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Monday, 17 March 2008
Page: 926

Senator SHERRY (Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law) (1:32 PM) —Thank you to the speakers who participated in the debate. The main purpose of the Superannuation Legislation Amendment (Trustee Board and Other Measures) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008 is to update a range of legislation as a consequence of other legislative changes. From 1 July 2008, employers will be required to use what are known as ‘ordinary time earnings’ when calculating their superannuation guarantee obligations in respect of an employee in all cases.

The bill will amend the Superannuation Act 1976 and the Superannuation (Productivity Benefit) Act 1988 to enable minimum benefits paid under these acts to comply with this new requirement. The bill amends a number of Commonwealth acts as a consequence of the establishment of the Public Sector Superannuation accumulation plan, commonly known as the PSSap. It was established on 1 July 2005 and replaced the Public Sector Superannuation Scheme, or the PSS, which was a defined benefit fund, as the main superannuation scheme for new Australian government employees. The PSSap is an accumulation fund.

In addition, the bill amends a number of Commonwealth acts to reflect the consolidation of governance arrangements for the three major superannuation schemes for Australian government employees: the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme, the PSS and the PSSap. Since 1 July 2006, the Australian Reward Investment Alliance, commonly known as ARIA, has been the trustee of these three schemes. The bill also includes a number of other consequential and technical amendments. We do not regard the bill as controversial. It was a bill from the previous government which I understand passed the House of Representatives but did not pass the Senate, and we had indicated our support at the time.

I will give a quick response to Senator Brandis’s claim about the Liberal Party being the great party of reform in superannuation—although he did acknowledge that I would not accept it, and obviously I will not. I will not use this opportunity to go into an extensive—

Senator Abetz —Because you can’t.

Senator SHERRY —Well, Senator Abetz, if you want me to take up the challenge! I will not be, except to indicate this: in 1987 it was the far-sighted Hawke-Keating Labor government that moved to introduce compulsory superannuation for all of those Australian employees who did not have it, subject to a minimum of about $450 per month in earnings. At that time, that covered approximately the low mid-80s percentage of the workforce, which was up from the low mid-40s prior to the introduction of three per cent compulsory superannuation. It was a great landmark achievement of the former Labor government, and it was done essentially to confer fairness on those employees—overwhelmingly casual, part-time and female employees in industries such as construction, retail, transport and hospitality—who had no superannuation. That was vehemently opposed by the Liberal opposition at the time

Then, of course, the next great reform was the extension of the contribution from three per cent to nine per cent, phased in by 1 July 2002. Again, I note the previous Liberal government, when in opposition at that time, vehemently opposed the contribution extension of three per cent to nine per cent over time. So we are proud of our record in superannuation, and we would argue to be the party of great reform.

Coming to the amendments that will moved by Senator Murray on behalf of the Australian Democrats, I am not sure whether Senator Murray has had any contact or communication with the various organisations who have been lobbying to make amendment to public sector superannuation funds in respect of same-sex couples recently. I had a meeting with one group approximately four or five weeks ago. What I can say about same-sex couple amendments to public sector superannuation is this, Senator Murray: yes, we gave a commitment in the election. We gave that commitment: I was the person who gave the commitment. We have given commitments for a number of years, and we have moved and supported amendments in this place on a number of occasions. An announcement as to the legislative process to deal with the issue will be made shortly. There will be no attempt to go slow on this issue. I understand the community groups involved in lobbying know that the issue is being progressed, so there will be an announcement shortly. As to when the legislation comes in here—because it will go to some other matters in terms of same-sex superannuation—it will depend on the timetabling of the announcement. The timetabling for it to be introduced to the parliament will have to fit into the schedule. I believe I can confidently say that—best efforts—it will be delivered. An announcement will be made shortly, Senator Murray. I cannot give you the exact date, for the reasons I have outlined. I do not do not know when the announcement of the formal details will be made and I do not know when that will fit in with the legislative time frame. I would be absolutely taken aback, Senator Murray, if this matter was not resolved legislatively by the end of this calendar year. I really would be taken aback.

With those few comments, I thank the speakers for their contribution and I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.