workers have not seen any benefit from that. The truth is that we are going into a period where the labour market is going to be in quite a difficult position. We're going to have high unemployment for a long time. We're going to have high underemployment for a long time. The honest truth is that Australian workers are going to struggle in this environment to get any type of real wage increase. For many of them, an increase to their super guarantee is the best chance they've got of seeing their standard of living improve in some way throughout this difficult period.

I've talked a little bit about the deferral of the increase to the super guarantee, but it's just one of the many creative ways the government has come up with over this last period to try to undermine the system. It's very frustrating because there are issues with this system, and the one I point to is women retiring with about half as much superannuation as men. Instead of the government trying to fix these real problems, it's a constant ideological battle that surely doesn't befit a parliament as good as this one. (Time expired)

3:50 pm

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the members for Petrie, Hotham and Whitlam for their contributions to this debate. I want to start off by saying that the superannuation system that we have in Australia is an incredibly important innovation. Paul Keating, Bill Keelty and Ian Ross deserve credit where credit is due. As the report into retirement income makes the point, we have a system that is sustainable, is manageable and has capped Australia's ongoing unfunded liabilities at between two and four per cent of GDP. Most other nations, like the United States, the UK and Japan, have unfunded liabilities in the hundreds of per cents. The UK's unfunded liability prior to COVID-19 was 900 per cent.

But we also have to be honest in this chamber and in this parliament about what the superannuation system in Australia has done. It was the policy purpose of this system, as set out by Paul Keating and Bill Keelty, to reduce or suppress Australian wages. They wanted to do this for the specific and express purpose of reducing inflation in the Australian economy. It was the grand bargain. They said it: Keating said it; Keelty said it; Ian Ross said it. And Callaghan, in the retirement income review process, has proved it. Those opposite are very keen to recite what is on page 1 of that report. I encourage all of them to read past page 1, maybe get as far as page 10, if they feel so inclined, and look at the tables and the economic modelling that Callaghan did that emphatically showed the superannuation system that we have in Australia makes workers worse off over their lifetime. It is not an accident. It is the specific policy design of this system.

As Callaghan had to come out the day after and say, 'Look, if I am wrong in the way that I have modelled this, in the way that I have approached this, if the model is wrong, if the data is wrong, tell me where.' The multi-trillion-dollar industry superannuation system—and I would say to the member for Whitlam, my criticisms are not of industry super. Too often, to the member for Hotham's point, this has become a political argument between Labor's largest donors—that is, industry super—and the Liberal Party. And they are right to make the point—

Opposition Member:

An opposition member interjecting

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

that it is inappropriate. You called order, Mr Deputy Speaker?

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No, I was calling order for the members on my left.

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's about time! They need to be called to order! The point is this: it was the design of the system. And retail super is just as guilty of this as any of the superannuation systems.

And it's not just me saying this. It's not just me or the member for Goldstein or Senator Paterson or Senator Bragg saying this. When they know no-one's watching, many members on the other side say that the super guarantee makes people worse off. The Governor of the Reserve Bank says it. The Council of Financial Regulators says it. The head of ACOSS says it. I did not believe that I would ever be standing here quoting ACOSS, but ACOSS says increasing the super guarantee makes the least paid in our society worse off. And the Grattan Institute says it. Even the Labor funded, Labor backed, oft-quoted Grattan Institute is telling them that an increase in the super guarantee makes those least paid amongst us worse off. Even Martin Fahy said it. When the Callaghan report was released, Martin Fahy, the head of ASFA, said that it makes the arguments around increasing the super guarantee more difficult to make.

Basically, anyone with a calculator knows that our super system makes workers worse off. If the objective of the superannuation system is financial security in retirement then the Callaghan report makes it clear that owning or substantially owning the house in which you live is the best, fastest, most secure path to financial security in retirement. And why wouldn't it be? We've created a system that is gobbling up $30 billion in fees and charges. And, frankly, the Hayne royal commission should hang its head in shame for not investigating that.

3:55 pm

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

It is an opportune moment to follow the member for Mackellar and his litany of untruths and verballing of many, many people. Let me set the record straight: industry super does not donate to the Labor Party. But the fact that they believe that, the fact that they repeat it, goes to the truth of what this debate really is. This debate isn't about advancing the interests of the workers, on behalf of the Liberal Party. This debate, from their point of view, is about weakening industry super, rewarding their mates in the banks who can't compete with industry super because industry super outperforms them every day of the week. This debate—their jihad to attack industry super—is all about rewarding their donors, their donors in the big four banks and all the other financial providers.

They talk about choice. But who do they hamstring every time there's a debate? Who do they put more restrictions on? It's industry super. It's not-for-profit super. The banks escape the legislation all the time. It's not a surprise, because this comes from a party that opposed superannuation from day one. During question time I had a bit of time on my hands so I went through the Hansard debate from the original superannuation guarantee charge debate in 1992. Here are some random quotes I pulled out from one day of debate. Liberal members called it a tax on jobs, another one called it 'stupid and dishonest' and another one called it 'a fraud'. It's clear that the attitude of the Liberal Party has not changed from that time. It has not changed from that time. The litany of untruths from the member for Mackellar just reinforce that.

And don't get me started on Senator Andrew Bragg, a man who's morally owned by the banks. The truth is that this has a huge impact on individual workers. Their choice to freeze super six years ago, the superannuation guarantee charge, and their clear motivation to freeze it again hurts workers every day. The temporary freeze has hurt a 25-year-old who will now be $35,000 worse off over their lifetime because of the so-called temporary freeze. That is the truth. They say that there's a trade-off between wages and increases in the SGC. In the six years before the super freeze wages grew by 3.30 per cent. Guess what they grew by in the six years after the freeze? Maybe four per cent or maybe five per cent. Maybe we had a wage explosion under the Liberal Party when the SGC was frozen. Sadly, wages growth averaged a paltry 2.08 per cent. That is the real, empirical evidence of what occurred: super was frozen and wage growth went down.

The truth is that wages are an outcome of the normal institutional and bargaining processes. Wages aren't determined through some abstract, free-market, perfect competition. It is through the normal institutional pressures in the economy. Lifting the SGC will not impact on wages growth. It just will not. That is what history has shown us. There is no visible correlation between increasing the superannuation guarantee and slower wage growth. In fact, if you look at the years when the SGC increased there tended to be a slightly stronger wages growth in those years compared to years where the SGC was not increased. The truth is that this is an ideological attack by a party that is devoted to hurting workers. It's a party that is devoted to reducing the wage share of national income. It's a party that is obsessed with industry super. They're obsessed because they're convinced they donate to the Labor Party. They're obsessed because they threaten the cosy closed shops that their mates in the banking industry have—those banks that do donate to them. That is the truth behind this. What is the impact of this? The impact of this is that workers so far have been much worse off because of the freeze to the SGC. A 25-year-old will be worse off by $35,000 over their lifetime. This debate is really important, but the ideology, the obsession, the untruths, the ownership of those opposite by the four big banks morally is really what this debate is all about.

3:59 pm

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank my colleagues for their previous submissions. The Morrison-McCormack government is focused on ensuring that we have a superannuation system that is competitive, transparent and efficient. I'm particularly engaged with my electorate of Cowper and the more than 41,000 people of retirement age. Indeed, this is the third-largest population of this size in Australia, and it's growing. It's growing because, obviously, it's an ideal climate. It's a drawcard for retirees; it's on the coast. On a side note, I would like to acknowledge the 'We Are Here' campaign. That was started by a member of the Nambucca RSL sub branch, Mick Birtles. This campaign showcases our region to Australian Defence Force personnel leaving the service. Mick and his team wanted to show veterans and their families that the Nambucca Valley was a welcoming location for those leaving the ADF. I acknowledge the work that he does now and that he has done in the past as a serviceman. I acknowledge all the ex-service men and women.

The fact is that Labor has been talking tough on superannuation during the current health pandemic, yet the assistant minister for superannuation has said, 'Every time our government has put forward a piece of legislation to improve superannuation for the consumer, the opposition has opposed it.' It's a simple fact. Those opposite have talked tough and opposed our government's move to help people in financial stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic by allowing them access to $20,000 of their own super. It's their own money. I've had plenty of people in my electorate come and see and say: 'Pat, thank you for that. Thank you for allowing us access to that. And, by the way, we didn't buy booze. We didn't buy drugs. We didn't waste it. We actually used it for the things we needed to get through the pandemic.'

I don't often quote the Grattan Institute, but modelling by the Grattan Institute found that the impact of the early release to Australians of superannuation at retirement age was minimal. It was something in the order of $900 a year—that's all. Yet at this end, it was a godsend. It saved them. It helped them to get through the coronavirus pandemic.

Labor failed to mention any of the positives that flowed from Australians looking at their superannuation balances. I'm probably guilty of this as well. There was a silver lining in that many young people actually looked at their super profile for the very first time. They thought about their super and they realised that they had multiple accounts and were paying multiple fees. There were significant actions to consolidate superannuation—a benefit which will help young people reduce fees and keep more of their own money.

The Morrison-McCormack government has been working hard to ensure that we have a superannuation system that is competitive, transparent and efficient. That is why we passed legislation to improve the efficiency of the superannuation system by strengthening the powers of the regulator to deal with underperforming funds, by capping fees on low-balance accounts and by banning exit fees on all superannuation accounts. For the first time ever, we provided the Australian Taxation Office with the power to proactively reunite low-balance inactive accounts with active accounts, again, giving people back their own money. This measure has really helped Australians to get on top of their superannuation savings, something that has never been done before.

I want the 41,000 residents of retirement age in my electorate to have a good life, as we all do. I want them to be able to retire comfortably and to make the most of their superannuation savings, the age pension and their assets. I also want young people to have opportunities and to know that if they work hard they will get ahead. So our government, through the Treasurer and the assistant minister for superannuation, will continue to carefully consider the observations made in the independent Retirement income review. We will consider these findings alongside other important bodies of work, including the aged-care royal commission and the Productivity Commission report into superannuation.

4:05 pm

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

We've got to a pretty bad place in this country when a government can move so shamelessly from one broken promise to another. Really, as the member for Whitlam said at the outset of this debate, this government was elected on a promise not to touch people's super and that really should be the end of it. So we've got to a very, very bad place in politics and in public debate if people become inured to seeing their government just go blithely from one broken promise to the next.

And with this government, it's not just the broken promises but it's who they affect, who they hurt and how it's done. Unfortunately, the broken promises are usually perpetrated by a con and they almost always hurt the people who can bear it least. We've seen that over and over again, and we may well see that in relation to superannuation. The member for Mackellar would have people believe that, by having less super, they'll somehow find it easier to own their own home. We have a government which has done nothing for housing affordability and nothing to help people in all the many ways that that problem might be addressed. We've been told multiple times that, by chopping people's super and by preventing the payment of the super guarantee, or the increase to the super guarantee, that's going to magically improve people's wages.

This is from a government that is literally the master of wage stagnation. We've got to the point where wages as a part of national income are at a 50-year low. We've seen a fall in real wages and we've seen wages become completely disconnected from profit and from productivity, and yet the government would have the Australian public buy the con that, somehow, by now denying them the scheduled super guarantee—which the government promised it wouldn't interfere with—this will magically turn into increased wages which the government has not yet delivered after seven years.

Then we turn to who it's going to hurt. It hurts everyone. It hurts all of us; superannuation is good for each of us and it's good for all of us. It gives people a dignified and secure retirement and it's the basis of our national savings and our capacity to invest in important national infrastructure. It is good for each of us and it is good for all of us. The impact of the changes that this government made the first time they broke this promise in 2014—this is a promise which they're going to break many times, if they get the chance—and the failure to deliver an increase in the super guarantee have echoed to where we are now after the six years from 2014 to 2020. And it will echo more seriously into the future. An average 30-year-old worker who was denied the increase in 2014 is going to be $70,000 worse off at retirement, and it has prevented $38 billion flowing into our national savings and into our capacity to invest in infrastructure. That's the change from this one harmful, blithe broken promise—this tossing of the rock into the pond. The ripples spread out for years and years; they affect individuals, they affect families and they affect our nation and economy as a whole.

When we think about the people this affects, who does it affect most? Right now, it affects young people, but it also affects women who, on average, retire with less than half the superannuation savings of their male counterparts. And, particularly, it affects single women. Single women often don't accumulate much super during the period in which they're looking after children and then they have a limited period of time in which they can accumulate super. What are we seeing for single women in this country at the moment? In a survey which tracked the proportion of single-parent households—which are, in the majority, single-woman households—in poverty between 2016 and 2018, they went from 15 per cent in 2016 to 25 per cent in 2018. One in four single-parent households, which are generally single-mum households, were in poverty. This is the kind of change which pulls the rug out from under their ability to live securely in retirement. And that's what this government is about; it's always punching down. Every time we talk about fairness, every time we focus on addressing disadvantage, they start to bleat about class warfare, they start rolling out the smokescreen slogans of 'class 'warfare and 'politics of envy'. Let me give you a tip. Every time you hear those senseless slogans from the government, look out because they are coming for you; they are going to make another change to the social compact in this country that will make life harder for those who have the least. That is the form of this government. They will do that every chance they get.

4:10 pm

Photo of Gladys LiuGladys Liu (Chisholm, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to join with my colleagues to talk about the Morrison government's ongoing commitment to ensuring all Australians get the most out of their super. Throughout this term the Morrison government has successfully passed a great deal of legislation which has had real and positive effects on the wallets of the hardworking Australians around the country. While Labor may never understand that putting money back into the pockets of Australians is a good thing, the Morrison government certainly does. This is why we capped the fees on low-balance accounts, helping around seven million Australians to save around $570 million in fees in the first year alone. We strengthened the powers of regulators, giving them the scope and capacity to deal with underperforming funds. We banned exit fees on all superannuation accounts and, for the first time ever, we provided the ATO with the power to proactively reunite low balance inactive accounts with active accounts, putting a stop to inactive accounts being eaten up by ongoing fees.

Those opposite don't have any interest in hearing about what we have done to increase the retirement income of Australians. The Labor Party has never had any interest in making the superannuation system more effective or efficient. They are only interested in supporting vested interests. They have attempted to stop each and every piece of superannuation legislation we've put forward. The Labor Party vote against the superannuation amnesty, which has uncovered nearly $900 million in unpaid super in the last month alone. They voted against getting rid of duplicate accounts. They voted against legislation to stop the erosion of low balances through fees and unnecessary insurance. Every time the Labor Party has voted against our superannuation reform, they have voted against the retirement of Australians.

The Morrison government will always fight for the best outcome for the Australian people. Labor may try and slow us down, but we will continue to reform the superannuation sector to reflect the needs of the Australian people. We have gained traction on these goals. The Morrison government had the Treasury Laws Amendment (Your Superannuation, Your Choice) Bill in August, giving more Australians employed under federal enterprise agreements freedom in their choice of fund, allowing them to shift away from any underperforming funds they are stuck with. We commissioned an independent review of the retirement income system, which observed that there is room for improvement in our superannuation sector. We also announced in this year's budget the government's Your Future, Your Super package, which will improve the superannuation system for members by ensuring your superannuation follows you when you change jobs. We are holding funds to account for underperformance by introducing an annual objective performance test and increasing transparency and accountability by ensuring trustees act in the best financial interests of members to maximise their retirement savings.

The Labor Party went to the election last year with an agenda that would have left those in retirement completely and utterly in the lurch. Now it seems like they are trying to leave those who haven't even retired yet in the lurch by ensuring that their superannuation accounts are left depleted by a bloated and inefficient superannuation sector. While Labor squabbles over how to ensure Australians are worse off in retirement, the Morrison government will always ensure that Australians are better off.

4:15 pm

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Whitlam for putting this very important matter of public importance on superannuation and retirement incomes before the chamber. I acknowledge the previous speaker, the member for Chisholm, has indicated that she believes her government will always put improving the retirement income of Australians first. I look forward to her crossing the floor when the government attempts to freeze the superannuation increase that's coming up—an increase that will clearly improve the retirement incomes of Australians. I was pleased to hear her make that commitment, and I look forward to her following through on that.

The reality for ordinary Australians is that this is a critically important issue. For older Australians, the great Australian dream of having a retirement that is one of dignity and a pleasurable life—enjoying the simple things like an annual holiday, being able to buy presents for the grandkids, going out for dinner, joining social and sporting clubs—is something they aspire to. It is a great part of the Australian story.

The superannuation system put in place under the Keating government was particularly important in creating quality retirement lifestyles in Australia, and it is something people feel very strongly about securing for themselves in the future. This matter of public importance is important to older Australians, to those who are retired, to those of working age and approaching retirement, to working age people with parents and grandparents living in retirement. This matter is fundamentally important to just about everybody, including, let's be honest, the grandkids, who look forward to a holiday with the grandparents or a nice present for birthdays and Christmases. This is a matter of public importance to all Australians.

The member for Whitlam has put this forward because the government is breaking a promise it made to the electorate at the last election. It made a promise that it would not interfere in the superannuation scheme, and now it is trying to freeze the increase that is due to flow through to people to a higher level of superannuation as we move towards the 12 per cent. The member for Whitlam quite rightly made the point that, while average Australians are on a 9.5 per cent compulsory super guarantee, members of parliament—those who sit on the front bench, putting forward these proposals, and those who sit on the government backbench, consistently railing against anything that's public or not-for-profit or, heaven forbid, has a union connection in some way—are getting 15.4 per cent. That is the reality for all of us. We are going to fight to ensure that all Australians see their superannuation guarantee continues to increase as it should so that they can achieve that great Australian dream of a retirement of dignity and quality.

It's already tough enough for older Australians. We already know the problems in the aged-care sector. We all have families coming to us all the time, worried about putting their parents into residential care. Just today I received an email from a family who were frustrated about the fact that their father needed a home-care package 11 months ago. He's been in and out of hospital since, but he still can't get the home-care package. Older Australians are frustrated by the fact that the health system doesn't always meet their needs, they're frustrated by the fact that the cost of living is going up and they're frustrated by the fact that the deeming rates have not been adjusted in a way that reflects the reality of the market. There are so many things that older Australians are constantly contacting their local members about, and I can only assume they're also contacting those opposite.

We know that an important part of creating a retirement that has both dignity and quality is the superannuation system. The superannuation guarantee increases that are legislated and that are part of building that for future generations are important. When those opposite say, 'It's your own money,' what they really mean is that the government is not going to give you anything—you have to draw on your savings—and that's not good enough. (Time expired)

4:20 pm

Photo of Celia HammondCelia Hammond (Curtin, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to speak on this MPI on superannuation today. I remember when compulsory super was first introduced. I think I was in one of my first jobs. I did change jobs, and it took me a good decade and a half to relocate that original super that had been put away somewhere for me. Fortunately, I did. I'm also glad we're moving to a single-fund super system.

The Retirement income review has found that the Australian retirement income system is effective, that it's sound and that its costs are broadly sustainable. It also noted that there's room for improvement. Nobody on this side disagrees with the statement that superannuation is important. As the member for Hotham said—and I share her concerns—it's particularly concerning that women end up with about half the amount of super as men at their retirement. This is a concerning fact, but there are also many reasons for this. While I'm not wedded to any increase and while I haven't put a stake in the ground to say we shouldn't increase super, I do know that simply increasing super across the board is not going to address the difference between what men retire on and what women retire on. If we increase it across the board, everybody's super will increase, so that doesn't address the difference. What we should be more concerned with is making sure that women are retiring with an adequate amount of super, as opposed to necessarily comparing it to men's super.

I know that there are members on this side of this chamber who have expressed very publicly that they don't think the super guarantee should increase. I have not put my name to that, but I do have concerns when I hear arguments that increasing the rate of the super guarantee is not going to impact upon jobs or upon wages. I have been an employer. I have an been employer who actually increased superannuation for their employees in one year. There is a finite amount of income that a business or a not-for-profit earns. When you increase super, as we did one year by three per cent, it impacts the amount of money that you've got left to spend on other things. So a three per cent increase in super is of course going to impact upon any salary increases you can give or on additional jobs you might be able to offer. And, at this point in time, when we are all about creating jobs, it is important that we keep this dialogue going and keep looking at the superannuation guarantee. We want employers to be employing people. We want to get that unemployment rate, which has gone to a revolting level, to come down. If we need to look at the superannuation guarantee to do that—even if it's just in the short term or for a certain period of time—then that's what we should be doing. We want people to have jobs; we want people to be earning income now.

One thing related to this topic that I've become aware of as a result of my membership of the Standing Committee on Economics is the increasing power of industry super funds. My own super is with an industry super fund. But what we've seen through the House Economics Committee is that the trillion dollars these industry super funds now have is giving them an enormous amount of power and an enormous amount of control in the marketplace.

Our industry super funds boast—and I'm not saying 'boast' in a critical way. They advertise that they hold up to 10 per cent of shares in ASX 200 listed companies. To me, that gives rise to a problem, potentially, of common ownership. When you have the same bodies owning shares in all of our ASX 200 listed companies, there is a danger that we're impinging on that notion of common ownership, that the level of control and power they have over decisions being made in companies and in corporate boards all across Australia is excessive. I'm not saying this to signal out industry super funds as demonic bodies but rather to point out that this is something we need to watch—we need to watch as a government, we need to watch as an economy and we need to watch for the sake of our country.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion is now concluded.