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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 12893


Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongMinister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (19:52): I thank the honourable member for Kennedy for his contribution. I also thank the government members for their contributions to the debate on the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2012. This bill delivers another part of the government's workplace relations and superannuation agenda. It is another step in ensuring a balanced, workable, simple and flexible workplace relations system for Australia, it is another step in the evolution of the national workplace relations tribunal—the new Fair Work Commission—and it is another step in improving the operation of the superannuation system to boost the retirement incomes of Australians into the future.

This bill is a further example of the government's cooperative and consultative approach to workplace relations. The bill implements recommendations from an independent expert review of our legislation that has been on the record since mid-July. We have announced a clear policy and approach in response. We have developed policy and legislation in consultation with the National Workplace Relations Consultative Council, with small business and with the superannuation industry. Both union and employer stakeholders agree that the bill is non-contentious. I repeat: both union and employer stakeholders agree that the bill is non-contentious. They want to get on to discussing other policy matters in workplace relations that are important to them, and I agree.

This is not the last step in workplace relations reform. I am committed to continuing to work with the serious stakeholders on making appropriate amendments to the Fair Work Act where there is clear policy justification and where they reflect the government's clear policy frameworks. I retain an open mind on all remaining recommendations from the Fair Work Act review panel. None of them have been ruled in or out. Yet the opposition's current workplace relations policy, despite their huff and their puff, remains a well-kept secret.

In relation to superannuation, there is one thing that we do know: the opposition will raise taxes on 3.6 million Australians earning up to $37,000 per year by slashing the Gillard government's low-income superannuation contribution. Around one in three workers will pay up to $500 a year more in tax because of the coalition's plans to slash any programs that are linked to the mining resource rent tax. Sadly, the coalition's destructive negativity means that they would rather reduce the wealth of 3.6 million workers than take money from those who can afford to pay. It is clear that some things have not changed for the opposition.

Their overriding principles in workplace relations were on show again last night when they voted to reduce the protections for worker entitlement and yet again even in the House today when they continued to speak against legislation that will boost the superannuation savings of workers. The opposition have publicly said that they support the overwhelming majority of the recommendations of the independent review panel. Given that this bill reflects the non-contentious aspects of the panel's recommendations, includes measures to improve the operations of Fair Work Australia and delivers an improved process for choosing default superannuation funds in modern awards, I trust that the opposition will support the bill and assist its passage through the parliament.

I must turn very briefly to some of the remarks made about industry funds and superannuation. I submit to the House that the opposition are long on rhetoric and short on facts. It is a fact that the Productivity Commission found that the existing default fund arrangements have resulted in net returns generally exceeding those of non-default funds. Over the eight years to 2011, default funds in modern awards have averaged an after tax return of 6.4 per cent compared with 5.5 five per cent for non-default funds. It is a fact that the Gillard government reforms will deliver a more contestable and transparent selection process than ever existed under those opposite.

The member for Wannon said that superannuation is too important to be played around with. We agree with that part of his contribution. The opposition play with superannuation when they selectively quote the Cooper review. They do not mention that recommendation 1.4 of the Cooper review concluded that the Productivity Commission should complete its review of default super and awards by 2012. The Gillard government has met this commitment. They did not mention that they have opposed other Cooper recommendations when it has suited them. They did not mention that they seek to abolish the tax concession that we are providing low-paid workers. Indeed, I have to say that they have criticised some on this side of the House for having industry experience and having had involvement with industry funds. The member for Kooyong described industry funds as giants. In any other industry the Liberal Party would be genuflecting when they talked about industry giants. But when organisations have equal member representation, it is too much for the opposition to stomach and it triggers their bias against equal representation in superannuation funds.

There is a clear reason that we departed from one of the Productivity Commission's recommendations. Unlike those opposite, who are interested only in attacking unions and industry funds—and we heard some of that bigotry spew forth tonight—the Gillard government was very mindful of a solution that is workable for all parties in superannuation, including employers. Those opposite ask why any MySuper product cannot be a default fund superfund, and they ask why we need to have between two and 10 funds listed. I submit that an outcome where there are over 100 funds for employers to choose from in an award is not efficient—certainly the employers agree with us. It creates red tape, especially for small businesses, who will face considerable search costs in determining which fund to choose. Unlike those opposite, we listen to big and small businesses who use the award system. We have modified the final Productivity Commission recommendation while retaining the essence of an open and transparent process.

While listening to those opposite debate the superannuation aspects of the bill, it struck me how infrequently they mentioned employers and their needs and how frequently they sneered at the contribution that employers make on the industry funds of Australia. It struck me how little they understand or respect the contribution of industry funds to delivering good retirement outcomes for Australians. I believe that all too often we see too much simplification from those opposite about industrial relations and indeed industry funds. I trust that the opposition will assist the passage of this constructive bill through the parliament. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.