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Wednesday, 1 April 1998
Page: 2109


Mr McMULLAN (1:51 PM) —Unlike the previous speaker, the member for Cowan (Mr Richard Evans), I intend to actually talk about the Workplace Relations Amendment (Superannuation) Bill 1997 , which is before us. Let us remember what this bill before us is about. This is an amendment to the workplace relations legislation, but it is a specific amendment dealing with, in effect, one matter. It is saying that the Industrial Relations Commission will no longer have the power and people at workplaces, if they agree, will no longer be able to have that agreement reflected in an award either made by the commission or agreed between the parties that covers superannuation. That is what this change to the law says.

The most important new savings vehicle for the 21st century is superannuation—that great equalising force in savings in this country. The recent changes to superannuation through the award system and through the superannuation guarantee legislation have combined to take what was a privilege of the few and extend it to all working Australians. This law winds that back. It does not wind the core of it back because the core of it is the superannuation guarantee legislation, and that is not affected by this.

It takes the extra elements, which some people have been able to win in their awards, for superannuation not covered by the superannuation guarantee legislation away from those Australians, with no compensation, with no additional benefit to replace what they lose. It will simply be taken away. If it was their property, the constitution says it could not be taken away from them without compensation. But, because it is their superannuation entitlement, it can be taken away by this government with no compensation.

It is serious because it takes away benefits for working Australians and, as I will provide evidence for, the weakest working Australians, those in greatest need. It is serious because it is a profound broken promise by this government. It breaks three commitments the government made in the lead-up to and since the election. It is an indication of the pattern of events and of the direction in which industrial relations is going and might go in the future were this government to be re-elected.

Let me turn, firstly, to the extent to which it is a broken promise. Remember that this bill says: if you have in your award superannuation provisions that are greater than those in the act, if you have entitlements over and above the superannuation guarantee legislation, they will be struck from the award on 1 July and you will no longer have them. They will go. No compensation, no consideration—they will go. Remember the first promise that relates to that, the promise which said, `I give you my rock solid guarantee that no Australian worker will be worse off.' That was the Prime Minister of today and the then Leader of the Opposition, John Howard. They are worse off.


Mr Cadman —Where are they worse off? Come on, identify them! Identify them!


Mr McMULLAN —I will, thank you very much. There are 16,000 people in the hospitality industry, 8,000 in the textiles, clothing and footwear industry, for a start. You are supposed to be the parliamentary secretary in this area, so why don't you go and do some research? There are at least those 24,000 people, first and foremost.


Mr Cadman —But what about the employment figures? We had more jobs than you ever had.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —Order! The member for Mitchell!


Mr McMULLAN —I enjoy his interjections.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —No, ignore his interjections.


Mr McMULLAN —Proof of ignorance is always better than knowledge of it, so I value his interjections always. As I have just proved—and there are many more cases—there are two matters that are established and not contested even by the government; that is, there are 24,000 low paid Australian workers who will lose their superannuation under this. There are actually tens of thousands more, but those are the two that are on the record. They said no-one will be worse off. Go and tell those 24,000 workers that the superannuation they have now will be taken away but, in some magical way, they will be no worse off.

Even more directly, there was the commitment before the election that no Australian worker would lose their award entitlements. The Prime Minister is having a lot of difficulty with the word `entitlements' at the moment. In question time yesterday and the day before when we talked about pensioners' entitlements, the Prime Minister had a great deal of difficulty with that word, trying to find how he could say that dental benefits were not entitlements. The entitlement, the right, that people had before the election to free dental service has been taken away, and the Prime Minister tries by redefinition to say that it was not an entitlement.

Let us have a look at the award entitlements of these Australians. Today, when the Prime Minister made that statement, these people had an award entitlement to superannuation set down in binding, legal award decisions made by the commission or agreed between the parties. But, on 1 July, as a result of this legislation, they will lose those entitlements. What happened to the promise that no-one would lose their award entitlements? These tens of thousands of Australian workers will lose.

Are they the richest Australians? People earning less than $450 a month are losing. In fact, 26,000 employees in the hospitality and textiles, clothing and footwear industries who earn less than $450 a month receive superannuation because of the relevant award and will lose it under this legislation. They have it today, but they will lose it. Where is their compensation? What do they get in return? They get nothing. They just get it taken away from them. In fact, the government explicitly previously said that if you had superannuation entitlements they would be retained.

We know the government always wanted to do this. The one thing about this legislation is that it might be a broken promise, it might be three broken promises, but at least it has consistency. Right from the start, when the government first introduced the Workplace Relations Bill, they sought to take superannuation entitlements away from working Australians by taking it out of the award system, but they failed. It was defeated in the Senate, so they are coming back again.

What does it mean? It affects people, overwhelmingly women, who work part time and casual in the two industries that I have specified, the hospitality industry and the textiles industry—there are others, but let me just give you these two examples—earning less than $450 a month. These are not fat cats. These are low paid Australian workers battling to make a living. At the moment, they get superannuation not because of the act—the act does not cover them—but because of the award.

If this bill is passed, those people will lose that entitlement. It is the law, they are entitled to it and the government wants to take it away from them. Why? It is sheer unadulterated prejudice. There is not one skerrick of economic or social argument as to why these Australians, these low paid Australians, these Australians battling to save for their retirement, should lose this entitlement which they have won, earned and deserve.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 p.m., the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 101A. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.