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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 13782


Mr HOCKEY (North Sydney) (18:29): Well, well, here we are again. It is like groundhog day. Here we have Bill Murray and we are recreating the scene—he looks a bit like Bill Murray, does not he? He does, a little bit like Bill Murray—charming, but a little dishevelled and a little uncertain where this is all going. I feel like this is groundhog day all over again. Here we are back in the chamber, another bill under this minister, bill under Bill. Along comes the situation where it has been put to the parliament, the government reluctantly sends it to a committee, the committee under Labor's control unanimously endorse the bill then Bill comes back in to change the bill.

Of course, last night this played out in the Treasury and we were being told that this legislation has to go through the House of Representatives immediately. The government did not even have the amendments. Beavering away under torchlight last night were 100 Treasury officials, desperately trying to redraft legislation because the minister said, 'We're going to put it into the parliament tonight'. The amendments were responding to what we were suggesting were the problems, the fundamental flaws in the bill.

However, pride is an emotion familiar to this minister. He is not prepared to admit that so many of these amendments come about because we raise the issues. As I understand it, there was a spelling mistake in the government's legislation. We did not do that. We try to pick up not just the policy errors but also the spelling errors in government legislation. What is interesting from my perspective is that the minister comes into the House and pretends that this is business as usual for the House of Representatives. It is business as usual to bring legislation into the House, to declare, like a state of emergency, urgency to introduce 17 amendments which stakeholders had not seen until we raised them with them today. All through the night, in a fit of urgency, the Treasury was working away at them. This is the second time this week. Talk about a comedy caper over there.

If the government cannot run a simple process of putting in place legislation and consulting with the community, it is no wonder they cannot run a budget. It is no wonder they cannot run the economy, no wonder they cannot run general policy. The government have such abject disregard for this chamber not only do they rush in legislation; the Prime Minister heroically equally declares that a nine-page piece of legislation on education is going to revolutionise Australia, even though that piece of legislation introduced by the Prime Minister has no funding, no objectives and no agency to deliver anything—it is legislated press release. That is the contempt that the government feel for this parliament in order to try to pretend that the wheels are turning fast in the government.

I think the Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation—and I might get in trouble for this—is inherently a pretty decent guy—

Opposition members interjecting

Mr HOCKEY: I know that, particularly in the presence of the member for Mackellar, I might have gone too far, and I am getting a death stare from my colleague, but I am going to give the minister for financial services the benefit of the doubt and say that, inherently, he is a pretty decent fellow. Deep, deep down, under the veneer, is a heart that beats with the interests of the Australian people. My concern is he does not have his heart in his portfolio. He really hasn't. He is not there. He would much rather be charging at the windmills. He would much rather be out there declaring war on the bosses. (Extension of time granted) He would much rather be launching a campaign against someone than sitting down and getting across the detail of a very complicated portfolio. I know it is complicated portfolio. I actually had both of his portfolios. I was the first Minister for Financial Services and Regulation at that time, and I was Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. In fact, the first time I met the minister at the table was when I was debating him at Manning Bar at University of Sydney. I was arguing the policy case and he was cracking fat jokes against me. I remember that. I gave him the benefit of the doubt at the time because that is the last refuge of someone without a policy argument. I am getting a little bit distracted here.

I want to come back to the amendments. We have constantly pushed for common-sense amendments to this bill. We were the ones that first pushed for this to go to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services, which reported on 9 October. As I said, it was a government dominated committee that recommended the bill, as it stands. Before the 17 amendments proposed by the minister were considered, they recommended that it be preceded with. We had amendments ready to go soon after the committee reported seven weeks ago. We could have dealt with the urgency.

However, after first trying to rush the bill through, the government has, of course as usual, gone cap in hand to the crossbench. The crossbench put the same concerns that we put seven weeks ago, and lo and behold, what we have is amendments—and the amendments that are substantial. They refer to substantial issues such as a major constitutional initiative, which involve matters dealing with the acquisition of property on just terms. We have raised that issue previously. I think the minister at the table spent the weekend watching reruns of The Castle, which was one of the issues at law when he appeared before the High Court—

Mr Shorten interjecting

Mr HOCKEY: That is right. I was trying to remember who it was, thank you, Minister. The bottom line is that after we threatened to vote against the bill that was presented by the government to the House, the government started to reconsider the bill and proposed amendments. Literally, the government is making it up as it goes along. That is not the way a government should be run.

It is not acceptable for a minister of the Commonwealth to be introducing legislation that has been ill-prepared, even after consultation on the exposure draft. It is not acceptable for the second time in two days for a minister of the Commonwealth to be consulting on amendments even after Labor members of a committee inquiry into the bill recommend that the bill be passed. It is not acceptable for a minister of the Commonwealth to be rushing the bill through an inquiry when it is clear that it needed scrutiny because the minister had not given it proper attention, and it is absolutely not acceptable for a minister of the Commonwealth to be finalising amendments on the second last sitting day of the year, rushing legislation through to avoid proper, detailed parliamentary scrutiny.

My colleague Senator Cormann has done an outstanding job on this. Effectively he is writing the legislation for the minister. The Superannuation Legislation Amendment (Further MySuper and Transparency Measures) Bill requires that trustees transfer accrued default amounts to a MySuper product by 1 July 2017, and these are supposed to be amounts where the member has not exercised choice. This bill as originally drafted would have forced the transfer of potentially large amounts of money from funds where individuals had made a clear and active choice about their super to a MySuper default product, without the need for prior approval from the individual concerned—even where a member had actually exercised choice.

I was around when the Howard government introduced choice. It creates a moral hazard for the individual involved, and then the government comes along and wants to change that arrangement. It could have exposed Australians to significant transaction costs and fees, as assets would have been sold and repurchased in a new fund under the proposed arrangements from the government. (Extension of time granted)The government's original bill would have changed the retirement plans of many Australians by potentially putting their savings into a fund with lower returns or higher fees than the one they had chosen, which would have created, in my view, a very extensive moral hazard for the government. Of course, it may have led to a higher risk investment profile than the individuals had previously selected. In addition, they might have potentially lost life or total and permanent disability insurance.

So we have succeeded today in forcing the government to amend the bill so that a member who has previously exercised a choice of superannuation fund cannot be automatically transferred into a MySuper product by having previous contributions defined as an accrued default amount. The last-minute backdown by the government in a number of areas follows our dissenting report in the committee. Whilst we had to drag them kicking and screaming, dragging their fingernails along the ground, to the position of the coalition, it has been achieved. Despite the endeavours of the minister in the original bill, common sense has prevailed.

I want to commend the minister for at least listening to the concerns expressed by the coalition. I know it is very hard for him to understand this, but all wisdom and knowledge does not come through the air conditioning in the ministerial office. That is why we have a chamber. That is why we have committees. Even though he ignored the committee, he could not ultimately ignore the views of the chamber. I want to wish the officials and the minister all the very best for Christmas.

Mr Shorten interjecting

Mr HOCKEY: I am being generous here. It is important to have a generous spirit. I am trying to do my best here and be magnanimous. Just take it because it is not always going to come. But I would just say to you in that Christmas spirit and, more importantly, because of the fact that you are accepting almost all our recommendations in relation to this, that we are not going to oppose these amendments. We will support these amendments, but I am about to move our own amendments, and I hope the government will reciprocate. If they truly are engaging in this spirit of improving legislation, they will support our amendments in the same way that we are going to support theirs, to improve what was originally a pretty ordinary bill.

Question agreed to.