BILLS; Treasury Laws Amendment (Protecting Your Superannuation Package) Bill 2018; Second Reading

June 27, 2018

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (12:28): I too would like to make a contribution on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Protecting Your Superannuation Package) Bill 2018. We will be giving qualified support to the passage of the bill through the House. Our position on this bill will be subject to the findings of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee. We want to make sure that this bill delivers what it purports to do and that there are no unintended consequences. Labor will always act to support the hard-earned savings of Australians. As it stands today, superannuation has $2.6 trillion under investment. That's $2.6 trillion of assets for mums and dads out there. I don't know about these young people, but I don't know how many noughts you've got to put on 2.6 to get a trillion—they'll probably work it out for us, Mr Deputy Speaker. But we will always take the side of the workers in ensuring the safeguarding of their earnings and their superannuation, and we will be part of any attempt at legislation that delivers safeguarding from inappropriate fees, insurance arrangements and the inefficiencies that result, as at present, from multiple superannuation accounts.

The more superannuation accounts are out there for a single person, the less accumulated savings are going into that person's asset base for the future. This is particularly so when we consider young people who may be working casual jobs, low-income earners who may move from one job to another, women who may take periodic breaks in their career and, particularly, seasonal workers out there moving from one regional location to another, whether they're cherry picking, working on vineyards or doing other things. The tendency is that those people are more than likely to have multiple superannuation accounts. Treasury analysis in 2016 showed that, at 30 July 2016, there were 9.5 million superannuation accounts in this country with a balance less than $6,000. That accounts for 40 per cent of all superannuation accounts. The ATO, whose role in terms of superannuation this bill will strengthen, found in their super accounts data overview in 2017 that 14.8 million Australians had superannuation accounts, but 40 per cent of those people were holding multiple accounts. If that money could be put into one account, the growth rate would be increased and therefore the asset base for retirement earnings would be similarly increased.

As I say, we will always defend superannuation. We know on this side of the House that superannuation, together with a means-tested and government-funded age pension, forms an integral part of a person's retirement earnings. Australians now rely on it. I advise everyone not to forget that it was the Labor government that created the Australian superannuation system. We are the party of superannuation, and we'll always stand in this joint to defend it. Labor understands that superannuation is now the second biggest saving vehicle of any household. Apart from the house itself that people will purchase and live in, superannuation is already the second biggest asset base and will grow into the future. Seventeen per cent of the household asset base is currently based on superannuation alone.

I'd like to remind everybody that, if it weren't for a Labor government, we wouldn't have universal compulsory superannuation. Universal compulsory superannuation had its initiation, in the first iterations, as a trade-off for productivity. It was award based. I know our colleagues over there don't like talking about awards, enterprise agreements or trade unions, but it was a trade union initiative that forwent a four per cent increase in the productivity payment for, at the start, three per cent compulsory superannuation. It has grown from there. By the way, every measure of growth in compulsory superannuation, which now stands at 9.5 per cent, has been opposed by the coalition. Labor have supported every increase in the rate of superannuation guarantee. It was a Labor government that introduced the low-income superannuation contribution scheme. I remind those opposite: don't forget that you came here under directions from your then leader and repealed that legislation, which gave a measure of support to people on low incomes. You repealed it, only to find out that that wasn't particularly electorally popular and you had to reinstate it. It was the Labor government that brought MySuper—a new, simplified, cost-effective default mechanism—to superannuation products. Again, that was an effort to streamline it and make it a more effective payment system. And, further, it was also a Labor government that in 2012 brought in the SuperStream, which fundamentally improved the superannuation system and the experience that people, would have as members of a super scheme, not only for employees but also for the employers and the funds themselves.

We will always hold this government to account, particularly on matters that involve employees and workers. Those opposite would like you to believe that they have changed their stripes and they are now all about what's best for workers. This is the party of Work Choices, the party that made it legal for the first time in our history to pay people below an award rate of pay, and they would like us to believe that they've changed their stripes!

Don't forget that, back at the 2016 election, they had a policy of a $500,000 lifetime cap to non-concessional contributions. It triggered widespread concern, because people were being encouraged to contribute to superannuation but this had the aspect of retrospectively opposing this restriction, which would fundamentally change the saving plans for many households. But the government at that stage made it very clear that they weren't up for changing. The Prime Minister gave what he described as an ironclad guarantee, and, lo and behold, what did they do? Just like with the low-income superannuation contribution scheme, they backflipped. They didn't backflip because they thought it was a bad idea; they backflipped because of the pressure that came from their Liberal Party base, who thought, 'You are now retrospectively diving into our retirement funds, and we've caught you out.'

They also made further inroads into superannuation—and you could probably put it kindly by saying 'unwittingly'—making another regressive aspect to superannuation with the introduction of the First Home Super Saver Scheme, which allowed people to use their superannuation to buy their way into the real estate market. That was maybe a noble objective in the first place, but it was one which did not have regard to what it would do to the intention of superannuation in providing reasonable retirement earnings for people. And, by the way, it would have absolutely no effect at all on the affordable housing crisis, particularly what's being faced in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

Only last week, there was another thought bubble that came from those opposite. They thought it would be wise to give a 12-month amnesty to employers who failed to make superannuation contributions on behalf of their employees for the last 25 years. Ordinarily, if you didn't pay your tax for 25 years, you would get a penalty. If you didn't pay your superannuation under current law, you would be penalised; as a matter of fact, you'd be penalised 200 per cent. Wipe all that! They're now saying that, under this amnesty, if you want to declare yourself and become an honest broker after 25 years—'Mea culpa; I haven't paid my employees properly'—you've got 12 months to rectify it. But what's unbelievably worse is that they will give that employer a tax deduction on the contributions they make. They're not just going to say, 'Don't do it again.' They're going to give them a tax deduction!

Just compare that to what the treatment would've been if an employee had been ripping off their employer for the last 25 years. They would probably be summarily dismissed in the first place once they were caught, and it is highly likely they would be fronting up before a court on some criminal charges of theft or whatever. So they're happy to look after dodgy employers and reward them with a tax deduction, but not so when it comes to workers.

The former speaker said looking after people is in their DNA. Well, for some of us on our side, looking after people has been in our DNA. I don't mind admitting that, like many on my side, we were formerly workers' representatives. We are working and advocating for workers' rights and looking after them as members of the trade union movement. I actually wear it as a badge of honour, but they want to create a slight about that.

Just think back: when was the last time you ever heard a positive word said by this government about a union or about a union official? I don't know if you can remember it, but there is one time. They spoke about Kathy Jackson, the then National Secretary of the Health Services Union. According to the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister, she was the hero of the trade union movement. She was the defender of workers' rights, a person we should look up to. They used a word: she was a 'doyenne' of the working class. Poor old Kathy at the moment is facing court on corruption charges in Victoria. Adverse findings have been made by the trade union royal commission, which they set up. But that was their hero of the working class. It was not someone who is going out, looking after people, looking after low-income earners and making sure their welfare has been looked after. They pick someone to hold up as an exemplar of trade union official, and the only example they ever have picked up to do that is, as I say, currently defending criminal charges resulting from corruption allegations.

The provisions in this bill, as I said at the outset, are good. We certainly want to be guarded against any unintended consequences. We want to make sure that we do not unnecessarily complicate things for people in high-risk occupations, see a possible increase of insurance premiums or make any change that would result in lower returns for members. We think we need to do everything to protect employees' savings and, in particular, superannuation. Superannuation, quite frankly, I think is one of the key initiatives that were brought in within our generation. It is a mechanism that we should be encouraging all people to be part of, not simply with their own contributions but looking to prop those up where necessary. It's not just about bringing people away from the concept of welfare or being on the old-age pension; it's a matter of making proper provision for their life in retirement. This is a matter of decency. It's a matter that we will always support on our side of politics, and I would caution those opposite to be more restrained when they refer to trade unions. (Time expired)