Senate debates

Thursday, 4 August 2022

Auditor-General's Reports

Report No. 24 of 2021-22

3:49 pm

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

I rise to take note of Auditor-General report No. 24 of 2021: Performance report:addressing superannuation guarantee non-compliance. I understand that it's not printed in the Notice Paper for today and that that is an error. I've been advised to seek leave to take note of the report.

Leave granted.

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This report exposed yet again the crisis of unpaid superannuation in this country. On the watch of those opposite, Australian workers have lost $5 billion per year and stolen super. That is $5 billion missing from the retirement savings of Australian workers because those opposite sat back and allowed the Australian Taxation Office to take a light-touch approach to dodgy employers. This light-touch approach has done nothing to stop employers stealing super from their workers and has resulted in less than 15 per cent of unpaid super being recovered by the tax office. The Auditor-General found that the ATO's failure to proactively enforce superannuation compliance meant that it was workers themselves who were relied on to do all the heavy lifting, with the largest proportion of recovered superannuation resulting from workers themselves reporting a problem to the ATO.

We've seen what happens when workers make the decision to report their underpayments to the ATO. They receive no or completely inadequate communication. They are still likely to have to fight for months or years to be paid what they are owed, and their employers aren't even slightly deterred from doing it all again to the next worker. Earlier this year the Senate Economics References Committee heard from a group of early childhood educators and members of the United Workers Union who had had over $82,000 stolen from their retirement savings by their employer. These workers, with their union, did everything right. They reached out to their employer, to no avail. They contacted the ATO, to no avail. And still, over two years after reporting the theft of their super, they have not received a single cent. One worker told me: 'I feel betrayed by my employer and failed by the ATO for allowing this to happen for such a long time.'

Super theft totals over $5 billion every year, affecting almost a quarter of the entire workforce and leaving workers to retire with smaller retirement savings forcing more people onto the aged pension and racking up a future bill for all taxpayers. But those opposite don't see it that way. Those opposite gladly sat back for almost a decade while employers stole their workers' super to get ahead, allowing their departments to believe that employers that stole super were just making what was called 'pragmatic business choices'. Now they've gone straight after workers' retirement savings themselves. Their seats on the opposition benches weren't even warm before they started their attack on our superannuation system. Opposition members have said government should not proceed with the legislated increase to superannuation. They called super 'a massive drain on the economy'. They suggested that the government increase taxes on superannuation. They've called for the requirement for employers to pay super to be removed altogether. They have called for super not to be paid to low-income earners. Those opposite are completely out of control and out of touch when it comes to super. They have never supported our superannuation system.

The Albanese government knows that superannuation is one of the greatest strengths of our economy. Our universal workplace right to financial dignity in retirement is unique to our country, and it is the envy of the world. I was proud earlier today to be elected as the chair of the Senate economics committee. In this role, I look forward to delivering our government's plan for an economy that works for people, not the other way around. That plan includes strengthening our superannuation system; making sure super is paid to workers, preferably at the same time as their wages; ensuring that the ATO can and does crackdown on dodgy employers with urgency and with force; getting the super guarantee to 12 per cent and, once it does, looking at whether and when we should aim for 15 per cent; and finding the best way to make super payable on unpaid parental leave.

Superannuation is a Labor government legacy, and we will always stand with workers to protect and strengthen it. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.