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Wednesday, 3 September 2014
Page: 6366

Senator BULLOCK (Western Australia) (15:22): I am grateful for the opportunity to take note of Senator Cormann's answer to Senator Lundy's question. As I indicated in my first speech, when issues come before the Senate my instinct will be to examine them from the perspective of their effects upon shop assistants.

Superannuation is an issue of great interest to shop assistants. In the early 1980s I was the national industrial officer of the SDA, charged with the responsibility of developing our superannuation policy. Back then, few shop assistants had access to superannuation funds, which were then run by their employers and which therefore offered no portability from job to job and in which the vesting of employer contributions was deferred, often for many years.

At the time, I proposed an accumulation fund with full vesting of contributions immediately to the employee and with portability to allow employees to move around the industry without forfeiting their superannuation. I was pleased to find that Garry Weaven of the ACTU was advocating the same idea and, from this idea, developed industry superannuation funds.

In the retail industry we have developed the Retail Employees Superannuation Trust, REST, and CARE, two of Australia's leading industry superannuation funds. Today, shop assistants have almost universal access to superannuation, and REST has over $32 billion in shop assistants' retirement savings and is consistently among the best-performing funds in the country.

Initial claims for superannuation were modest but, under the wage-fixing principles of the time, were offset against wage increases. Superannuation has always been opposed by the Liberals. First, the Liberals joined with employers to argue that superannuation was not an industrial matter. Then in 1992 they opposed then Prime Minister Paul Keating when he increased the superannuation contribution. Then Prime Minister Howard reneged on a promise to increase superannuation, after he was elected in 1996.

Now they propose the freezing of superannuation contributions of 9½ per cent for seven years—yes, seven years. July 2014 to July 2021 is seven years, not six as Senator Cormann tried to tell me yesterday. It will not reach 12 per cent until 2025.

Senator Abetz: You'll still be here!

Senator Bullock: Hopefully.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Ignore the interjections.

Senator BULLOCK: This government could not be trusted out of sight on superannuation, let alone until 2025. They sought to defer the first increase for a year, then two and now for a seven-year freeze. Heaven knows what their position will be in 2025.

What is this going to cost Australian workers? The Financial Services Council calculates working Australians will have $128 billion less in their accounts by 2025—that is, $128 billion less—and this from a government in which Prime Minister Abbott repeatedly promised there would be no adverse changes to superannuation. This is the Prime Minister's $128 billion broken promise to the workers of Australia. This no-surprises government has this vision for Australian workers in their retirement: work until you are 70, accumulate less superannuation and when thrown onto the pension subsist on a pension which increases at a rate lower than your working-neighbours' wages. It is $128 billion—and Senator Cormann says this is not an adverse change!

I have negotiated wage increases for shop assistants for 37 years and I have never heard an employer say, 'Well Joe, there's no superannuation increase this year, so we're going to top-up our wages offer by half a per cent.' In my experience employers negotiate hard, to limit wage increases to the lowest amount possible. Arising from the super freeze, there will be no increase in wages, no lift in spending, no lift in consumer confidence and no increase in tax receipts. What will this do to the government's proposed budget improvement of $1.23 billion? I will leave it to you to find out. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.