Senate debates

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:46 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of the answer given by Senator Cormann to a question I asked a long time ago at the beginning of question time. My question was about the fundamental right that Australians now have, have come to expect and perhaps think this country has always had—that is, the right to expect when you work that your employer will contribute superannuation. There was a time when that didn't exist. Certainly, I grew up in a part of the country where superannuation wasn't anything that was discussed around the kitchen table in Curran Street, Blacktown, where I lived. But the Labor Party instituted superannuation for all Australians, a universal scheme, and those opposite in government—and you just heard a speech from one of their representatives—were so out of touch at the time we set it up that they said it could never work, that businesses would fail and the whole economy would fall apart.

They're still out of touch, because today when I asked Senator Cormann to actually recognise the fact that, right now in Australia, Australian women will retire with 42 per cent less in their superannuation balance than Australian men who are working in the same country, the same economy—42 per cent less. The calculation of that amount is about $113,000.

Senator Cormann, the Leader of the Liberal-National party who will seek the vote from the Australian people to come back in here, couldn't even answer that question and confirm those facts. Part of the reason he can't confirm those facts, and perhaps he doesn't care about those facts, is that his coalition are going to—and this is what he said—continue to consider all options. That's what they've been doing for five, nearly six years—considering all those options. And do you know who they've been leaving out the whole time? Australian women. They haven't got enough women who want to join their party, who want to stay in their party or who want to be a voice in their party because it's dominated by men who simply think that they know better and refuse to acknowledge the reality.

If you looked around this chamber at question time, you would have seen 15 women here in the Australian Labor Party out of a team of 26—15 of us—standing up for women. It's not just the team that's here—and I want to acknowledge the great work of Labor parliamentarians, men and women, over years who have advanced the cause for women to get fair and decent superannuation. We've come up with a policy to address that. And the voice of women has been loud in that debate inside our party.

On the other side, there are 30 Liberal-National party members. Only eight of them—only eight—are women. Having an absence of a women's voice in your political party in this day and age is absolutely a failure. This government is failing on women's representation and, because of that, it's failing to provide adequately for the women of this nation.

My second question was to Senator Cormann asking him if he will invest the $400 million that Australian Labor are going to invest to make sure that women are going to have a secure financial future so that, when they go on maternity leave, they'll get their maternity leave, which Labor delivered, but they'll also get a superannuation payment on that of $1,100—roughly that amount. That's going to translate to a massive improvement in the amount of money that they will have on retirement. I will just go to the example of a woman who gives birth to a child at 27 and another at 29—two children; she's under 30. The difference that this policy of Labor—this $400 million investment in the women of this country—will make is $24,350. That is no small amount. We understand, as the Labor Party, with the strong voice of strong women, that we have to do better for 50 per cent of this population, who are retiring in poverty.

My second question was to ask the minister if he knows, if he can verify that older, single women are one of the fastest-growing groups falling into homelessness. If they spent just a minute or two at their local real estate agents and saw who was coming in and the desperate state that Australian older women are in, they'd know that they need to change their policy. They could have matched Labor. They're the government. They could have said on Monday that they were going to institute it straight away. But they didn't. What they're doing to do is what Senator Cormann said—they're going to continue to consider all options. Well, they've been considering the wrong options for too long, and Australian women deserve better.

3:52 pm

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm glad Senator O'Neill has raised the issue of superannuation. It's been very interesting, the royal commission, hasn't it, Senator O'Neill, when we look at superannuation there? Of course, we're well aware that, if Labor had put the terms of reference forward for the royal commission, superannuation would not have been included—you could bet on that.

There are questions to be asked about superannuation and who's earning what and what they're going to retire on. Senator O'Neill might answer a question for me, when I asked why, years ago, in 2007, Australian Super donated $27½ thousand to the Australian Workers' Union. It is quite amazing. Who were the directors of Australian Super then? You wouldn't believe it, Madam Deputy President: Senator Cameron was a director! And it goes on. Who was another director? Former Labor minister Greg Combet!

Senator McAllister interjecting

You've picked the next one. I'm getting to it; you'll just have to be patient, Senator McAllister. And another director was? Mr Bill Shorten! So the superannuation fund donates $27½ thousand to the Australian Workers' Union and they list it as 'a donation', in 2007, to the Australian Workers' Union. What did they do shortly afterwards? The Australian Workers' Union donated $25,000 to where? To the election campaign fund of one Mr Bill Shorten. Of course, 10 years later, in 2017, the AWU changed it from 'a donation' to 'other'. So if we want to talk about superannuation and how much money is left, Senator McAllister, I'm glad we've got it in the terms of reference in the royal commission—which you never would have done.

Talking of working women, I want to see them earn more super and have a better retirement as well. But one person we should be thanking is this minister sitting in front of me for his change to day care subsidies and allowances. When it peaked out at $7,000, when half of the women went to work what was the story? They were working for taxation and for child care, and for nothing else; they were working for, basically, nothing. So isn't it great that Minister Birmingham did that? And congratulations to him on his promotion to trade minister.

As to the question from Senator Wong—well, if Senator Wong's going to keep Senator Keneally on the back bench, she's going to have to do better than that, because I know Senator Keneally. As I said, she's not used to riding down at the back of the bus; she wants to be up the front of the bus—in fact, she wants to be driving the bus. So if Senator Wong wants to keep those divisions from behind her away, she's going to have to do much, much better than that.

It's quite amazing that the coalition has a proud record of introducing real, tangible measures to help women save for their retirement, including the low-income superannuation tax offset, which benefits around 1.9 million women by over $500 million. Do those opposite give any praise for that? Of course not. Levelling the playing field by scrapping restrictions on who can make personal deduction contributions benefits 800,000 Australians, including those women working in roles without access to formal salary sacrifice arrangements. Catch-up concessional contributions will benefit 230,000 Australians, including those women with interrupted work patterns or irregular income, such as farmers and carers.

Of course, we know what Labor will do. It will simply hike taxes. We know there are $200 billion worth of taxes planned if it were to win the next election—an extra $200 billion on the Australian people. That's what Labor has done all its life—spend, spend, spend; tax, tax, tax; borrow, borrow, borrow; and run up government debt. It doesn't matter whether it is at state level. It doesn't matter whether it is at federal level. Labor has a history of building debt, big time. Its then Treasurer, Mr Wayne Swan, was going to have the budget in the black years ago. As I've said in this place before, black print at the bottom of a budget is something Labor simply does not understand.

Under the coalition, there are more women working than ever before and more women working full-time than ever before. Working women, of course, are getting superannuation. What we've got to do is get the snouts out of the trough of the superannuation. The royal commission has made it very clear that there are institutions out there that are simply robbing and ripping off people's superannuation, and hence their retirement fund is so much lower. I hope the royal commission makes some serious recommendations about superannuation, about seeing that not only the women but the male workers as well have a much better retirement fund, because that's what it's for. The coalition has done a good job on benefiting working women. I commend, as I said, the day care support now, which is a real incentive for women to work and to work longer, not only to earn their wage and benefit their family but to earn superannuation as well.

3:57 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

More than two years ago, a Senate Economics References Committee inquiry, which I chaired, published its report titled 'A husband is not a retirement plan'. That reflected the very words said to our committee by an older woman who wanted to make it clear to younger women that they would need to take responsibility for their own financial future. The truth is, of course, that a third of Australian women enter retirement single. Many other Australian women may enter retirement with a partner, but their partner, like them, has a very modest superannuation account. The idea, in any case, at the level of principle, that a woman ought to be dependent on a man in her retirement just does not fly in 2018.

Last month, the government released their response. It took them two years to come up with their response to the recommendations made by that Senate inquiry. The shorthand version of what that response said to the proposition that a husband is not a retirement plan is basically this. They said, 'Well, actually, ladies, a husband is your best bet.' That is essentially the response that was provided by the government to the more than 18 recommendations that were in that report.

Today in question time, I asked about whether or not the government would match Labor's commitment to pay superannuation for women when they are on parental leave. All we got was waffle. The truth is that they don't have any meaningful response whatsoever when it comes to the appalling state of women's economic security in retirement.

There are a couple of measures that the coalition like to point to when we raise this issue. I want to just take the time to point out how the answers that they provide, the things that they say answer this question, are no answers at all. Senator Williams pointed to the opportunity for people to make catch-up concessional superannuation contributions. What the government claim is that this measure will help women by allowing them to make additional tax-free super contributions when they're working to make up for the period of time that they spend out of work caring for someone else. The problem is that the majority of Australian women, and particularly those who spend extended periods of time out of the workforce, do not make the kind of money that allows them to make these catch-up contributions.

Industry Super Australia did the numbers. They ran the numbers on this proposition and they said that this measure would assist less than two per cent of women who have super accounts. They said that it would mostly help women with superannuation balances of over $600,000 a year. Well I can tell you that's not your average woman who's been off on maternity leave. And your average woman doesn't have $30,000 lying around that she's just going to chuck into her super account now that these arrangements have been relaxed by the government. This is a measure that will benefit high-income men. This is not a measure that benefits women, and it is absolutely shameful that, time and time again, Senator Cormann comes into this chamber and asserts that this is a measure for women. It is actually a lie and he should stop saying it.

They also say that they will provide measures to allow men, essentially, to tip money into women's super accounts. They'll change the arrangements to make that easier. I tell you what: this tells you a lot about the Liberals' view of gender relations, but it doesn't do a lot for women who cannot or do not want to rely on a husband or a partner for economic security. Economic independence is the thing women need if we are to escape generations of subordination to men.

Senator Cormann likes to talk about the fact that they reinstated the low-income superannuation contribution. I'll tell you what actually happened. This was a Labor initiative that made sure that low-income women didn't pay more tax on their super than other people were paying. The government abolished it. They abolished it. So when they say that this is their initiative, what they've actually done is put our tax concession back and they've given it a new name. It used to be the LISC and now they call it the LISTO. It is exactly the same measure that was introduced by Labor. It is no new measure at all. They're the three measures that they say help women, and every single one of them is either a Labor measure or has no impact on women at all. It is disgraceful, and they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

4:02 pm

Photo of Steve MartinSteve Martin (Tasmania, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

It was interesting that Senator O'Neill mentioned women becoming homeless. Back in 1998 there were 100,000 people in Australia sleeping rough—transient; between different people's places, on their couches; sleeping under bridges—and the age group covered anywhere between six years of age right up to about 95 years of age.

Today the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, and the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, assisted the efforts of young people to attack the scourge of homelessness in this country. They did so by donating one of their own personal coats to a group called Enormity, which bases itself in Ulverstone in Tasmania. At the time, these young people were the age of about 15, and one of their friends became homeless. They borrowed a coat and provided it to this young person, who was sleeping in doorways with no possessions, no money and no food. They thought they would provide that person with protection from the winter elements and some warmth. That's what they thought they could do. But in questioning these young people about whether there were any more homeless people that they knew out there, they said they did know of more. So they set about creating a public appeal for the donation of winter coats. Today the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister donated the 99,999th coat and the 100,000th coat to a young adult, Mr Jack Crawford, who was a member of Enormity six years ago. This marks 20 years of hard work by these young people who went out in the winter elements and collected coats from people who were kind enough to donate their own winter coat to help those who were homeless and in need. They came in all sizes and all shapes. We even had members of the public going to local stores and actually buying new coats and donating them to help the homeless. We even had visitors—

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Resume your seat, Senator Martin, please. Point of order, Senator Urquhart?

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, a point of order. The taking note was on the first question that was asked to Senator Cormann in relation to women's superannuation. I would ask that you draw the senator's attention to that. Thank you.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You make a point, Senator Urquhart. In the debate by Senator O'Neill, she did refer to homelessness, but I will draw your attention back to the issue of superannuation, once you've wound up on the point you're trying to make, please, Senator Martin.

Photo of Steve MartinSteve Martin (Tasmania, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. One hundred thousand coats in 20 years is an extremely huge target and a very proud moment for these young people, especially receiving that from the leader of the country. Over the last 20 years, they've collected a coat from every Prime Minister, starting with Prime Minister John Howard. This investment by these young people shows that they are caring and that they know. The learnings that they got from that has enabled them to move into life and into the workforce to earn money and contribute to our community. They've been able to build a better life for themselves and for others. The contribution that they've made is not only through their volunteer work but also through their working life and productivity. They earn money so that they can put it into superannuation themselves.

It's funny: as we go along, we talk about putting money into superannuation and we talk about the government assisting people. The Labor Party, when they were in government not so long ago, had the opportunity to assist young people in their working life to be able to earn money and invest in superannuation, but, instead, there was a knee-jerk reaction to an issue and they said, 'We're going to build new school halls. We're going to invest in that. Instead of investing in young people themselves, we're going to build unneeded and unwanted school halls,' and they did. They built them and they weren't up to specifications. They built them and they weren't able to be used multipurposely. It was a poor investment. That's what's happening at the moment: we're wasting a lot of money through knee-jerk reactions. We're wasting a lot of money— (Time expired)

4:07 pm

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of the answers given by Senator Cormann today. The minister's answers reveal, in stark terms, the complete failure of the shambolic Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government to understand the problems facing working women in Australia today. That's not surprising, because the government have no interest in working women, do nothing to promote talented women and do not respect the women they do have in this place. That's why Julie Bishop, the member for Curtin, the most high-profile woman in the coalition parties, polled only 11 votes when she contested the Liberal leadership; that's why the member for Chisholm has been driven out of parliament; and it's why the member for Gilmore is quitting politics.

In 1994, the coalition parties had more women in this parliament than Labor did. On both sides, fewer than 20 per cent of members were women. Today, more than 45 per cent of Labor members are women, while the coalition is still stuck on 20 per cent. They are on track with their current preselections to ensure Australia has fewer women in the parliament than they have in the Saudi Arabian legislature. This is not just a matter of symbolism; it explains why the coalition government disregards issues of primary importance to women. It explains the policy vacuum revealed by Senator Cormann's answers today. It's why the coalition government is doing nothing to address the gross inequalities that still face working women today, still face older women and still face retired women in Australia.

Far too many older Australian women are living in poverty despite having worked for most of their lives. This is because women disproportionately work in lower-paid jobs, because many women are still not getting equal pay for equal work—which is an utter disgrace—and because many women take time out from work to raise children, a task which still falls almost entirely on women.

But there is good news. A Shorten Labor government, if elected, will help women plan for a secure financial future. It will strengthen Australia's superannuation system and boost women's superannuation balances. In summary, the measures will pay superannuation on Commonwealth paid parental leave and dad and partner payments. They will phase out the $450 minimum monthly income threshold for eligibility for the Superannuation Guarantee. They will make it easier for employers to make extra payments into a woman's superannuation fund, and they will consider the impact that any future changes to super that might occur might have on women.

One of the effects of the current superannuation system is that women retire with $113,000 less, on average, in their super than men. The average superannuation balance at the moment for women upon retirement is $157,000. For men, it's $270,000. Older women, particularly single, divorced or widowed women, are more dependent than men on the aged pension. Older women are the fastest-growing cohort of homeless in Australia. In our large cities and, indeed, in smaller towns, we have seen an increase in homelessness. In the city of Melbourne, my hometown, you can see this on the streets in the CBD area.

The coalition government won't even acknowledge these realities, let alone do anything about them. This is a government which has little knowledge of and interest in the lives of working Australians, particularly working women. This 'muppet show' of a government is more interested in its own internal feuds and hatreds than it is in the lives of Australian women.

Labor understands the lives of working women. They are the people we represent in our electorates. They are the union members. They are the women who have responsibilities in trade unions. They are the women in our branches. They are the strong and capable women who we have brought into this parliament and elected to senior positions. Some of the best women in all of the parliaments of the world are Labor members and senators in this very parliament, and we should be very proud of that. We are never going to treat issues of importance to women as second-order issues, as this coalition does. The other part of this policy change is that we will amend the Sex Discrimination Act to ensure that businesses are able to make higher superannuation payments for female employees if they wish to do so. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.