Thursday, 2 September 2021
Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No. 6) Bill 2021; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No. 6) Bill 2021. I can confirm from the outset that Labor strongly supports the passage of this bill, particularly the superannuation family law elements in schedule 5, which I will talk about in more detail shortly.
Overall, this bill contains a number of relatively minor technical amendments. Schedule 1 clarifies the operation of income tax law in relation to the Renewable Energy Target, ensuring that generators are not taxed when they later rectify a failure to meet a target in a given year. Schedule 2 allows for increased penalties to be applied to breaches of industry codes prescribed by the Competition and Consumer Act. I note that increasing penalties for breaches of the franchising code was expressly recommended by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services. Labor supports franchisees being protected by industry codes as recommended. Schedule 3 removes some minor red tape for self-managed superannuation funds and other small super funds. Schedule 4 makes a number of technical amendments to the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 to provide regulatory certainty for industry codes. These amendments primarily ensure that industry codes may confer functions and power appropriately.
But I turn now to schedule 5, which is the area in this bill that is of most interest for me personally. It amends the Taxation Administration Act and the Family Law Act to create a new mechanism for sharing superannuation information for family law proceedings. It sounds a little dry; I understand that. But Labor has been calling for this reform to be implemented for many years. It is long overdue. Of course, most things associated with women's policy in this government are long overdue, starting with Tony Abbott as the Minister for Women. The very least you could say about that is that it was an inauspicious start. We have had eight years during which Australian women's interests have been neglected, ignored, dismissed, ridiculed and mocked. Generally, there is very little this government can point to where it has made any ground at all for Australian women. It was only when tens of thousands of women all around the country marched on this parliament, marched in their cities and marched in little towns like Lismore that this government was dragged kicking and screaming to acknowledge that more than 50 per cent of the Australian population deserve a proper response to the issues that concern them.
Back to the specifics of this measure: this was first announced back in 2018 as part of the grandly titled Women's Economic Security Package. It promised $3.3 million for the Australian Taxation Office to develop an electronic information-sharing system to ensure that the family law courts have better visibility of parties' superannuation assets when making property orders. The then Attorney-General put out a media release—a big announcement—in 2018, and they said this electronic information-sharing system would commence on 1 July 2020. Well, that was not to be. When asked about it the Attorney-General's Department told me in an estimates hearing some time ago that it was because it really just wasn't a priority. Just now, a year later, the government's finally got around to legislating this critical measure, and it really isn't good enough. It is an indication this government cares so little about women's economic security and, as I'll also go on to argue, about their safety.
I want to talk about why this matters. I want to talk about the problem that this measure is trying to fix. Parties to family law proceedings are legally required to disclose all their assets to the court, including superannuation. However, in practice, parties may forget or—let's be honest about it—deliberately withhold information about their superannuation assets. Getting full visibility of superannuation in family law matters can be complex, time-consuming and costly. It often requires parties to use subpoenas and other formal court processes, and there is no guarantee of success. The nondisclosure of superannuation assets can often disproportionately disadvantage women due to a significant disparity in superannuation savings between men and women. There's a very well understood superannuation gap. What then happens is that that lack of financial disclosure by a former partner can result in women receiving a smaller share of property than they would otherwise be entitled to.
This scheme is designed to help all women access their share of superannuation assets, but it will especially impact on disadvantaged women and those experiencing family violence. Nondisclosure of assets in family law proceedings can also delay cases, and sometimes that is the main point of a nondisclosure. Stakeholders did terrific work laying the groundwork for this policy initiative, and their work began a very long time ago. In 2018, the Women's Legal Service Victoria put out a study titled 'Small claims, large battles'. It looked at a whole series of cases for clients they had assisted and it found that two-thirds of clients they surveyed faced delays caused by a former partner failing to make the necessary financial disclosure. Here is the kicker: in 87 per cent of those cases, the women surveyed reported that family violence was a factor in the relationship breakdown.
Let's be honest about what's happening here. There are controlling, abusive partners. They are controlling and abusive in the relationship and, when a woman decides to leave, they seek to further extend and perpetuate their abuse and their control through prolonging proceedings. They withhold information deliberately. It's described as 'systems abuse' and it means that women are stuck for years and years trying to extricate themselves from an abusive relationship and are unable to conclude the matter. These tactics also mean that women are deprived during this period of the financial resources they need to start a new life. These women are strong and resilient and they deserve support and, instead, they've been frustrated.
The government recognised this problem back in 2018, and here we are in the middle of 2021 finally getting around to a piece of legislation to actually address it. That's three years. Think about the women who might've benefited from these provisions in the three years that have elapsed since these issues were first acknowledged by the government. It is simply not good enough. It is disgraceful, in fact. One can't help wondering if the rush now is only because the women's safety summit is on Monday.
Superannuation is often one of the biggest assets in relationships, and nondisclosure of these assets just continues a cycle of crippling emotional and financial abuse as well as the economic control experienced by family violence victim-survivors. The failure to implement this scheme in a timely way has had serious financial implications for disadvantaged women, especially those suffering from violence. Instead of implementing much-needed reform, this government has prioritised other reforms. It's not as though there's been a shortage of bills on superannuation come before this chamber. We spend hours and hours debating superannuation in this chamber, but this is the one bill for which there's been no time made on the government program for three years. What did this government do? They did this for women: they asked women to raid their own superannuation balances to pay for their own costs during the pandemic, the very pandemic that crushed women's workforce opportunities. These policies also created an opportunity for perpetrators to exploit and financially abuse their partners. The government has done nothing to address the superannuation gap in retirement. Women continue to face homelessness and destitution. This is totally unacceptable.
I want to conclude by really thanking the advocates who've championed this issue—organisations like Women in Super and the Victorian Women's Legal Service and the organisations and individuals that contributed their stories to Small Claims, Large Battles. They were absolutely vital in securing this incredibly important reform. For eight years this government has ignored and neglected women's safety and their economic interests. It's not a surprise that this reform, like so many other reforms, is overdue. The government has time and time again been forced kicking and screaming into action, while on every occasion its action is too little too late.
The reforms contained in schedule 5 of this bill are welcome. They will make a difference to the lives of women, but it will take much more than one oft-repeated promise announced, re-announced and belatedly delivered for this Prime Minister and his government to win back the trust of Australian women.
[by video link] I'm not very happy about the Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No. 6) Bill 2021 being rushed through today. I feel that we haven't had enough time to actually debate it or discuss it. The government has been joined by Labor; Labor is quite happy to do it. I understand the bill will streamline access to superannuation balances. A judge can access superannuation balances to deal with a court case before them. I know that it was a long and costly process to get this.
I listened to Senator McAllister debate this issue. She said it's about protecting women. The last time I attended a court there were both men and women. Both men and women suffer separation and divorce. Both are subject to domestic violence—and I admit that more cases are reported where men are the perpetrators of domestic violence, but 25 per cent are also where women are the perpetrators. Men also suffer at the hands of women in cases and in divorce. I am upset that we have had a family law inquiry that handed down recommendations with regard to the family law courts. We have a submission in at the moment. In that submission is a recommendation about freeing up agreements.
Let's look at superannuation. That is what a person has worked for. Superannuation is in lieu of wages they would have received. We do see people entering second marriages or getting married for the first time at 40, 50 or 60 years of age. They end up in relationships that don't last. These people have accumulated their superannuation over a long period of time. What they have forgone in wages has gone into superannuation. They get tied up in a relationship—they don't have to be married; they just have to be together for six months—and that relationship may break down in a couple of years time. Why should the ex-partner be entitled to the superannuation of someone that they weren't with at the time?
Superannuation in family law courts should be taken from the date their relationship started—upon marriage or after a certain period of time of living together. It should not be taken back to the last 20 or 30 years. Those people think they're going to make some money out of it, and they do. I've heard that from a lot of people. That's where we should have had an amendment to this bill. I wanted to put up an amendment to say that superannuation accumulated prior to their relationship should not come into consideration. That would be fair on all sides. There are probably a lot of men who get tied up with women purely for the money, and we've heard that time and time again. And there is the reverse situation: women will go after whatever they can of their ex-partner. We have power-hungry and greedy people who use whatever they can to pull the other person down and get out of them what they can.
Our parliament should be about what is fair and just for the people. This is not. You're pushing this bill through and we don't have enough time to debate it. You've got a cut-off point that's coming, so you're rushing it through. But Labor said yes, and all Senator McAllister wants to talk about are the poor women out there. Well I wish she would be fair to everyone and look at it from a balanced point of view. She talked about family violence. If you text someone and keep saying, 'I want to see my child,' that's classified as domestic violence. That is totally different to someone who has been bashed. It's totally different. We don't define what domestic violence is, but she put it all in together because it sounds good.
She talked about men having control over the women. I can tell you for a fact that there are a lot of women who have control over men. But she won't admit that. There are controlling women who tell their husbands: 'Sorry, you can't go and have a beer with your mates. You can't go fishing. You can't do this.' It is happening all the time. Or it's, 'You're spending too much money.' It works from both sides. I'm sick of the debate of whether it's men or women. Look at a topic and determine what is fair and just.
I'm sorry to see this being pushed through. We need to deal with this and it should be dealt with. I've heard that the minister wants this to go through in a rush because she's going to be giving a speech. She wants something so that she can go out there, wave the banner and say, 'Look what I've done.' And Senator McAllister supports this. Labor support this. She gave a pat on the back to women's organisations. She's not fair. She's not looking at what's fair and just right across the board. Again, this is where One Nation stand up above everyone else because we're trying to do what is right, right across our whole society. But she won't admit that there are men out there who are being mistreated in our court system, through child support and through everything. She won't admit it. She's always on about the women. I'm a female. I've been through it. I know what I'm talking about. I'm not taking sides here. I'm trying to find a balance that is fair. That's all One Nation ever do in this parliament. We try to find out what's fair and just for all concerned.
I'm not happy with this bill being pushed through, but again Labor have done deals with the Liberal Party to push it through without finding the right outcomes for the Australian people. I won't be supporting the bill based on that, because it is being rushed through. There's a lot more we should actually have been addressing in this bill, not just giving a minister the right to say, 'Look what I've done.' That's basically what it is. I'm not happy.
Firstly, I'd like to thank all those senators who have contributed to this debate on the Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No. 6) Bill 2021. Schedule 1 of the bill will amend the income tax law to ensure that no tax is payable on refunds of large-scale generation certificate shortfall charges. This measure will clarify the operation of the income tax law for energy providers and ensure that taxpayers who receive a refund of shortfall charges are not inadvertently disadvantaged. This will enable the market for these certificates to work as intended, meeting targets for clean energy while minimising cost impacts on consumers.
Schedule 2 of the bill establishes a more effective enforcement regime to encourage greater compliance with the franchising code by amending the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 to increase the maximum civil pecuniary penalty available under this code to the greater of $10 million, three times the benefit obtained from the contravention of the code or 10 per cent of annual turnover. The maximum civil penalties that can be applied to industry codes generally will also be lifted from 300 to 600 penalty units, or $133,200.
Schedule 3 of the bill delivers on a government commitment to reduce costs and simplify reporting for affected superannuation funds by streamlining an administrative requirement for the calculation of exempt current pension income. It does so by removing the redundant requirements for superannuation trustees to obtain an actuarial certificate when calculating their exempt current pension income when all the fund members are fully in the retirement phase for the entire income year. Schedule 4 of the bill will strengthen the industry codes framework and provide legal certainty by clarifying that industry codes can confer powers and functions on third parties to the commercial relationship between industry participants.
Finally, schedule 5 of the bill improves the visibility of superannuation assets during family law proceedings. This schedule amends the Family Law Act 1975 and also the Taxation Administration Act 1953 to allow parties to family law proceedings to apply to Family Court registries to request information from the ATO—the Australian Taxation Office—that will assist them to identify their former partner's superannuation interests. Parties will then be able to use this information provided by the ATO to seek up-to-date superannuation information from their former partner's superannuation fund for use in these family law proceedings.
These amendments will reduce time, cost and complexity for parties seeking accurate superannuation information, supporting more separated couples to divide their property on a just and equitable basis. I commend this bill to the Senate.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.