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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13218


Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (19:37): It is not a surprise to me as I rise to speak on the Treasury Legislation Amendment (Unclaimed Money and Other Measures) Bill 2012 that there is nobody on the opposite side of the chamber who is actually willing to speak in favour of this bill. Why would they? Why would they speak on a bill that is designed to take money away from Australian citizens through their bank accounts, their First Home Saver Accounts, their life insurance policies, their superannuation and, finally, through, ultimately, various corporations and companies. It does not surprise me that there is nobody who is prepared to put their name to this, because this is the most blatant cash grab that we have seen even from this government in its short period in office.

Minister Shorten I think is trying to make himself even more infamous than the bushranger Ned Kelly, who was known for his snatch and grab. Minister Shorten's record, if this bill passes, will definitely rival his. One can only question whether he has been somewhat inspired by the culture—and we have heard a little in this chamber today and in previous weeks on various unions that have created this culture—in some unions where elected officials feel that it is perfectly fine to use the money of their members for their own personal benefit. It is a culture that has come under serious scrutiny in the AWU, and it is a culture that we have heard an awful lot about in the HSU where, again, members' money has been used not for their benefit but for the benefit of others.

So what is the benefit here? The benefit if this bill passes will be, indeed, to the government, because they will get an extra $760 million in additional revenue from this bill—money they so desperately need to try and disguise their financial incompetence during the short period of time that they have been in office, which has seen our fiscal position radically altered from a position where previously a coalition government regularly delivered budget surpluses—during the last budget, a $20 billion surplus—where there was no net debt and where the government's $96 billion of debt had been paid off. We have seen this position reversed, with this government's incompetence, waste and mismanagement. We have seen four budget deficits delivered, to an accumulated amount of $172 billion, and net debt of over $147.3 billion. Yet this government is trying to maintain the fiction that, come the next budget, they will have a surplus of $1.1 billion. How is it that they say they are going to achieve this? Well, one needs only to look at this bill to try and work it out. When you look at only one portion of this bill, the superannuation measures, of this bill, you will see that, of that fictional surplus of just over $1 billion that the government maintain they will have, around $555 million would come from that one measure.

It is important that in the time remaining I turn my attention to what the government is specifically proposing to do, because it would shock most Australians to hear this. Let me first turn to schedule 1. The government will amend section 69 of the Banking Act to make new arrangements for unclaimed moneys, to reduce the period for which people can have inactive bank accounts from seven years to three years before the government wants to come in and take the money and put it into consolidated revenue. There is no limit on the amount of this money; it is not capped. It could be $20; it could be $200,000; it could be $2 million. If it has been inactive for a period of three years, under this bill the government is proposing that that money should go to consolidated revenue if it is unclaimed. The test is whether or not money has gone into or gone out of that account. That is it.

Yet we know that there would be very many reasons for which people may have accounts that sit inactive for a period of time. I can think of occasions—for instance, on the birth of grandchildren, grandparents may decide to set aside some money as a bit of a start-up for a child's first bank account. They may put some money into that account and then that money may not move for many, many years—certainly well above three years. Under the government's proposal, this money could potentially be transferred into consolidated revenue. I can think of other occasions: for example, somebody who is elderly decides that they need additional care and that they want to go into an aged care facility; they decide to sell up the family home and then put that money into an account, where it will be safe, in a bank; they do not want to touch that money for a period of time, and it sits there for one, two, three, four, five or more years.

Under the government's proposal, this money, again, is money that could be transferred through to consolidated revenue. There are multiple examples of people travelling overseas or people with mortgage offset accounts. Despite the fact that the government has rushed out a press release claiming that offset accounts will not be included in this legislation and that they will make good on this promise through regulation, there is nothing in the legislation that could give us any comfort around this fact.

So it concerns us greatly. It concerns us greatly that there will be people out there in the community doing entirely the right thing—saving, preparing for their future and preparing for their children's future—and yet with this change all of that could be eroded because the government, as I said, could claim the money in a great smash and grab in order to try to maintain this fiction of a budget surplus going into next year.

But it does not end there because there are other ways that the government would like to take your money. There is the first home saver account, which is part of schedule 2 of this bill. Schedule 2 amends the First Home Saver Accounts Act to provide for new arrangements for unclaimed money held by FHSA providers. It amends this so that again the period is shortened. It is truncated from seven years to three years. While it says in the legislation that if money is in fact taken from people and put into consolidated revenue and it is then found that people come back years into the future to claim that money back they will provide some level of interest for the money that was taken, there is absolutely no certainty around that. In fact, the committee that looked deeply into this issue heard a number of submissions that said there were grave concerns that the appropriate interest rate would not be paid. Again, this was part of the motivation of the government so as to ensure they had more money for consolidated revenue.

The third schedule that the government has in this bill is about life insurance. It amends section 216 of the Life Insurance Act to provide, again, for new arrangements for unclaimed life insurance moneys. Again, it is using this arbitrary time period of three years to be able to sweep in more quickly to take this money.

The fourth schedule is around superannuation. At least with the changes the government are proposing to superannuation here they say they are going to put a cap on the amount of money that they are looking to take from people's superannuation accounts at $2,000. This attack on superannuation is the latest in a long line of attacks, despite the fact that we have heard previously from the minister what a great friend he is to the superannuation system. In fact, it was not all that long ago that Minister Shorten said on the ABC's Q&A program that the government are the strongest defenders of the Australian superannuation system. He said: 'We are the ones who constantly build and keep building it.' When you look at the facts, that is, frankly, a complete joke.

Let me remind the House that these latest cash grabs in this bill targeting superannuation come on top of the $7.8 billion in increased taxes and charges on superannuation that we have seen in Labor's previous budgets. The Labor government has already increased taxes on voluntary savings by reducing concessional contribution caps from $50,000 and $100,000 down to $25,000 across the board. Anyone who wants to save more than $25,000 per annum, which includes their compulsory superannuation contribution, has to pay more tax.

The decision that they have taken in this bill to go after more lost super more quickly is expected to raise an extra $555 million in the six months from 31 December 2012 to 30 June 2013. You need only look at the quantum that the government hopes to reap from these changes to know that there will be many millions of Australians who will be affected by this bill.

The government have a litany of challenges before them because, through their waste and mismanagement, they have spent all the money that was saved by the previous coalition government and they are now making a number of unfunded promises for the future. Those unfunded promises have now hit over $120 billion. That is on top of the debt that they have to pay back of $147.3 billion. That is on top of the interest bill that they are obviously paying on the debt of over $8 billion. You can now add onto that $120 billion in unfunded promises—the black hole that the government desperately needs to fill.

We know that there is only one way that they can achieve that. That is by increasing taxes and by slugging the Australian people even more. So it causes us great concern that the government have brought in a very rushed piece of legislation, one that does not bear much scrutiny at all before you realise that there are significant deficiencies, so much so that the government have already made a number of changes to the legislation while we have been debating this bill.

Instead, we say the government should take the bill off the table. The government should give it the proper scrutiny it deserves. The government should be honest with the Australian people, not try and pass this bill through the dead of night this evening and pass it through the Senate this week so that it can go on its cash grab. We think that the government should set it aside, be honest, start again and take responsibility for its poor financial decisions rather than making the Australian people pay. (Time expired)