Senate debates

Wednesday, 17 June 2020


Treasury Laws Amendment (Your Superannuation, Your Choice) Bill 2019; Second Reading

11:38 am

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Your Superannuation, Your Choice) Bill 2019. I am delighted to talk on the great Labor achievement that is our modern superannuation scheme, which has ensured that all Australian workers now have a right to a dignified and prosperous retirement. I want to acknowledge the contribution of Senator Whish-Wilson in his remarks around the university sector. Like Senator Whish-Wilson, I spent some time working in that sector and I am very much apprised of the very significant challenges faced by that workforce pre-COVID and particularly during the COVID period. I put on the record that I am a continuing member of the National Tertiary Education Union, which was my union when I left that workforce to come here to the parliament.

This bill amends the Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act 1992. It ensures that employees under workplace determinations or enterprise agreements have the right to choose their superannuation fund. This applies only to new workplace determinations and enterprise agreements made on or after 1 July 2020. The bill will allow employees to select the fund that best suits their own circumstances. A lack of super choices can mean that employees who have changed workplaces can end up with multiple super accounts, which can lead to high fees and charges and to them potentially paying multiple insurance premiums. More specifically, the bill will allow employees to choose their own superannuation funds, where they are employed under a workplace determination or enterprise agreement that is made on or after 1 July 2018. New employees to whom such a determination or agreement applies must be provided with a standard choice form, and if there is no chosen fund for a new employee the default fund arrangements apply. An employer does not have to provide existing employees with a form unless requested, once a new determination agreement is made. Where there is no chosen fund for an existing employee, an employer that continues to make compulsory contributions for that employee to the same fund in accordance with the previous determination or agreement will comply with the choice of fund requirements.

Labor has always been supportive of super choice and is committed to ensuring that every Australian worker is in a high-performing fund and that adequate information is available to empower consumers with the information that they need to make choices in their best interests. But I am worried that this bill proposed by the government—the Liberal-National party, who has so often taken to superannuation to cut it, to contain it, to diminish it, to abolish it—will not meet those criteria without significant amendment.

While this bill will have relatively minimal impact on the super sector, given that Industry Super Australia estimates that of those employees covered by an enterprise agreement only 7.4 per cent have no choice of superannuation fund, which represents 1.9 per cent of the workforce, the bill will have a significant effect on the retirements of that 1.9 per cent should it pass without amendment. Labor will move an amendment to ensure that there is a provision that allows workers to bargain for a single fund or set of funds where it is determined by the Fair Work Commission to be in their best interests. This amendment proposed by Labor is a commonsense measure that was highlighted in Labor's dissenting committee report on this bill. The report also noted the evidence that the ACTU and UniSuper provided to the committee and enabled the highlighting of the detrimental effect that the bill, if unamended, could have on their default defined-benefit product offering. The amendment that UniSuper provided at paragraph 2.63 of the committee report addresses their concerns and, indeed, many of my concerns about the effects that this bill could have. Any risk to defined benefit offerings lessens choice, rather than enhances it, and would achieve the opposite of what this bill claims it seeks to do.

We know that we cannot trust this LNP government with superannuation. I have seen many colleagues—members of the government, on the other side of the chamber—who have previously lambasted Australia's world-class superannuation scheme for a quick social media grab. I note Senator Rennick from Queensland, who claimed in a speech last year in this chamber that superannuation is a cancer. He actually said that. To describe superannuation as a cancer is a disgusting slur on all those who have suffered cancer, and as the co-chair of Parliamentary Friends of Cancer Care and Cure, I was revolted and sickened by that comment. It was ill-judged. Super is an enhancement of people's lives. No-one thinks that about cancer.

Superannuation has allowed thousands of Australians to share in the dignity of a retirement funded in full or in part by the benefits of superannuation, formerly a privilege that was restricted to public servants, politicians and senior managers in the banking and finance industries. I can tell you that, when I grew up on Curran Road in Blacktown and Aurelia Street in Toongabbie and then Kingsclare Street in Leumeah in Campbelltown, there weren't too many conversations over the back fence about how the superannuation was ticking over. There weren't too many conversations about what a defined benefit was. That gap in the difference of financial literacy was taken seriously by only one party, and that is the Labor Party, who instituted superannuation. That's why we have to watch so carefully what this government seeks to do. They were never committed to delivering superannuation for every Australian. They were quite happy to preserve it as a right for the well-employed in the Public Service and the wealthy who could afford the advice to set up such structures.

Senator Rennick bemoaned the management fees taken by superannuation firms and consultants, but he's been silent on the billions of dollars that this government forks out to consultant firms while sacking thousands of frontline public servants like our posties. Shame on this LNP government! I also note that Senator Bragg from my home state of New South Wales was reported recently as suggesting in his book that workers raid their super to purchase a home. It reveals what a total lack of understanding they have and that a continuing ideological push against the benefits of superannuation for Australia still resides in this government.

This raid on superannuation was also the Liberal and National parties' answer to economic privations in the pandemic, which saw $14 billion ripped out of the super scheme—out of people's future savings, out of people's retirement—to be spent on a range of things, including, sadly, online gambling and needless purchases. That is even before the next phase of the raid is undertaken, and it's because this government is so loose with how it handles money despite its rhetoric about being great money managers. People should not forget that this is the party that lost $60 billion in a few weeks. Their figures were out by $60 billion. They could've left people with their super intact. They could've supported the Australian people better through this COVID crisis, but they failed. They have compromised people's futures and retirements with regard to super by the actions they have taken in their ideological bent.

The contribution from Senator Bragg to the debate on superannuation in recent times only serves to undermine a system that is responsible for giving millions of workers a comfortable retirement. I also notice that the Prime Minister's scheme to allow Australians to withdraw super to pay bills was so riddled with fraud that it had to be temporarily frozen in order for a correction to be made to that structure. My office had to help locals who had thousands of dollars stolen from their accounts by criminals. The government have not yet revealed exactly how many fraudulent claims have been made, because they don't come into this place and transparently reveal the truth. In fact, question time is an exercise in watching them painfully hide from the truth. Neither do we know yet what the government are doing to compensate victims after the ATO directed their super fund to make a payment to a fraudulent account.

This government has form on the shonky ways of moving Australians' money away from them in unedifying and unpalatable ways. Think about robodebt: illegally constructed debts, sent by this government to hundreds of thousands of Australians, which it now needs to repay. They don't care about helping Australians manage their money in ways that are sage and sensible. Rather, they take any opportunity they can to raid Australians' savings and to make them more at risk in terms of their finances.

Labor supports the concept of choice, but choice is not the most pressing issue right now in the superannuation sector. Rather, it's a retirement savings gender gap. According to the national advocacy group Women in Super, an older woman generally retires with 47 per cent less superannuation than a man, and yet women will very likely outlive men by at least five years. They're also likely to be the family's most active caregivers as well as the ones most likely to take time off to care for children or elderly relatives, further denuding their super compared to men. This is a problem far more pressing than the issue of choice of super for 1.9 per cent of Australia's workforce. But that is not what the government is choosing to focus on and that is not the legislation before us. Rather, we have this. Instead of solutions we have crickets from the government opposite.

Superannuation firms have also been active in addressing the gender wage gap and its knock-on effects in retirement savings. With lower earnings, breaks from their careers to begin families, and longer life expectancy, women face a far different picture to men when it comes to superannuation. Yet some superannuation funds are taking up that challenge. I want to acknowledge, in particular, the work of the SDA and the super fund REST, who have both campaigned very hard to support their majority female workforce in their goal for equitable treatment in retirement.

Super should be gradually increased as we face an ageing population and with healthcare and aged-care costs continuing to soar. I note the SDA union recommended several sensible changes to the current superannuation system, which would go further than anything this bill proposes to make Australia's super scheme more equitable. These suggestions offered by the SDA, in their submissions to important inquiries of this place, include:

… ensure superannuation is compulsory (through the award system) and universal (including through the creation of a new indicative model of retirement income with the first next step being 12% superannuation on all income)

… the removal of the $450 per month earnings threshold and ensuring superannuation is paid on parental leave

… application of representative governance model for all superannuation …

This is a result of the important civic work that the SDA, as an exemplary union, takes on on behalf of its members, in addition to supporting them in their workplaces and standing guard against the savage attacks on the working rights and the superannuation rights of these Australian people, particularly women.

These suggestions would attempt to balance the effect of penalty rates cuts on these workers as well as give millions more Australian women the opportunity of a dignified retirement. Currently, older women are the fastest-growing cohort of homeless people in Australia. According to census data, the number of women aged 65 to 74 describing themselves as homeless increased by 51 per cent in the five years to 2016. Shame on this government for presiding over that! Shame on them for their failure to respond to the housing needs of older Australians! Shame on them for taking away the opportunity for improvements in superannuation for Australian women, in particular! With a social housing waiting list in my home state of decades, not years, many will find themselves on the waiting list in their 50s and will die before they're ever near getting into a house.

This government continually incentivises people to pillage super for paying daily bills in an economic crisis rather than offer real and sustained government help. Like everything else, this government's answer is to throw everything out to the free market, to that perfect neoliberal goal of 'choice', which they dress up as something much greater than it can ever be. But, as Martin Luther King Jr said, 'What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can't afford to buy a hamburger?' Choice is all well and good, but it's hardly the most pressing issue that this government could determine to undertake with legislation.

I support the measures that will make this bill work in keeping that honoured tradition of collective bargaining alive. I support amendments to this bill that will allow workers to bargain for a single fund or a set of funds, as well as adding measures to ensure— (Time expired)


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