Thursday, 18 March 2021
Questions without Notice
Domestic and Family Violence
My question is to the Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy, Senator Hume. Yesterday, in response to a question about the government's plan for victims-survivors of domestic violence to fund their own escape plans using their superannuation, the Prime Minister said: 'We've been consulting with various groups around the country. We're listening to those concerns, and that measure is now under review.' Can the minister now rule this measure out?
I thank Senator McAllister for her question and her sincere and enduring interest in the economic welfare of women in retirement. This was a measure that was first raised in the 2018 Women's Economic Security Statement, and we have been actively listening to stakeholders in this area and reflecting on their views. Stakeholders have raised concerns about this proposal; that is true. We understand their concerns. As both the Prime Minister and I have said this week, the measure is now under review, and that's exactly what that means. The measure was in fact originally proposed, you might recall, by the super fund HESTA. Around 80 per cent of its members are women. It was in fact supported not just by HESTA but also by the industry superannuation funds generally.
The most important thing here is that we get the safeguards right. The safeguards need to be in place to ensure that women taking money out of their superannuation to flee a dangerous relationship are not being in any way coerced to do so. If we can't get those safeguards right and if we get the feedback from those frontline workers in particular, who know the difficulty faced by victims fleeing violent relationships, every single day, the measure simply won't proceed.
The Morrison government is acting to support women's safety in their homes, in their communities, in their workplaces and online. The Commonwealth has led the way with the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, which will be succeeded by the national plan next year. Since coming to office in 2013, we've committed more than $1 billion to women and children facing family, domestic and sexual violence. There will be further consultation as we develop the next National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children— (Time expired)
Domestic violence victim-survivor Nicole Lee told the ABC: 'We don't even have any super to tap into, and the other side of that is that we shouldn't be tapping into super to escape from violence.' Why does the minister think it is 'a terrific opportunity' to make a woman who wants to leave a violent relationship choose between her financial security and her personal safety?
In fact, it wasn't just me that said that we wanted to give women an opportunity to leave a violent or menacing relationship; the CEO of HESTA said:
Women already retire with almost half the super of men, and they shouldn't have to use their super for this purpose. But family violence is one of the rare situations in which short-term financial needs are more compelling than the need to preserve superannuation for retirement.
On direct relevance. The CEO of a super fund is not the minister. The minister was asked about her quote, her own statement—'a terrific opportunity'. I ask her to return to the question.
Senator Wong, when the question concludes with 'why does the minister think it is' and refers to a quote the minister has made, I think it is also directly relevant if the minister is referring to supporting material in that. I'm listening carefully to the answer. At the moment I believe that is directly relevant.
Indeed, it wasn't just me that felt that this was an opportunity to give to women fleeing a menacing or dangerous relationship; it was also the CEO of the HESTA superannuation fund, and, indeed, Matt Linden, the deputy CEO of Industry Super Australia.
This is a prior statement the minister has made. I understand your ruling enables some other material, but the question goes to comments this minister has made. I would ask her to return to the question.
Senator Wong, I will carefully review the Hansard. I genuinely believe that if someone is being asked why they hold a particular view it is directly relevant for them to refer to supporting material that may have been of persuasion or other matters. I will review the Hansard in detail and make sure I come back when we next sit.
Indeed, I am not the only one that believes this is an opportunity for women to flee a dangerous or menacing relationship. Matt Linden, the deputy CEO of Industry Super Australia, said:
…allowing access to super in special circumstances could mean the difference between someone seeking vital help or not.
Domestic Violence New South Wales CEO Delia Donovan has said:
… it's absolutely not OK in terms of creating further debt and poverty later on for women, who are already affected by the gender pay gap
One in three women have no super. Most women under the age of 45 have a super balance of less than $45,000. I ask again: why does the minister think it would be 'a terrific opportunity' to create further debt and poverty for women leaving violent relationships?
I answer again: this is an opportunity for women to leave a dangerous or menacing relationship. It wasn't just me that thought this was a good idea. In fact it was not just the CEO of HESTA and not just Matthew Linden, the deputy CEO of Industry Super Australia, but the board of HESTA. Can I tell you who's on the board of HESTA? Representatives of the ACTU. The ACTU are on the board of HESTA. Who else is on the board of HESTA that thought this was a very good idea? Let me tell you. The United Workers Union are also represented on that board; I believe that's Senator Walsh's and Senator Watt's union. The Health Services Union is represented on the board of HESTA; I believe that might be Senator Kitching—
Senator Kitching interjecting—
Well, I know you had something to do with the Health Services Union; I'm not sure whether you're a member anymore. Can I also tell you that the Australian Services Union—I think that's your union, Senator Wong; is that not correct?—also thought that that was a good idea. (Time expired)