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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1282

Mr GEORGANAS (HindmarshSecond Deputy Speaker) (10:30): I rise today to speak in support of Appropriation Bill (No. 3) and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) and the great ongoing work that Labor is doing in a range of areas to further our national prosperity and quality of life. This work is laying the foundations for a prosperous nation for generations to come. This government, since coming to power in 2007, has had some visionary policies that will lay down foundations for a fair and just society and for which those foundations will ensure prosperity for generations to come.

The NBN is an infrastructure project that will take us into the future. The NDIS will ensure that people with disabilities live with the dignity that they deserve. The Gonski review is so important for education. As we heard yesterday, if ever there were an antidote to poverty it is through education. These are visionary policies and plans for Australia's future to ensure that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have a better life than we do. We as members of parliament have done all that we can to fulfil our duty and ensure that that happens.

It has been evident here in Australia for over 100 years that further prosperity to uphold our quality of life is the Labor way, and we can see that in the history of Australia. In today's context, with the challenges for the current generations and the globalised world in which we live, this motive is epitomised by this government's focus on increasing our national workforce. We have seen over 800,000 jobs created since we came to government. We have also seen the improved skills of our workforce and productivity of organisations and businesses striving to realise what they can become.

Labor's focus on increasing prosperity and improving quality of life is quite obvious in our positive approach to superannuation, and we have heard a lot about superannuation this week. Labor created the superannuation guarantee, and back then the coalition opposed it. Labor increased the super guarantee to nine per cent, and the coalition opposed it. Today Labor is increasing the super guarantee from nine per cent to 12 per cent and, as all Australians know, again the coalition is opposing it. There is no single area of policy that has a greater positive impact on the quality of life of millions upon millions of senior Australians than Labor's superannuation policies, and yet we see again the same mantra from the coalition opposing it in every instance. Without superannuation almost all Australians would face retirement on the age pension, which pays far, far less than their wages through their working lives. Thanks to Labor, senior Australians are increasingly retiring on an income far in excess of the value of the age pension, maintaining a relatively high quality of life. In support of this end, Appropriation Bill (No. 3) before us allocates further moneys to the ATO, the Australian tax office, for the purpose of, among other things, securing the transfer of lost superannuation members' accounts to the ATO, from where they will be reunited with the account holders.

Many of us in this place as members of parliament would have spoken to constituents and had people come to our electorate offices to talk to us about superannuation—perhaps they had lost or were not sure where it was. So this is very important: reuniting people with their lost accounts is an excellent way and service provided by this government to assist members of the public to collect all superannuation that they have earned, pulling together what was often in many different accounts and helping people keep their future retirement savings working positively towards their later life.

Retirement often depends at this time on a combination of both private savings, superannuation and the age pension. Where a retiree's savings are such that the income deemed to be generated from those savings is moderate—still within the age pension income test—the person may be eligible for a part pension.

In response to regular constituent queries regarding deeming rates used to calculate income under the age pension income test, yesterday I asked the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Minister for Disability Reform, the Hon. Jenny Macklin, about government action in this area. The minister stated that the government is again reducing the deeming rate, effective on 20 March, and this will benefit some 740,000 pensioners around the nation—some 70,000 from within South Australia and my electorate of Hindmarsh, which has a very high population of seniors.

The lower deeming rate will decrease from three per cent to 2.5 per cent for financial investments up to $45,000 for single pensioners or $75,600 for a couple. The upper deeming rate will decrease from 4.5 per cent to four per cent for balances over these amounts.

Part pensioners will see an average increase to their pension of $6.80 a fortnight. This is not an increase in disposable income as much as the increase in September 2009 where single pensioners started receiving a full pension increase of over $30; it is an acknowledgement by the government of the situation of the economy, the responsible investment options for retirees and the returns being received by retirees from their investments. I would like to congratulate the minister and the government for recognising what is right and putting it into action.

The minister went on to announce that from 20 March Australian pensioners will start receiving the new clean energy supplement. Pensioners will get that either fortnightly or quarterly over the next year. For single pensioners that will be around $338 annually; for a couple, $510.

Towards the development of healthy superannuation accounts, we believe work and employment is good for people's self-esteem, social engagement and of course quality of life through heightened income and expenditure. We as a party see employment as a cornerstone of social integration and participation, and that is why we provide the training and support that we do to do help people into the workforce: the JET or Jobs Education and Training program, the university funding, the school funding that we have paid and the funding towards future Gonski-inspired appropriations.

This bill includes a further appropriation to the support for childcare assistance program delivered through the Jobs Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance program, the family day care community support program and the inclusion support subsidy. There is nothing better for a household, including a household with children, than having at least one adult engaged in employment as I said earlier. I am extremely proud that this government considers the assistance that many people may require to access the labour markets and employment, a public good worthy of support and funding. As much as we wish for people to be employed through the course of their lives, people can easily be left behind by being removed from the workforce for extended periods of time. Then comes the loss of skills and the maintenance of those skills through the loss of the workplace culture and participation in the workforce. It is extremely important to give every person the absolutely best chance that we possibly can to maintain their employability throughout life, through their mid-life and into their 50s and 60s. I commend this government's recognition of this fact and the policies that are in place to further people's quality of life through ongoing employment.

Where employment ceases through no fault of the employees, where a business goes bust and hard-earned employee entitlements are lost, this government has continued to look after employees' interests through the General Employee Entitlement and Redundancy Scheme, known as GEERS. GEERS has provided assistance to employees who have lost their employment and entitlements due to the liquidation or the bankruptcy of the employer. I am sure that all of us see many constituents who are in that situation of chasing moneys that are owed to them. In some cases, the loss of its employees' entitlements by a business may have been other than deliberate. Regrettably, in some cases, it seems apparent that the loss of those entitlements has been a callous and calculated act. The losses of these blameless employees can be tens of thousands of dollars, amounts which would take years and years to save. So I commend the government for its ongoing protection of employee entitlements and the quality of life that they deliver. Further appropriation towards GEERS is contained within this bill as well.

Of note to workers, GEERS was replaced as of 5 December 2012 by the Fair Entitlements Guarantee. It is not a coincidence that the provisions of these bills go to furthering workforce participation and furthering people's retirement savings. It is no coincidence that these appropriation bills go to the quality of life of Australians throughout their working lives and beyond into retirement. These are bread and butter issues on which Labor is principally focused. History tells us that these are policies that only Labor will deliver for the Australian people, our workforce and retirees. As I said, these are important appropriation bills that will lay down the foundations for future generations of Australians.

Unfortunately, this morning, approximately 70 to 90 people in my electorate woke to the news that they will be losing their jobs to offshoring. As many of you know, I have one of the largest call centres in Australia in my electorate, the Westpac call centre. Again we are seeing Westpac sack approximately 90 workers. The number announced yesterday was 70 workers; today I hear from the FSU that the number is closer to 90 or maybe even 100 who will be losing their jobs. Westpac and some of our banks are very profitable in this country. They are doing far better than most banks around the world. In fact, they have super-mega profits, and we see that in their returns every year. I feel that they have a duty to ensure that they give something back to the community. To see them offshore jobs just for the sake of making more profits is horrendous and terrible.

I have been advocating in this place for a long time for an Australian service logo. Just as you go into a supermarket and you buy a product and you want to know where it was made or where it was produced, I think an Australian service logo for the service industry would also serve consumers extremely well. They then can make up their minds and base their choices on the information they have. Knowing that their private information is going overseas they may make a different choice and walk and go to a different bank or a service industry that decides to service that particular customer's needs with an Australian workforce in Australia.

As I said, unlike some of our manufacturing people who are going overseas because they are really finding it tough, in this case in the finance sector area, especially in the banks, we are seeing our banks making mega profits and paying their CEOs millions of dollars, and there is no need to cut the workforce just so that they can make even bigger profits. I am very pleased to support those workers, and I have been on radio this morning talking about it. I will be speaking to the Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, Bill Shorten, later on today about this issue. I am pleased to support all the bills that have come to this House and I commend the bills to the House.