Senate debates

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Statements by Senators


1:23 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This year has been marred by crises: first the bushfires, then COVID-19, both contributing to a deep and damaging jobs crisis. The government have a choice for how to approach our recovery. They can deliver a big, bold jobs plan—a plan with heart; a plan that uses the levers of government to improve people's lives—or they can pull out the bottom drawer and use these crises to get out the tired old Liberal Party playbook. And right now, in the middle of a global pandemic, in the middle of our worst economic crisis for a hundred years, people are struggling.

The government's response to our recovery has been as disappointing as it was predictable, because it is straight out of the Liberal Party playbook. Those in this government are focused on slogans, not solutions. They're focused on cutting people's incomes and support. They're focused on slashing JobKeeper and JobSeeker before people get back on their feet.

And they're focused on freezing the super guarantee. Even though a super rise is legislated, we know that this government is going to use the cover of the Retirement Income Review and the cover of COVID-19 to freeze super, using the false claim that this is going to help wages rise. So is this really what they've got, to rebuild our economy? Is this really what they've got, to rebuild our country—threatening people that they can't have a super rise or their wages will suffer? Is it really what they've got—asking people to believe that, if they forgo a legislated super increase, they'll somehow magically get a pay rise? Is this really what they've got—asking people to accept a super freeze, when 2.8 million people have already raided their own super to get through these tough times? And now those same people are looking ahead for a way out of this crisis, only to see the government wanting to freeze their future super. So, again, is this really what the government have got—wasting this recovery, wasting this opportunity and using it to bring out their old, tired, nasty cuts?

People are concerned. They're concerned about their future. They're seeing big businesses letting workers go. They're surrounded by upheaval. They're seeing small businesses failing. They want a government that delivers practical solutions for their lives, not tired old ideological positions. But what we have is a government whose only plan for people's future is to take away their future savings. This is a government that has missed the opportunity to recover bigger and stronger with a big, strong jobs plan—a jobs plan that rebuilds Australian manufacturing, gets started on big transformative infrastructure projects, addresses the skills crisis by reinvesting in TAFE, recharges the workforce participation of women, invests in social housing to change lives and powers our recovery with clean energy projects and renewables. We need a plan that is committed to rebuilding good, secure jobs—jobs people can count on; jobs people can plan a future on. Where is this plan? Where is the vision? Where is the national leadership? Missing in action—that's where.

If the best this government can come up with is cutting the superannuation guarantee, we are in serious trouble. But we've known that this was coming for a while. It was not too long ago that the minister responsible for superannuation, Senator Hume, said she was 'ambivalent' about the legislated rise—ambivalent about the government sticking to its promise. 'Ambivalent'! This is the minister who should be superannuation's strongest advocate, its strongest champion. Around the same time, Senator Bragg chimed in to say: 'It is not a good time to raise the super guarantee.' Well, for the Liberals, it's never a good time to raise super. When the economy is booming? No, it's not a good time. When the economy is in recession? That's not a good time. And it seems that this has now become the Liberals' superannuation policy: 'It's not a good time.'

Superannuation is about the dignified retirement of hardworking Australians, and yet those in this government are ambivalent about that. They are ambivalent about Australians having decent standards in their retirement. I can assure you that Labor is not ambivalent about Australians' retirement incomes, and we know how the government are trying to sell this freeze. They say that going ahead with the super guarantee will hurt wages growth. But there's a big problem with that argument, and that is the last seven years of this government, because the government already cancelled the scheduled super increases, saying that that would improve pay for workers. And then, for seven years, they presided over the lowest wage growth on record. What followed was low wage growth that continues to this day.

Super has been frozen, wages have not gone up and workers have ended up being worse off—workers like Julia. Julia is a family service worker and domestic violence support volunteer, a proud ASU member and a fellow Victorian who has already lost out on over $4,800 since the 2014 freeze, and that's not counting the interest that she has lost as well. If the super guarantee freeze continues at its current rate of 9.5 per cent, the average loss will be over $1,600 per person per year. A young family could lose up to $240,000 in retirement savings by the time they reach their retirement. That is a huge amount of money. How is that going to help anyone? How is it going to help the recovery? Is it fair?

This freeze will disproportionately impact on women's retirement. Women already retire with 50 per cent less super than men on average. They are already at higher risk of experiencing poverty in retirement. So this cut from the government is a huge blow to closing the gap on retirement income. Everybody deserves to retire with dignity—everyone! But, for many, continuing the freeze on super is going to rob them of that dignified retirement they deserve.

As we know, this has nothing to do with evidence based policy and it has nothing to do with sensible decision-making with the aim of supporting hardworking Australians or doing what is best for Australia. This is to do with the Liberals' tired, old, nasty, ideological obsessions. In the last year, government MPs and senators have said over and over again that they want to cut super entitlements. They've said they want to make super voluntary. They've even suggested scrapping it altogether. Senator Rennick has called superannuation a 'cancer', even going so far as to attack his own party for ever supporting super. He believes that:

… the coalition sold out its … values when it didn't stop this cancer called superannuation.

But it doesn't stop with Senator Rennick. Senator Bragg believes there needs to be 'drastic surgery' to Australia's superannuation funds. I think we can all imagine what that drastic surgery would look like, because last year Senator Bragg told us how he thought superannuation should be voluntary for low-income workers, an idea that would leave low-income workers paying more tax and having even less super in their retirement.

So why do the Liberals keep saying these things? Why do they keep freezing the super guarantee? There is one simple answer. The Liberals do not support universal superannuation. They do not. They have never supported it. They have opposed every dollar that's been put into super since its creation. Pursuing this ideological hatred of super is more important to them right now than delivering a strong and inclusive recovery. This is what they have chosen to go with. This is why they've spent our worst economic crisis for 100 years attacking workers' retirements rather than doing their jobs and delivering a big-picture plan for our recovery—a big, bold jobs plan, a plan with heart and a plan that gives Australians hope for the future.