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Tuesday, 25 March 1997
Page: 2445

Senator SHERRY (Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate)(10.45 p.m.) —I rise to indicate that we will be voting against the third reading of the legislation. Time and time again during this debate this evening we have moved a series of constructive amendments to deal with what we believe were serious deficiencies in the government's approach in respect of retirement savings legislation.

I will give a few examples of our amendments that were defeated during the committee stage. We moved a very important amendment with Democrat support—we appreciate this—and with the support of Senator Harradine and the Greens in respect of a division, that fees and charges could not reduce the balance of accounts and, indeed, could not be charged by the financial institutions which seek to offer RSAs. A further amendment, which we thought was eminently reasonable and relatively small in the context of the issues being considered, was to ensure that a bank or other financial institution would not hold the moneys for up to 12 months. We sought to substitute 28 days.

Time and time again, Labor has attempted to ensure that it is not the employer that offers the RSA. It is the fundamental choice of the employee. The last division we had concerned third line forcing. Earlier in the evening we were able to have passed one important amendment which stated:

An RSA provider must not enter into any interest off-set arrangements or combination account arrangements with any employer who, or constitutional corporation which, has established an RSA.

Yet, unfortunately, when we came to further amendments on the problem of third line forcing the government did not accept, and indeed voted against, what we believe were eminently reasonable amendments to protect employees. The central issue of debate here is that this is employees' money and it is not reasonable for employers to impose—

Senator Woodley —Not after the banks have finished with it.

Senator SHERRY —Exactly. It is not reasonable to allow an employer to control the destiny of an employee's in many cases life savings, which are definitely for retirement purposes and are compulsory savings. We have taken a positive approach. We accept in principle that the government had RSAs within its election manifesto, although it did not accept one of the important amendments we moved that was contained in its election manifesto and that would have allowed a complying superannuation fund to offer RSAs. So even they have contradicted the position they took to the election. But the critical issue is one of balance, protection and of informed choice.

Time and time again we have warned the government with what we believe were quite reasonable amendments. We have warned the government consistently that if it wants the RSA legislation then it needs to consider and accept, and hopefully support, reasonable amendments. They would not even support the extension of the cooling off period from 14 days to 28 days. It is the height of hypocrisy for the government to claim that it is concerned about choice and about protecting employees' interests when time and time again it has rejected reasonable amendments that protect employees from this important, major and very substantial change to superannuation arrangements in this country.

Unfortunately, the government's approach is reflected in a broader approach to superannuation generally which is highly destructive. As a consequence of the very negative approach the government has taken to our amendments, Labor is left with no choice but to oppose the third reading of this legislation.