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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2288

Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (11:04): I move:

That this House:

(1) commends the historic achievement of the previous Labor Government in establishing universal superannuation through the Superannuation Guarantee;

(2) notes:

(a) that Australia's total superannuation savings are projected to be $500 billion higher by June 2037 as a result of the Government's superannuation policies;

(b) that Australia now has the fourth largest pool of retirement fund assets among OECD states;

(c) the key findings in the report prepared by the Allen Consulting Group for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, Enhancing Financial Stability and Economic Growth: The Contribution of Superannuation, that the:

   (i) superannuation sector assisted Australia in avoiding some of the worst consequences of the Global Financial Crisis;

   (ii) increase in the Superannuation Guarantee from nine to twelve per cent will benefit 8.4 million Australians; and

   (iii) superannuation sector plays an increasingly important role helping to fund Australia's investment needs;

(d) data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that whilst the mean superannuation balance for women almost doubled in the period between 2000 and 2007, there remains considerable disparity in the mean superannuation balances in the accumulation phase for females compared to males; and

(e) that the Government's Low Income Superannuation Contribution will boost the superannuation savings of 23,400 people in Greenway and 25,200 in Canberra; and

(3) supports the need to preserve the Low Income Superannuation Contribution which benefits 3.6 million Australians, of whom 2.1 million are working women.

I am pleased to move this motion on superannuation and to remind the House that it is this Labor government that is delivering a superannuation system that is the envy of the world. As my motion states, it was indeed an historical achievement by a Labor government to implement one of the most innovative public policy initiatives of the 20th century in Australia, the benefits of which accrue every day for millions of Australians who would otherwise not have the means to support themselves in a decent retirement. In bringing forward this motion I would like to focus on three key issues, including recent independent reports on Australia's superannuation system; how our superannuation system benefits working people and, in particular, working women; and the obstacles to realising the full benefits of superannuation for all Australians now and into the future.

I began by stating that this Labor government is delivering a superannuation that is the envy of the world. By every objective measure it remains an outstanding success, from its contribution to assisting Australia avoid some of the worst consequences of the global financial crisis to its strategic role in funding many aspects of investment. In the 2012 Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index results, Australia ranks third after Denmark and the Netherlands in terms of adequacy, sustainability and integrity in its retirement income system. In the report produced by Mercer, Australia is described as having a superannuation system that has a sound structure with many good features. Our neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region who participate in the Mercer index—namely, China, India, Japan and South Korea—actually feature at the bottom of the Mercer table, with a D-grading. Each is described as having a retirement income system that has some desirable features but also major weaknesses and/or omissions that need to be addressed. Without these improvements, the report states, the efficacy and sustainability of these superannuation systems are in doubt.

It is therefore no surprise that the peak industry body, the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, has organised an annual forum for the past two years called the Asia-Pacific Pensions Forum, designed to showcase to our neighbours in the region how the retirement income system which has been devised in Australia, together with the product innovation and skills developed by service providers in the industry, can all be successfully packaged and delivered to other parts of the region. It is a theme which also features prominently as part of this government's Australia in the Asian century white paper.

While those opposite would contend that our superannuation system is plagued by uncertainty, the evidence is clear: industry leaders are putting the system on a regional pedestal. If there were any truth in the opposition's claims, independent assessments such as those by Mercer would not produce the results they have, highlighting our retirement income system as a model of best practice relative to others in the region and globally.

On this side of the chamber we have never been complacent when it comes to continuously improving Australia's retirement savings system. It was a Labor government that introduced superannuation in this country, and as a Labor government we have continued to build on and improve the scheme implemented by our predecessors. Our recent Stronger Super reform initiatives are part of a broader reform agenda for superannuation which has been initiated by the government. The Stronger Super response, following the extensive Cooper review, is one of three limbs to the overall superannuation reform agenda in recent years. The other two limbs have been the Future of Financial Advice reforms, and the government's Stronger and Fairer Superannuation reforms, including an increase in the superannuation guarantee charge from nine per cent to 12 per cent by 1 July 2019—all of which have been passed by this parliament. On this side of the chamber we have set the benchmark on superannuation, while those opposite have been carping from the sidelines with plans to undermine the retirement savings of working Australians, particularly working women.

Labor's reforms will boost the retirement savings of working people and improve equity in the superannuation system. According to the ASFA, nearly 90 per cent of Australian women do not have enough superannuation, and that is why this government, through its reform package, has moved to increase super from nine to 12 per cent and introduced the low-income superannuation contribution, or LISC. As outlined by the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees and the Women in Super advocacy group, the low-income super contribution will deliver a much-needed annual super boost of up to $500 to around 3.5 million Australian workers who earn less than $37,000 per year, many of whom are working women. There are 23,400 of these workers living in my electorate, and this will be a welcome boost to their retirement savings.

Of course, those opposite want to scrap this important reform, ripping away the extra retirement savings from the low-income workers in my electorate—and why? Because they do not support superannuation and they never have. The earliest speeches by members in this place say a lot about what they really believe. The Leader of Opposition in one of his earliest speeches to the parliament, on 25 September 1995, gave us his considered view when he said:

Compulsory superannuation is one of the biggest con jobs ever foisted by government on the Australian people. If the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) was a private businessman, chances are that he would be before the courts for false and misleading advertising. The basic objective of compulsory superannuation is that the government is taking our money now so that it does not have to pay us a pension when we retire. The government is making us worse off now so that it will be better off in the future.

To this day, throughout the parliamentary debate on these critical reforms, there has been no shortage of grossly exaggerated and just plain wrong claims by those opposite about the likely impact of the reforms on our retirement income system in Australia. I am reminded of the shadow Treasurer's response to the government's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook last year, in which he made a number of ridiculous statements suggesting that Australians with superannuation accounts that were dormant for 12 months would have their superannuation transferred to the ATO as lost accounts. He said on 2GB on 23 October 2012:

If your kids go overseas for 12 months or you're unemployed for 12 months and you don't access your superannuation account, then it's going to the tax office.

He made the same misrepresentations again and again. The statements by the shadow Treasurer were a total fabrication and a complete misrepresentation of the government's MYEFO measure in this area. It was ridiculous for the shadow Treasurer to repeatedly misrepresent the truth of this very important government measure. The member for North Sydney forgets that lost superannuation accounts can be claimed at any time through the ATO's SuperSeeker website. Furthermore, the relatively small number of Australians who will be impacted by this change will be better off in many instances. That is because they will not have their retirement savings chewed away by the fees and costs charged by superannuation funds.

How hypocritical it is for those opposite to claim that this government is creating uncertainty because of its commitment to improving the superannuation system in Australia and to providing a system which ensures Australians have the opportunity to enjoy a dignified retirement. When the Howard government turned the taxation of superannuation on its head and embarked on what it called the Simpler Super tax reforms, not a single figure from the coalition uttered a word about the potential economic costs of tax policy uncertainty. Despite creating major headaches for the industry and the Australian public at the time, the Howard government hammered away at the tax treatment of superannuation until the industry simply gave up. The real uncertainty felt by Australians and the superannuation industry at the time was obviously lost on the coalition.

Mind you, someone must have finally woken up to the mess the coalition had created and realised the label of 'simplified superannuation' used in the Simply Super initiative was a misnomer. Writing for Thomson Legal and Regulatory publications at the time, Stuart Jones, a senior tax writer, commented:

While the reforms trumpeting tax-free superannuation benefits from age 60 have delivered welcome simplification to certain facets of superannuation, a closer analysis of the new laws reveals that considerable complexity remains in several areas.

The coalition's so-called Plan for Real Action on Superannuation produced as part of the 2010 election campaign contained a grand total of four bullet points—a grand total of four bullet points for an industry which APRA data tells us was worth approximately $1.4 trillion as at 30 June 2012. Today, in their 'real solutions' prop, they have not improved, managing to muster only seven sentences of slogans and no policy.

But we do know at least one superannuation policy which the opposition leader has contributed himself. He wants to abolish the low-income super contribution and disenfranchise 3.6 million low-income Australians, 2.1 million of whom are women, and some 23,400 residents in my electorate who currently benefit from this government's low-income superannuation contribution. Let it be clear to each and every one of those residents: this would constitute a superannuation tax increase of up to $500 for every Australian worker earning below $37,000.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Grierson ): Is the motion seconded?

Mr Fitzgibbon: I second the motion.