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Friday, 10 May 1985
Page: 1724

Senator PETER RAE(9.57) —I wish to speak briefly on the National Welfare Fund Repeal Bill to which an amendment was moved to the second reading motion last evening on behalf of the Australian Democrats. If carried it would have amended the detail of the Bill. The amendment was for the introduction of a national superannuation scheme which is both universal and portable within 12 months of the repeal of the National Welfare Fund Act. I was not aware until after I have spoken in the debate on the second reading that the amendment was to be moved. It was unfortunate that I was then not given leave to speak briefly to explain that the Opposition, while being--

Senator Puplick —Where are the real democrats?

Senator PETER RAE —I was refused leave. I wish to explain that the Opposition, not having had the opportunity to consider the matter in any detail or to discuss such an important and fundamental matter as national superannuation to be introduced within 12 months, was certainly in no position to vote in support of such a demand on such short notice. That is not to say that the Opposition has not done a tremendous amount of work in relation to superannuation generally, both public sector superannuation and the question of some form of national superannuation. Coalition party committees have spent a very considerable amount of time looking at this matter which is certainly on the Opposition agenda for policy development action. I would not have thought that such a discussion was relevant to the Bill before the Committee.

I do not propose to go into the history of all the problems of national superannuation. However, I believe that it is important that we debate this matter at an early stage. Rather than adopt this ambush tactic, I would have hoped that the Australian Democrats would have decided to raise the question of national superannuation by proposing a matter of public importance which would have allowed us to debate this subject in some detail. I am not suggesting for a moment that national superannuation is not something which the Opposition regards as being of very great importance to the future of this country. The amount of unfunded liability in respect of Commonwealth superannuation alone adds in the order of $3 billion to the undisclosed deficit which this country experiences. That gives us some idea of the order of magnitude of the problems with which we have to deal.

The need for some sort of superannuation scheme to be worked out, if such a scheme is possible or practicable, has concerned a large number of countries. Senator Grimes, when speaking in the debate last night, gave some of the history and the experiences of a number of European countries in particular. I am reminded that Sir Robert Menzies was led to resign at the end of the 1930s as a result of the failure of the then Government to fulfil its commitment to the introduction of a national superannuation scheme. This has certainly been a problem for a very long time, in respect of which the Opposition has done a considerable amount of work. We had a committee working on it when we were in government and we have a committee working on it now. We will certainly be developing proposals on the whole question of superannuation as soon as possible. But it is not something for which there are any sudden or easy answers.

I believe it is unfortunate that the debate on this matter has proceeded in the way it has in this chamber. I have now explained why, firstly, I did not speak yesterday on a Democrat amendment which was moved at the second reading stage because I did not know about that amendment until after I had spoken in the debate. Secondly, I have explained why the Opposition voted as it did-not because it lacks a sympathy or a will to tackle the problem of national superannuation but because it or any government would not be in a position within 12 months of the repeal of the National Welfare Fund Act to introduce a national superannuation scheme which was both universal and portable. Obviously, universality and portability are important. I remember Sir John Gorton, when Prime Minister, introducing plans, I think in 1971, for the portability of superannuation. Many attempts have been made in this respect. The very lengthy history of this matter gives us an idea of the complication which is involved. The amendment that was moved yesterday was unduly simplistic and I believe did not do justice to the importance of this subject. I thank the Committee for the opportunity which I have had to explain why the Opposition took the attitude that it did yesterday.

The CHAIRMAN —Order! Debate on the subject of superannuation is not relevant to the Committee stage of this Bill for an Act to repeal the National Welfare Fund Act. I have shown tolerance to Senator Peter Rae because of the circumstances which arose last night but it would not be appropriate now, during the Committee stage of this Bill, to have a debate on the merits or otherwise of national superannuation. I ask other honourable senators who intend to speak in this debate to confine their remarks to the clauses of the Bill rather than speak on the general principles of superannuation.