Tuesday, 12 May 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann. On 20 April, superannuation funds wrote to the Assistant Minister for Superannuation, Senator Hume, outlining their concern about the risk of fraud under the government's early superannuation scheme and calling on the government to enact greater protections. On 1 May, the very same day the government received advice from the AFP saying it was investigating suspected fraud in the scheme, Assistant Minister Hume replied to concerned superannuation funds, saying the government had 'substantial checks in place to guard against fraud'. Does the Prime Minister stand by Senator Hume's claim?
Of course he does. Senator Hume is doing an outstanding job, an absolutely outstanding job, in helping the government develop our response, supporting Australians through this crisis, helping Australians who have lost their job or who have lost significant work hours, who are facing significant financial challenges, to be able to get through this period, pay the mortgage, pay the fees that they're facing, by accessing some of their superannuation early.
This is actually not a new system. Hardship provisions and early access of superannuation under hardship provisions is a well-established system. We have adapted it in this context. And, of course, the correspondence that the senator refers to had some other assertions too, like that somehow $50 billion of superannuation savings would walk out the door. We always said that that was an excessive and exaggerated prediction, and if you look at the figures, at the way they have been developing, that indeed has been proven to be right.
I wish to raise a point of order about relevance. I am hoping to learn whether the Prime Minister stands by the minister's claim that substantial checks were in place to guard against fraud. That is the materialist issue in this question and I would like an answer.
On the point of order, Senator McAllister, that was the conclusion of your question. I am listening carefully to the minister's answer. I can't instruct him which part of a question to answer, but he is allowed to address any parts of the preamble to that concluding question. So I'm listening carefully to the minister. Senator Cormann.
Senator Hume was right. The Prime Minister's right. Of course there are substantial checks and balances. But any program, any government program, any business, is exposed to the risk of fraud, and if and when fraud does occur you take appropriate action. Appropriate action was taken. This is not a widespread problem. It is an isolated problem. But as is appropriate—
An opposition senator: Fraud!
There is fraud in relation to jobseeker. Do you suggest that we should close down the entire jobseeker program because there is a risk of fraud? There is a risk of fraud in relation to any government program and, of course, you put appropriate checks and balances in place, which does not entirely eliminate the risk of fraud but when fraud is detected you take action. That is what is happening, consistent with the laws that this parliament passed with your support.
Only three days after the government suspended assessments under the scheme, the responsible minister reopened assessments. Can the minister guarantee no further Australians will be defrauded of their retirement savings through this scheme?
Point of order, direct relevance. He might think it's funny to dismiss this but they are the government, and the question is about the government's program and the probity of the government's program. Could the minister please be directly relevant to the question?
With respect, on the point of order, the minister had been speaking for seven seconds. I didn't have him at a full stop at that point. I don't believe, if he was prefacing his answer with such a statement, that I would be in a position to rule it as not being directly relevant seven seconds into the answer. I've allowed you to challenge the minister's answer. There's a time for debating it after question time.
It may be very hard for Labor senators to understand, but for Australian families facing hardship during this period this is an important option, for them to be able to release some of their own money, in order to deal with their cost-of-living pressures through this period. Appropriate checks and balances are in place and, of course, we'll continue to take action as appropriate.
With respect, Senator Wong—
Senator Wong interjecting—
Can I conclude my—I'll take a further point of order after I rule. Your point of order, there, moves into asking me to instruct a minister how to answer a question, which I don't believe is within my power. He was talking about the risk of fraud or otherwise, as I was listening to, in the program. I believe that is being directly relevant and there's an opportunity to debate it afterwards. I can't instruct him to answer a question or use a particular term. Senator Cormann.