House debates

Wednesday, 25 August 2021


Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No. 6) Bill 2021; Second Reading

5:23 pm

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

It is my unenviable task to excite the House, at 5.20 pm on a Wednesday afternoon, about the subject matter of the Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No. 6) Bill 2021. It's a herculean task, but I think it's one that I am good for. The bill implements a number of Treasury law changes which Labor supports, most notably a new mechanism for the sharing of superannuation information through the family law system. I'll have more to say about that shortly, but first to other details of the bill that warrant some comment.

Schedule 1 implements the government's commitment from 2019 to amend the income tax law to ensure that no tax is payable on refunds of large-scale generation certificate shortfall charges. These measures will apply to all such refunds from 1 January 2019. Let me say that again: it's a 2019 commitment—that's two years ago. If anything is more symbolic of this government's utter legislative incompetence than a minor Treasury commitment being legislated nearly two years after the commitment was given, then I do not know what is.

It enjoys our support. It enjoyed our support when it was last brought before the House, but, for reasons best known to the government, they didn't proceed with it. But it will enjoy our support again this evening. The measure is sensible; it will ensure that the market for large-scale generation certificates works as was intended, rewarding companies for meeting their renewable energy commitments.

Schedule 2 doubles the value of the civil penalties available under the industry code provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. Again, it's worth noting that we've seen this measure before in a bill that the government has chosen not to proceed with. We supported it then. When it was last introduced, it had a few fatal flaws and the government claimed that this measure was a response to misconduct in the franchising sector—in particular, that it was a response to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services' inquiry into that sector. That committee made a very clear and unequivocal bipartisan recommendation to increase penalties substantially—not just to double them, but to increase them to the greater of $10 million, or three times the benefit obtained from the contravention of the code, or 10 per cent of annual turnover. For noncorporations, natural persons, the maximum civil penalty available will be $500,000.

Appropriate penalties in the franchising code are necessary to provide a strong deterrent against breaches of the code across the sector, bearing in mind that most of the people who are victims of malfeasance in this sector are small businesses. They're in a very weak position when it comes to the head franchisor, particularly large multinational franchisors. The embarrassing thing for the government when they brought it to the parliament the last time, in a previous form, was that it didn't do what they said it was going to do. And they certainly didn't do what the PJC's bipartisan committee recommended that they do. We moved amendments and the government rejected those amendments back then. I'm very pleased to say that some common sense has filtered through in the intervening period.

Let's look at schedule 3, because it reduces the regulatory burdens on self-managed superannuation funds and other small funds by removing a redundant requirement for superannuation trustees to obtain an actuarial certificate when calculating exempt current pension income where all members of the fund are fully in retirement phase for the entire income year. It's a sensible measure. If we think about, it's a redundant requirement upon those self-managed superannuation funds if, indeed, everyone is already in the pension phase for the entirety of that year.

It is worth noting that the government only seems interested in removing red tape measures such as this from the self-managed superannuation funds and small funds when the vast majority of Australians have their super in large funds. This government's approach, particularly over the course of last year, has been to go in the opposite direction. Once we had a Treasurer who used to celebrate, with the same enthusiasm that a group of labourers would celebrate a public holiday, something called 'Red Tape Reduction Day'. Back then, when he was the Assistant Treasurer, red-tape reduction was a cause for celebration. Now that he's the Treasurer he's piling on the red tape! He can't get enough of it—you've never found a bloke who loves red tape as much as this guy! He's an enthusiast for it. I have to say that Labor is in full support of this measure. We only wish that the Treasurer were as enthusiastic about reducing red tape in one part of the superannuation sector as he is at piling on the red tape in other parts of the superannuation sector. We wait in vain.

Schedule 4 of the bill makes a number of technical and minor amendments to the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 to provide what I would describe as legal certainty to industry codes of conduct established under that act. To explain to members of the House who are fascinated by these matters, the current regulation-making power does not explicitly extend to regulating the third parties that assist in the administering or regulating functions of those codes. This omission was never intended when the law was passed and these amendments will remove the unintended ambiguity by clarifying that these third-party roles are recognised and valid under the relevant industry codes. Again, a sensible measure, and we will support it.

Let's go to schedule 5, because, in our view, it's the most important schedule of this bill. It deals with family law and superannuation measures. When one party is not forthcoming with their superannuation assets in a family law separation, there can be significant issues in relation to the equitable division of the assets of the marriage. This schedule amends the Family Law Act 1975 and the Taxation Administration Act 1953 to allow parties to family law proceedings in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, and the Family Court of Western Australia, which has its own separate jurisdiction, to apply to the Family Court registry to request information from the Australian Tax Office that will assist them to identify their former partner's superannuation interests.

These amendments also set out measures to protect this information from access by unauthorised parties outside of the specific context of permitted family law proceedings. To make that plain and simple, if the parties obtain that information, presumably through their legal representatives, that information can only be used for the subject matter of the dispute before the court or the conciliation proceedings leading up to a determination of that matter before the court. They cannot be used for some irrelevant and unrelated ancillary purpose. That is right and proper. These amendments are intended to alleviate the financial hardship and negative impact on retirement incomes from separation.

It's worth noting that superannuation—because of the landmark reforms introduced by the Hawke and Keating governments in the early 1980s, and then again in the mid-1990s—is now either the first or the second largest asset of a marriage. Whether it be the house, or the house and superannuation, superannuation is now either the largest or the second largest asset of a marriage. It's absolutely critical. For a lot of low-income couples, particularly if they're in the early stages of their marriage and there's a lot of debt on the mortgage, the joint superannuation can be the largest asset of the marriage. So it's absolutely critical to ensure that there is full disclosure of these assets in order to achieve an equitable distribution of assets in the regrettable circumstances of a marriage breakdown.

I should say that these provisions should not be needed. If the law was operating as it was intended, and I'll go through why, and if society was operating in the way that I'm sure every fair-thinking member of this place and this parliament would think it should operate, then these measures should not be needed. But, regrettably, they are.

We already have laws which require the full disclosure of superannuation assets during family separations. The Family Law Act 1975 is unambiguous that superannuation is to be incorporated as a part of any property agreement or order of a court. It's pretty black and white. There's no ambiguity. Powers are granted to courts for how superannuation is to be assessed, and the law allows separating spouses to apply to a court to split super in much the same way as they can with respect to any other trust fund. It even provides for a maximum 12-month prison sentence for those who provide false or misleading information regarding their superannuation assets during those separation proceedings.

Yet, clearly, this regime is not working. Multiple inquiries before this parliament have been told a similar story by all those who are working in the family law area—by representatives, by women's legal centres around the country—which is that the current provisions are not working. Indeed, not only is the current regime failing to bring full transparency to separation proceedings; advocates tell me it is in fact allowing unscrupulous operators to make life even harder for their ex-partners. An ex-spouse can be sent on a costly and time-consuming wild-goose chase that can delay a family law matter for many months, if not years, and add thousands and thousands of dollars to the legal and administrative costs associated with that separation.

In relation to tracking down hidden super assets—despite the clear, unambiguous legal obligation to disclose—as of now, the only way to put test to the information or to provide the respondent or the applicant with some capacity to get access to information not provided is to go on a wild-goose chase. The only means to track down hidden super assets is to write to individual funds, one by one, and ask them to divulge the relevant information. Sometimes they require directions or orders from the court to assist them in this process. Needless to say, this is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack, given that there are literally hundreds of funds where savings could be. Whether they be funds regulated by APRA or funds regulated by the ATO, there can be literally hundreds, if not thousands, of these funds to which inquiries would need to be made. Spouses in search of super are faced with a choice of either going to mediation or court without a complete picture of their ex's assets, or spending lots of time and money trying to track the information down, with no guarantee of success. The truth is that, right now, if you wanted to do the wrong thing by your ex-partner, it's almost laughably easy to do. That is not fair, and that is not right.

In the main, as evidence has been adduced before this place, it's the men who have the most to gain and therefore are more active in this space, because their superannuation balances are going to be larger than those of their ex-partners. If you look at the data, the best available data on this shows that a woman's average superannuation balance at retirement is about $118,000—I should say the median is $118,000. For a male, the equivalent is about $188,000 at retirement. There's a big gap, a significant gap. Another job of work needs to be done is to close that gap. But you can see there is a very strong interest in the male party to the separation proceedings not to be forthcoming in the disclosure. I should interrupt myself to say that the overwhelming majority of men do the right thing. The overwhelming majority of parties to these separation proceedings do the right thing and want to do the right thing. But there are a significant number who don't, and therefore remedial legislation is needed.

We've spoken many times about the superannuation gap and how that impacts on women's retirement incomes. But, if you want a real and practical example of how it manifests in the undermining of economic security for women who separate later in life, you only need look at how this rolls out in separation proceedings. They have less money in their own superannuation account, and they are in a much weaker position when it comes to getting fair access to the assets of the marriage in their partner's superannuation account.

This bill has a long, long history in finding its way before this House. When the history of this government is written, this bill will not be a central matter to that story. But it is emblematic of a lot things, particularly in respect of this Prime Minister. It's worth saying a few things about that history. Back in 2017, the then financial services minister and former member for Higgins, Kelly O'Dwyer, announced the government was going to make the ATO super data available to family law proceedings on 24 July 2017. I'll say that again: on 24 July 2017. In fact, if you accessed a copy of the press release that the minister released in July 2017, you could've been forgiven for thinking that the law had already been changed and it had been done retrospectively. If you read the text of the press release, it reads as if the change had already been made in 2017.

Clearly, the then minister for financial services was fighting an uphill battle to get the support of her own cabinet and her own party room to make this bill a priority and move it through the House. If you like, it became the subject of a whole heap of goings on that the previous parliament was subject to and the instability within their party room, and it's perhaps emblematic of the way that the coalition parties dealt with these matters of women's equity, on which a great deal has been said. I think it's emblematic of what's been going on from the time that the then member for Cook, the then Treasurer, who was in a very influential position to prioritise this matter, put his arm around the then Prime Minister and said he was ambitious for him but the very next day was undermining him in his own party room and deposing him.

Mr Morton interjecting

The minister at the table asks how it's relevant. It's relevant to this point. There have been many women from the minister's own party who've said it is almost impossible for female members of the coalition parties to get their voices heard and to get their issues treated seriously. It is almost impossible. It is so difficult, indeed, that you've had female members of the coalition parties resign and join the crossbench or believe that it was so difficult indeed that they—

Mr Morton interjecting

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

Are you seeking a point of order?

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, a point of order in relation to relevance to the bill that's before us. We've just had a very good explanation from the Manager of Opposition Business as to this very point, and very soon after we're seeing members of the opposition breaching those points that were made. I would like the member to be drawn back to the relevance of this bill.

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

To the point of order?

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

I'm happy to give you the call to speak to the point of order.

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

I have just finished advising members of the House that this matter was first announced by the former minister for financial services in July 2017 and announced in such a way that it gave anybody who read that press release the impression that this initiative had already been legislated or it was the intention of that government, in the last parliament, to legislate it in a way that it was made retrospective.

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

Okay. Let's get back into the bill.

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

Several weeks later, there was an explosion in their party room and the minister was deposed, and this matter has somehow laid fallow for four years. Such is the priority that this government and this Prime Minister have attached to dealing with the issues around women's access to superannuation and equitable access to superannuation through a Family Court proceeding. So it's entirely relevant that the members of this House understand the background and the history to this piece of legislation and how it sits in the priority list of this government.

If I could, I will go on to make this point: the very reason that this bill is before the House—this bill which we support and which we supported, saying, 'Let's get on with it,' back in 2017—is that the government had found themselves with a diabolical problem with women, had announced a bunch of measures which were absolutely crazy and had realised they had to make up ground. I'll remind members of this House of some of those measures. For example, a thought bubble that was floated by the minister for superannuation and financial services was that women be granted access to their superannuation in domestic violence circumstances. I remember very well, and you'll remember very well, Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, that the member for Dunkley gave a very impassioned speech in this House, as indeed did you and as indeed did Senator McAllister in the other place. That idea was shot down, because it was made quite clear that that was a proposition that was going to hurt women twice. If ever there were a proposition that was designed to ensure an abuser could get access to their partner's superannuation, it would have been that measure there. It was roundly shot down. And then this measure was dusted off, and they said: 'Here we go. We've got another one.'

The minister at the table asks: why is this history relevant? I think members in this House deserve to know why it has taken in excess of four years for a bill for a measure that was announced and was supposed to be retrospective back in July 2017 to find its way on to the Notice Paper. We wish it had been done earlier. We'd been calling on the government to do it earlier, but here we are, in excess of four years later. I think it speaks to the priorities that the government attach to these sorts of issues. They will only do it after they've exhausted every other option. They do the right thing after it becomes the only available option to them because of political pressure that has been brought upon them.

We'll be supporting the bill. I formally move the second reading amendment, which has been circulated in my name:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that the Government:

(1)announced that it would deliver a mechanism to provide for the visibility of superannuation in family law proceedings in 2016;

(2)has disadvantaged women in family law proceedings by:

(a)delaying the implementation of this measure;

(b)failing to properly resource the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court; and

(c)abolishing the stand alone, specialist Family Court; and

I understand that it is the desire of the member for Fenner, who's been enthusiastically listening to my contribution in this debate, to second the second reading amendment.

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

Absolutely. I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing!

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

I thank the member for Whitlam—

Mr Morton interjecting

There's a lot of chatter going on. I thank the member for Whitlam for the contribution and ask if the amendment is seconded.

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and in doing so also thank the member for Whitlam for waking up the House and inspiring us on this important topic this afternoon.

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

Thank you—

Mr Wallace interjecting

Perhaps the member for Goldstein might just let me do my job before he interrupts.

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It was Fisher!

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

The member for Fisher got off lightly, then.

5:48 pm

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm sorry to burst people's bubble, but I am actually not quite fully awake after that speech. In fact, quite the reverse: the contribution from the member for Whitlam instead became a diatribe of repeated and rehearsed lines that I've no doubt he does in front of the mirror each morning. The other day, in another debate, he referred to the expression in the context of my good self of 'one who drinks their own bathwater'. As anyone would see who's had to go and look up something on Urban Dictionary when they hear that hip new youth speak, as I have from time to time—it's ridiculous to think that might apply to the member for Whitlam, but let's accept it as it is—on face value, the reference means basically that someone believes their own spin. I could use a more crude, unparliamentary term to refer to how the member for Whitlam, I'm sure, intended it—

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

Let's not.

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Let's not. No, I'm upholding standards, Deputy Speaker, but the member for Whitlam just gave a speech which amounted to definitely not just drinking one's own bathwater but drowning in it. It offers a continuing insight into what the objective of this opposition is, which is, of course, when the government does something constructive, which this relatively straightforward administrative legislation does, not to recognise that we're focusing on the job, as the head of the Australian people, and that we have to support the government to do its role. Instead the Labor Party's focus, as the member for Fenner would be well aware, is to tacitly support while delivering a backhanded compliment, because it's only intention really is to play petty politics in any conversation, and there's no topic that gets it more energised in this chamber. Once upon a time, it was if they felt that workers were under attack, because they were the party that represented organised labour. But today there is no topic that gets Labor members more exercise than anything else, nothing that gets them faster to their feet, nothing that gets them as energised and impassioned with their speeches than if anyone dares to criticise or raise concern about parts of organised capital under the superannuation system.

We on this side of the chamber see the success of the nation through the success of the Australian people. The success of our party is when the Australian people do well. The modern Australian Labor Party has never seen the success of the nation through the success of mums and dads, everything in between, families, communities. They see it through the success of themselves, and, when in doubt, they have to write a constant narrative to delude themselves into the pursuit of continuing on with their cause, because they think that they are the only ones who have the answers for the future of this country. Particularly with the discussion around superannuation, which, of course, comes up in the context of this bill around making sure the system works equitably and fairly in the particular context of relationships that have ended, their only contribution is: how does it fit within the narrative of the Australian Labor Party and our vision for the country. It can't actually be: how is this good for mums and dads or couples who are going through divorce? It's: What's the impact on the Labor Party? How is this advancing our narrative and our cause? And that's why in the end they always struggle when talking about legislation or with proposals they put up before elections to ever get resonance with the Australian people, because it's actually about themselves.

There's a reason you've successfully stayed on that side of the chamber for most of the history of the Commonwealth of Australia—and don't get me wrong, may it continue! It's because you think governing for Australia is actually about governing for the Labor Party and its pursuits and its objectives, and superannuation, of course, is a classic example of that. As I said, the party for organised capital is how I would refer to the modern Labor Party. Its tentacles get into all the pursuits and the various avenues and the operations and the judgement calls of the Labor Party today, and it affects every decision that it makes. I know there will be members on the other side who will take exception to that, but they won't deny it. They won't argue it's wrong. They'll just take exception to somebody pointing it out.

But let's get explicitly to the legislation we're discussing. The member for Whitlam did go through the various practical effects of the legislation and what it is seeking to entail. As I said, there are issues around the amendment of the Competition and Consumer Act regarding the franchising code—most people seem to think that these are good ideas—and there are some issues around deregulation of actuarial certificates for self-managed super funds. I love that we get to return to this topic once more! One of the reasons why the Labor Party are reluctantly supporting this bill is because it applies to self-managed super funds, but the Labor Party want it to apply to larger funds, the ones with larger overheads where you actually hand over money to other people to take responsibility, where you lose control of it and where they and their mates, particularly their fund manager mates, get to harvest it as fees and insurance premiums to boost their own profits. There's a reason why we give self-managed super funds lesser regulatory burden in some contexts, and it's because it's people controlling their own money. And you have higher regulations where they're not in control of their own money.

This should not become a particularly innovative process. When you hold your money, Member for Fenner or Deputy Speaker Claydon, in your own pocket, we don't normally demand oversight of how it's being spent, if you've earnt it as part of the process of salary and income outside your taxation obligations. But if you start handing it over to other entities to control then we want to make sure they are doing the right thing with it and that they're doing it on the basis of honesty and without deception and we want to make sure that decisions are being made in your best interests. So, while I agree with the member for Whitlam, I would love to see a bonfire of red tape right at the heart of this chamber.

The reality is that, just because some super funds are in charge of other people's money and they wilfully and wishfully spend it as they see fit, it doesn't mean they're always doing the right thing. We found this in the Standing Committee on Economics, which I am very privileged to chair on behalf of this House, during our current inquiry, which the member for Fenner can attest to, despite attempts by some Labor members to run interference in the inquiry and certain aspects of it. For instance, we had low-balance inactive accounts that were deliberately and maliciously being reactivated by industry super funds so that they could harvest the retirement savings of low-income Australians for fees and insurance premiums to boost their own profits and bonuses for fund managers.

There was some very questionable conduct that emerged out of the Hayne royal commission, particularly with banks, with the insurance industry and with retail super funds, and all of that behaviour was rightly called out. But some behaviour that was almost poetic in its corruption was where we had fees being charged for no service. Sadly, we have found in the Economics Committee that, while Commissioner Hayne found some misconduct, there were stones unturned, and we are making a very deliberate effort to make sure we find where they are and to expose them to the cleansing light of day. When we found fees for no service, it wasn't because of an administrative error or because money happened to be sitting there and there was automation; it was the deliberate, malicious and conscious harvesting of low-income Australians' superannuation savings to boost the profits and bonuses of fund managers and entities—which, funnily enough, seem to give an awful lot of money to organisations like the ACTU, which raises questions about their intent and nefarious agenda too.

Yes, we put higher obligations when other people are watching your money, because the retail funds have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, and the industry funds have done so as well. To be fair, at least the retail funds have admitted their behaviour. The industry funds continue to perpetuate a lie that they have nothing to answer for and that they do no wrong, because during the royal commission the stones that covered their misdeeds were unturned. Make no mistake: we will continue in the Economics Committee, right to the end of this term, to find every single stone we can in the retail space, in the industry space and in any other financial institution and hold them to account for their conduct. But I will say that this in the context where we had the large banks before the committee recently and the member for Fenner was complaining about how they were making the argument that perhaps constantly turning up before the committee was unjustified or unnecessary. It's their choice. He's more than entitled to make that argument. Then he listed off a whole series of allegations of misconduct against them, and then the chair of the ABA—I can't believe I'm quoting Anna Bligh, but this is where we all are; this is the parallel universe we operate in—had to make the point that not a single allegation of misconduct was highlighted by the members of the committee, particularly members of the Labor Party. It was what we call in modern parlance, if we go back to our urban dictionary, the equivalent of drinking your own bathwater: an epic slap down. So we should focus on where there is misconduct and where there are misdeeds, and that's what this legislation seeks to do.

But another part of the legislation which is important is around visibility when there's a divorce or separation and superannuation comes into that context. The member for Whitlam is right: there is a disparity around the amount of superannuation that women have at retirement compared with men. We all know that that's because of a number of factors, some of which we find very challenging. We're constantly working on how we can correct some of those fundamental injustices that occur.

But, critically, when people get divorced—and we hope that doesn't occur, because of course marriage is one of the foundational bedrock institutions of our society and a fundamental good—it should be done in a way where assets are divided in an appropriate context so that people can't hide their superannuation, which undermines the capacity for an equitable division. It's also for another reason: when people get divorced it can often end up in the situation where assets are traded between the couple about 'who gets what'. More often than not, women are left with less of their share, and that is wrong. But, more critically, it's wrong because, structurally, we then favour those who get a house or who are able to afford a house. We deliberately make it harder for women—in, say, their 40s or 50s—whose biggest conscious decision they can then go on to make for their financial security in their working life and retirement is to be able to access their superannuation to be able to buy their own home with enough time to pay it off, under the collective lie that they are somehow better off having money denied to them at that critical stage of their lives.

In denying them access to that funding so that they can provide for the foundation of their security in their working life and retirement we put super above homes. I know this is a constant theme in the speeches that I give in this place and I will never back off. The biggest decision Australians can make for their economic wellbeing, and the biggest decision they can make for their personal security and the choices in their life, is to own their own home.

Members of the Labor Party who come into this chamber and cry crocodile tears when talking about these issues without a proper acknowledgement that they actively seek to deny post-divorce women the opportunity to be able to own their own home, in order to feather the nests of fund managers, ought to hold themselves in shame, because they actively engage in a form of economic social engineering designed to feather the nests of those who have much at the expense of those who have little. It is disgraceful! It sacrifices women's opportunities for economic security and opportunities in their working lives and retirements. It's just as they do for young Australians when they deliberately kneecap them in their economic opportunities at earlier stages of life. It should be home first and super second. That's a pathway for economic security for all Australians.

6:03 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for the Republic) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] Well, there's 15 minutes of my life that I'll never get back. The member for Goldstein just spent 15 minutes—one minute on speaking about the bill and 14 minutes on his usual ideological rant—trying to sell more of his books, which obviously aren't selling enough. I love how the Liberals are all Monday experts when it comes to regulation of financial services and the wrongdoing that was perpetrated on millions of Australians through financial services. They're all Monday experts. They weren't voting with the Labor Party to hold a royal commission into the wrongdoings and rip-offs that were occurring in financial services on the 26 occasions we tried to move for a royal commission in the parliament. The member for Goldstein was one of those who voted on numerous occasions against the royal commission, and now he has the hide to come into the parliament and talk about the findings of the Economics Committee, of which he is a member, which they tried to use as a diversion to avoid a royal commission. It's blatant hypocrisy.

Nonetheless, in respect of the Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No. 6) Bill 2021, this is an important reform which we support. I am speaking in support of this bill. I particularly want to address schedule 5 of the bill, which deals with superannuation law and its intersection with family law matters in Australia. Labor has been calling for this reform to be implemented for many years now. Schedule 5 of the bill amends the Taxation Administration Act and the Family Law Act to provide a new mechanism for the sharing of superannuation information between participants in family law proceedings. Because women are at disproportionate risk of retiring with low superannuation balances, this is an extremely important reform. It provides an opportunity for government to provide a mechanism to ensure fairer outcomes when it comes to splitting assets in family law proceedings. Often, when there are such proceedings, it's the woman who ends up with the raw end of the bargain in terms of the splitting of those assets, because the law allows particular individuals—most notably, on most occasions, men—to hide behind the reality of their superannuation balances. It is particularly true for women who experience divorce or family breakdown that the lack of visibility of superannuation assets means that assets may not be divided equitably between partners.

While the government announced this reform in 2018, it has taken three years to implement it. Sadly, it's a common theme that we've seen through this three years of this government. It's not good enough, and it shows how little this government cares about women's economic security. The pandemic has given us a real opportunity to view the worth of female dominated industries and a unique opportunity to revalue their work through our society and to make policy changes that increase job security, wages and superannuation for female workers.

It's striking and remarkable when we look at the nightly news bulletins—let's face it; we're all a bit more interested in the news these days because of the pandemic—and we get the footage of the testing that is going on in testing clinics throughout the country, of the vaccinations being administered in people's arms throughout the country that are the important pathway back to normality for our economy, of the early childhood educators who are continuing to look after our kids and of the people who are doing Zoom classrooms with our kids in primary and secondary school. Unfortunately, in many circumstances, the people carrying the burden of doing home schooling in most households are, overwhelmingly, women. And the heroes of Australia, in terms of the working population who have continued to work, have predominantly been women. It's women who have kept our country going during this difficult time. It's important we recognise that in the policies we develop in the parliament into the future, to value the work of women more highly and to appreciate the contribution they make—particularly in service sectors, because it's services that have continued to run during this pandemic. If you look at the break-up of gender within services, overwhelmingly the people who work in that industry are women.

Unfortunately, because of that, it's in services, particularly in health and education services, that we have the highest gender pay gaps. Recently the Workplace Gender Equality Agency again indicated that gender inequality is on the rise in Australia because of the pandemic, after a period in which the gender pay gap was reducing. It's important for us to recognise that there are opportunities to make changes in policy that will make a big difference to the equality of women in the workforce—in particular the money they take home for the work that they perform and the funds that they retire with in their superannuation accounts. This is one area where we can make a positive adjustment.

There are other areas we should look at to make a difference as well. One of those could be the introduction of paid domestic violence leave in the National Employment Standards. But don't hold your breath waiting for the Morrison government to be proactive in implementing women-friendly policies to reduce the gender pay gap and improve the economic wellbeing of women. We need not to forget that they opposed vehemently, over time, a paid parental leave scheme in Australia. Australia was one of the last nations in the OECD to implement a paid parental leave scheme for new parents. They had to be dragged kicking and screaming to approve a wage subsidy, JobKeeper, for workers throughout the country. Compulsory superannuation—they opposed that as well. These are all important reforms that support the work of women in our society and make a big difference to gender inequality in our country. Hopefully, the skilled and valuable work of women during the COVID-19 crisis will force this government to see the importance of the contribution of female workers to Australia and to support measures to increase their participation in work and their remuneration.

The remaining parts of this bill are technical amendments. Schedule 1 clarifies the operation of the income tax law in relation to the Renewable Energy Target, ensuring that generators are not taxed when they later rectify a failure to meet a target in a given year. Schedule 2 allows for increased penalties to be applied to breaches of industry codes prescribed by the Competition and Consumer Act. It increases penalties for breaches of the franchising code, something expressly recommended by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services, and we of course support franchisees being protected by industry codes, as recommended. Schedule 3 removes some minor red tape for self-managed superannuation funds and other small super funds.

I want to reiterate the importance of this reform for gender equality around women's role in the workplace. And in removing some of the barriers to getting greater transparency when it comes to splitting assets in family law matters, particularly the amounts that are superannuation funds, hopefully we can reduce the terrible inequality that still exists in our country, where women retire with a third less in their superannuation account than men do.

6:13 pm

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

I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No. 6) Bill 2021. This bill implements a number of streamlining and integrity measures across a range of areas.

Schedule 1 to the bill amends the income tax law to ensure that no tax is payable on refunds of large-scale generation certificate shortfall charges. This will clarify the operation of the tax treatment of such charges and ensure the market for large-scale generation certificates works as intended, meeting targets for clean energy while minimising costs for consumers.

Schedule 2 to the bill will establish a more effective enforcement regime to encourage greater compliance with industry codes of conduct. In recent times especially we have seen instances of really bad behaviour from a range of large multinational franchisors. Appropriate penalties in the franchising code are necessary to provide a strong deterrent against breaches of the code across the franchising sector, and this bill will increase the maximum civil pecuniary penalty amount from 300 to 600 penalty units.

Schedule 3 will remove a redundant requirement for superannuation trustees to obtain an actuarial certificate when calculating exempt current pension income, where all members of the fund are fully in retirement phase for the entire income year. This delivers on the Morrison government's commitment in the 2019 budget to reduce red tape and cost for affected funds in this way.

Schedule 4 of the bill will amend the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 to strengthen the industry codes framework and provide legal certainty that industry codes of conduct can confer powers and functions on third parties to the commercial relationship between industry participants. This will reduce legal risks for the Commonwealth and will address unintended ambiguity.

All of these measures are important; however, schedule 5 of this bill really caught my attention. Should it pass the parliament, this part of the bill will have the effect of improving the visibility of superannuation assets during family law proceedings. This measure was announced as part of the government's Women's Economic Security Statement in 2018 and will provide the legislative basis for an information-sharing mechanism to allow separated couples undergoing family law proceedings to apply to the Family Court registries to request the superannuation information of the other party held by the ATO. This amendment will make it harder for parties to hide or underdisclose their superannuation assets in family law proceedings.

Divorce is a traumatic time for many Australians. I know this personally and all too well. Separation is hard enough without even taking into account the financial aspects of it. When the issues of money and family become intertwined, it can be unbearable and have wide-reaching and unintended consequences, including on children. It is a truly awful time in one's life, and this measure will make it just a little bit easier by reducing the time, cost and complexity for parties seeking information about their former partner's superannuation and by helping separated couples to divide their property on a just and equitable basis. I believe it is a significant step forward in alleviating the financial hardship and negative impact on retirement incomes that women, in particular, can experience after separation. This government has promised to deliver for Australian women, and this is a sensible move in the right direction. So I commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.