Senate debates

Monday, 6 March 2023

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Answers to Questions

3:07 pm

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given to questions by all coalition senators today.

Another day, another broken promise—after both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer consistently assured Australians during the election campaign last year that they would not make changes to superannuation, last week we saw the government confirm that it will increase taxes on the savings of an ever increasing number of Australians. It has deliberately chosen to do this in a way that means more and more Australians will be hit by these tax increases in the years and decades ahead.

The mixed messages the government is pushing with this change are extraordinary, as were the responses provided to questions asked by the opposition in question time today. The point of superannuation is supposed to be to ensure that people can be self-sufficient in their retirement, making sure that they aren't reliant on the age pension. Now the government is saying to people that when they have worked for 50 years and had 11 per cent of their wage taken away every year and put into superannuation they are rich. So the Labor government is going to take a bigger handful of that money to prop up its own budget line. Does the Labor Party want people to fund their own retirement or punish them for doing so? As the years go on, more and more people—small-business owners, teachers and public servants—will be captured by this tax grab. Why would people trust the superannuation system in the future when they can see that this government will be using it as a big pot of money just waiting to be raided?

We are not even 12 months into this government and Labor's broken promises are starting to pile up. We have seen a backtrack on a number of major policy announcements since the election, most notably their pledge to save Australians an average of $275 on their power bills. Labor were adamant they were going to pass this saving on to households, but only a few months on from their guarantee, they were forced to admit that the only thing they could guarantee Australians in relation to electricity prices was that households could expect to see power bills go up. After promising that Labor would cut the cost of living, the cost of living is instead going through the roof. Hardworking Australian families are having to spend more and more of their income on groceries, energy bills, mortgage payments and rent.

It is clear to anyone paying attention that Labor told Australians what it thought they wanted to hear to win an election and now it is desperately trying to find excuses to break the promises it made. You can guarantee that Labor's broken promise on superannuation will be followed by many more broken promises, and more tactics to get their hands on the incomes of Australian workers through higher taxes. We saw the Treasurer just last week desperately trying to keep his options open on other ways to hike taxes and plug his budget holes. He didn't even want to rule out capital gains tax on the family home. And yet, less than an hour after that interview, we had the Prime Minister appearing on radio clearing up the Treasurer's mess, attempting to clarify exactly what was meant.

We can see how desperate the government is to plug the holes in its budget by the way it wants to break its promise and legislate these tax increases straightaway. If there is one thing we've learned over the years, it is that Labor cannot be trusted with money. It will always try to get its hands on more of the money that hardworking Australians earn, and that is certainly what they are seeking to do with this most recent policy announcement. As I said: another day in this place, another broken promise from the Labor government.

Australians deserve more. Australians deserve a government that sticks to the commitments that it made at the election last year. I recognise that during election campaigns parties will always put commitments to the public and will always seek to put their cases to the public in order to gain election. That's part of the contest of ideas, that's part of what having an election is all about—to enable people to look at the ideas that are on offer from both political parties and to make an informed decision. The Australian people made an informed decision based on the information that this government put on the record in May last year, and yet everything we have seen since, whether it's out in the community, whether it's in this place here, demonstrates time and time again that this government was willing to say whatever it liked to get access to the government benches over here. It said whatever it liked and since then all we have seen is broken promise after broken promise after broken promise. Australians, quite frankly, deserve more.

3:12 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I honestly believe I'm in a parallel universe. I don't like to go down the path of history lessons, but it's important for some of us that have been around in the workforce for a little while—I was a recipient of the Hawke-Keating push to have workers get superannuation. I remember the accords. I remember being in wage negotiations in the eighties and nineties when we traded off our pay rises so that we could get an increase in super. I was a young union official at that little transport company called TNT when we received superannuation—may I say it was not 11 per cent of our wages; it was $1.87 per week—and I remember saying to my union organiser and my fellow workers on the site, 'What are we going to do with $1.87?' I was told, 'Stick it in your superannuation account.' I had a think about it and, lo and behold, the whole idea was that we the workers—and when I say 'workers' I mean all workers; I'm not talking class warfare here—would not be a burden upon the taxpayers when we retire.

I also remember being privileged to be with an employer that gave me an opportunity in later life, at the Transport Workers Union, where I could increase my superannuation through the benefits that were available through—I can't remember what they used to call it, but you could offset your taxation and put it into your super. Fiona and I made the decision in the nineties that we wanted to up our super because we didn't want to be a burden on the taxpayer. We believed we were privileged enough to have good-paying union jobs and so we could afford to put a bit aside for super while, at the same time, putting our kids through school and building a house.

I have tried all my working life to look after my superannuation, and I'm proud to say that I'm quite happy with how it has been going. But I have to say it ain't nowhere near $3 million. And I also have to say, much to my hurting heart, it ain't going to be anywhere near $3 million unless I win lotto and happen to chuck a big chunk in. It just baffles me. People out on the streets are thinking: 'What is that mob over there going on about? Why are they so concerned about people who have $3-plus million in their super?' Can I say to all those who have more, and even that one person who has $544 million, I'm jealous! I wish I had $544 million, because I'd be able to pay an accountant a lot of money to tell me how to get around it and do other things and start buying the kids luxury yachts and holiday homes, in places like Toorak or wherever these people live. But, for crying out loud, they are still going to get access to 15 per cent tax on their super up to $3 million.

Think about that. Think of all those people out there on Struggle Street. Think of all those people out there who have had to contend with rising inflation, which we all know in this building has meant there has been a huge impost and cost to them on their housing payments. Think about the squeeze on our supply chains. Think about this: the price of diesel going through the roof. Guess who's paying for it? Not all the trucking companies. Some of the smaller ones are. It's coming back through the supermarket lines. Think about that.

The coalition don't stand up and fight and argue about the cost of living. They don't stand up and fight because of the mess they left the Albanese government, the debts they left us. Yet for some strange, weird, 'out there' reason, they want to protect—are they all donors, everyone who's got $3 million plus in their super? What could be the logical argument? I really would like to get into the heads of some of those on the opposition benches, because I honestly think that they must be totally baffled or absolutely embarrassed or just gobsmacked that their leader's going to charge them back into government by standing up for people who have more than $3 million. When I say standing up for people with more than $3 million, they'll pay that extra 15 per cent tax on money above $3 million.

If you listened to that side over there, you would think that we are putting our hands into the pockets of people who have $3 million or more and taking it all off them in some massive tax grab. For crying out loud, Senator Van, I'm looking forward to your contribution! I really am. I'm trying to give you an out, because you're not all dodos over that side. Notice I said not all of you. Some of you are pretty intelligent people. Some of you have built a good life because you've got out and done the hard yards, like a lot of us over this side have done. But, seriously, do you think this is great economics? Do you think this is great politics, while people are struggling with rising inflation, rising housing costs, rising supply chain costs, rising food costs and rising fuel costs? Do you think you're on the side of the angels? I can't wait for the blue.

3:17 pm

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank my good friend Senator Sterle for reminding us of the Hawke-Keating years. That Labor government took interest rates to 18 per cent. Their Treasurer, Paul Keating, said we went into a recession that we had to have. So when will we hear Dr Chalmers say we're having another recession that we had to have? We're seeing history repeat itself with this government, although it looks more like the Whitlam government than the Hawke-Keating government. I also thank the Treasurer for reminding Australians that Labor will always go after their money.

How can the Australian people trust anything this government says after seeing yet another broken promise? They said before the election—many, many times—that they wouldn't make any changes to super. It didn't take them long to change that, did it? It's clear now that the Labor government do not see superannuation as a vehicle for Australians to support themselves in their retirement. It's a piggy bank to bankroll their election campaigns.

This $3 million—Senator Sterle said he put money aside, he super sacrificed. I almost guarantee you that most of those people with $3 million made decisions to sacrifice some of their salary and put it into superannuation because there was always a pact, with the Australian people and the Australian government, that the rules for super would stay as they are and they could have some faith in how they invested. Then the Assistant Treasurer grotesquely referred to people's super as 'honey from a hive'. It's truly a sick joke. People go to work their entire lives. They work hard, sacrifice some of their salary and save money. The Labor government doesn't say, 'Good on you, mate, well done. Go and enjoy your retirement.' Stephen Jones looks at it and says, 'How much of that can I get my hands on?'

This is not the first time Assistant Minister Jones has been caught out trying to pull the wool over the eyes of Australians over super changes. Let's not forget that, within weeks of coming to government, one of Assistant Minister Jones's first acts was to direct the Treasury to look at how it could support industry super funds to get away with poor performance and mismanagement, trying to underdo the important transparency mechanisms that we put in place in government under the Your Future, Your Super legislation. Despite going to the election promising lower taxes and no change to super, this government has decided to make changes to super by doubling the tax on those higher thresholds. This is a long list of election promises and lies that this government has made.

Let's not forget that the Prime Minister promised 97 times that he would reduce Australian people's power bills by $275. Instead, he's delivered the most expensive average wholesale electricity on record. They promised cheaper mortgages, and almost every Australian homeowner knows that Labor outright lied on that one, with mortgages going through the roof after the ninth consecutive rate rise. That is since May 2022, when the election was. This government even promised to lower inflation. In January, we saw inflation at 7.8 per cent for December, which is the highest it's been since 1990. They also promised higher wages, but we've just seen the biggest drop in real wages in recorded history.

We know that this government will not deliver on its promises. We know that this government will change its mind on things. Every Australian out there listening to this must remember that, when they say that it's only 0.5 per cent of people who hold super funds, and it's only a modest increase—modest, my backside; a 50 per cent increase is not modest in anyone's books—when they say they're not going to change this, you cannot believe them. You cannot believe a word that comes out of their mouths. They will lower that threshold. They're telling you now that they won't, but, mark my words, they will. They'll increase that concessional rate such that Australians who've worked hard and saved hard are going to be paying more and more and more under this government. They lie. Do not trust them.

3:22 pm

Photo of Karen GroganKaren Grogan (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's fascinating listening to this debate that has raged through question time. I'm left scratching my head somewhat at the deep and abiding concern for a modest change in the amount of tax that people pay if they have more than $3 million in their account.

Yeah, come on! Let's just be clear: what is this about? We are putting forward a very modest change to ensure that the superannuation system does what it is supposed to do. That is not about having a tax offset for people with deep wealth to use for whatever inheritance or further opportunities they might use it for. This is about changing it. There are many other financial vehicles they can use. But $3 million in your super account, that's where the tax breaks reduce—not stop, but reduce. Let's be clear: the highest tax threshold is 47 per cent, and it's still 30 per cent if you're over $3 million. So all of this hoo-ha and beat up is just completely ridiculous, particularly when we look at the kind of legacy that's been left by this government—a legacy of rorts, waste, a trillion dollars in debt, not to mention the laundry list of terminating measures hidden in the budget, out into the future, that the people of this country know nothing about. Yet, you want to protect the millionaires. Well done! Good call. Excellent! You opposed a $1 pay rise for the lowest-paid workers, but you go in and fight for the millionaires and ignore the people who are struggling. You've got this ridiculous narrative about how much you care about the cost of living, yet you did nothing when you were in government, the coalition, to look after those people who are now feeling the cost-of-living pressures the most.

It's laughable to hear you out there protecting the millionaires, on one hand. 'Oh no! Our friends with $3 million can't possibly cope!' I don't think so. This is a sensible change. Superannuation was built in this country to enable people to have a dignified retirement. It's not the investment vehicle for your next purchase. It's not the investment vehicle for your deep inheritance. Go and find another investment vehicle. This is a small number of people with a large amount of money, and good on them. Don't begrudge them a penny of it. If they've worked hard for that, well done, but they should not get a tax break from the Australian people to allow them to keep more than $3 million in their superannuation account without paying a more reasonable amount of tax on it.

If we can be clear, because I've heard some ridiculous conversations roll out through this period, it is 15 per cent tax for every penny under $3 million and it is 30 per cent tax for the pennies over $3 million. Let's be really clear about that. No-one's robbing anyone. The beat-up and the scare campaign—obviously, you're very excited about that on the opposition benches over there, but it is completely ridiculous. Yes, the cost of living is a critical issue in this country at the moment. It is the thing that we over on this side, the Albanese Labor government, are deeply concerned about. We are working very hard for solutions.

That's alright. You over there, the coalition, keep fighting for the millionaires while on the other hand just chatting about the cost of living. It's easy now you're in opposition, because you did absolutely nothing when you were in government. You should be ashamed of yourselves for your behaviour over this last couple of hours. It's been ridiculous to listen to—totally ridiculous.

3:27 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This question time showed quite clearly that the government has not been upfront with the Australian people over the past week. Obviously, the talking points went out this morning that they wanted to use the word 'modest' an immodest number of times during question time. It was 'modest this', 'modest that', 'modest everything', until the finance minister was a little too immodest and revealed that, in fact, the amount of people that are going to be hit by Labor's doubling of the super tax is 20 times what they've been telling Australians over the past week.

Over the past week, this government has been trying to tell fibs to the Australian people: that only half a per cent of you are going to be impacted by their tax grab that is directly against what they promised only a year ago at the election. Only half a per cent. Don't worry about it. Less than a per cent of people. You don't have to worry about that.

Actually, it was revealed today that, because of inflation, 10 per cent of Australians will pay this tax over their lifetime. This tax is a lifetime tax. It's about taxing you for saving for your own retirement. It's not really about how many people have more than $3 million today. That doesn't raise a lot of money, because there are not a lot of them. This is actually about taxing you in the future, taxing your future self, the self that you're trying to work hard for and save for so you can have a dignified retirement.

The government's refusal to index that $3 million shows that there is a hidden secret agenda here. The hidden agenda is to tax you more so that they can spend more, waste more, on the various things that the Labor Party, with their friends in the Greens, love to waste your money on. Ten per cent of people is a lot of Australians. It might be you. You don't know how your life is going to turn out. You might work hard and do well for yourself. Look around. One in 10 of you are going to be hit by this tax. This is the decimation of the Roman legion. One in 10 will be hit by this tax, thanks to the revelation of this secret modelling.

Not only has the government been keeping this secret from the Australian people; they have actual modelling, we know now, that they told no-one about. In fact, I've been messaging some journalists just now. The journalists have been asking the government for these figures over the last few days. They've been asking for them, but—surprise, surprise—no-one has given them to them.

Well, now we know that there is a bunch of secret modelling there. I would have thought that in this place, in this chamber, we should be holding the government to account and getting the full details of that secret modelling from the government. We need all those details, not just the figure of 10 per cent; we know that 10 per cent are going to be hit. But then, after being a little immodest, the finance minister went back to being modest again—okay: there is modelling—and she wouldn't tell us how much extra tax, over their lifetime, those10 per cent of Australians will have to pay. That's surely in their modelling. It's not that hard to work out. So, where is that figure? We should, as a Senate, demand that figure before signing off on these changes.

All this modelling should be revealed. It isn't too hard to do some sums. If you do some rough sums, you'll see that a 30-year-old who today has $200,000 in super and is earning only $100,000 a year—which is just over the average full-time wage now—and makes their normal mandated contributions and their salary goes up with inflation and they make average returns on super will be over the $3 million threshold by the time of their retirement. That's someone on an average wage. They will be over the $3 million threshold if they start off with a bit of money. That's the power of compound interest. And if they do end up in this category, they will end up, over their lifetime, if they live to just over 80 years of age—which is the average age, once you retire—then they will pay an extra $700,000 in tax in their lifetime thanks to this change, because this tax hits you every year. Clearly it hurts the growth of your fund. It's a tax on saving, a tax on capital accumulation. It's the worst kind of tax, because it hurts our overall economic strength.

If the government is going to be fair dinkum with Australians it should now do two things. They already broke a promise to the Australian people. But, to be fair dinkum, they should release this modelling so that people know how much extra tax they're due to pay thanks to this broken promise from this government. And the government should commit to indexing this threshold, because it they really want to hit only half a per cent of Australians, then just index the threshold, and that argument will be taken away from me. The fact that they're not doing that shows that they are not being fair dinkum about this change.

Question agreed to.