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Monday, 24 June 2002
Page: 2419


Senator SHERRY (2:50 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan, the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer. Given that the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, by its own admission, will cut the pay of its meat inspectors and vets to cover its superannuation obligations, will the government be encouraging private sector employers to cut wages when the superannuation guarantee increases from eight per cent to nine per cent on 1 July?


Senator Coonan —I am sorry, I did not hear the question, Madam President.


The PRESIDENT —Will you repeat the question, Senator.

Honourable senators interjecting


The PRESIDENT —Order! Less noise in the chamber would be of assistance. Senators sitting in the vicinity of Senator Coonan—



The PRESIDENT —Senator Kemp! Senator Coonan did not hear the question when asked previously because of the amount of noise in her vicinity.


Senator SHERRY —I notice the minister is looking up a brief. Given that the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, by its own admission, will cut the pay of its meat inspectors and vets to cover its superannuation obligations, will the government be encouraging private sector employers to cut wages when the superannuation guarantee increases from eight per cent to nine per cent on 1 July?


Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —Thank you for the question, Senator Sherry. Certainly, the government is not going to be encouraging employers to cut wages—what absolute nonsense. The mere fact that Senator Sherry has the gall to ask a question about the superannuation guarantee I think really shows just how much those on the other side have lost the plot on the superannuation package that we took to the last election. Despite railing against the introduction of the superannuation surcharge, the ALP now does not want the government to lower it. The government went to the polls having outlined in detail our plan for a phased reduction in the superannuation surcharge, and the measures were fully costed in the budget.


Senator Sherry —Madam President, I raise a point of order. My question went to the superannuation guarantee and the payment of that by the government. It had nothing to do with the surcharge. The minister is not answering the question. My point of order goes to relevance.


The PRESIDENT —I am sure the minister is aware of the question and is leading to it.



The PRESIDENT —Senator Ray, you have been interjecting persistently since the beginning of question time.


Senator COONAN —The superannuation guarantee is going up by one per cent. That is not going to have any impact whatsoever on the ability of employers to meet that. That has been the policy for a number of years, and so it is almost impossible to see how employers could not be ready for it. It is certainly not going to affect any employer who needs to pay it.

In respect of superannuation, we are just seeing the same old carping and whingeing from those opposite; the same old opposing of measures for the sake of it, trying to frustrate the policy agenda of the government that the people elected just a few months ago. I do not know whether senators opposite have been keeping up with the news, but the electorate rejected the ALP yet again. The voters considered our policies and then voted us in so that we could implement them. Yet the Labor Party wants to oppose simply for the sake of it, particularly with regard to the surcharge. The community simply did not want Labor senators to try and set up their own alternative government to be able to oppose every superannuation policy that the government puts up.

Employers will be able to meet their obligations under the superannuation guarantee, and Australians will have a more attractive and a better superannuation system. If those opposite will simply allow the government to implement an attractive package of measures that includes the reduction of the surcharge and the introduction of a co-contribution for low income earners, all of those measures—together with the increase in the superannuation guarantee to nine per cent—will mean better adequacy, better protection for employees and a superannuation system that meets the needs of Australians into the future.


Senator SHERRY —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. I will ask the question for the third time, and maybe the minister might be able to answer what I actually ask. The Liberal-National Party government has been exposed in its illegal attempt to avoid paying superannuation for hundreds of quarantine meat inspectors and vets and, potentially, many thousands of contractors throughout the public sector. How can it claim any credibility at all with regard to ensuring employees in the private sector receive their superannuation entitlements or with regard to superannuation more generally? I ask this for the third time. Can she give it a go?


Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —Senator Sherry, I will certainly give it a go. To start with, all issues to do with AQIS are not in my portfolio, and so perhaps you had better go back and have a bit of a look at the issues to do with AQIS. They are actually in Senator Ian Macdonald's portfolio. But, as to the general safety and adequacy of the government's superannuation policies, the opposition would do well to look to the fact that, guess what, we over here won the election. Those who were not elected and are in opposition are now seeking to oppose every measure to enhance the adequacy and safety of superannuation for all workers in Australia, together with the superannuation guarantee.