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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 6087

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (11:55): The Governance of Australian Government Superannuation Schemes Bill 2011 is not a modern bill. Sadly, it is a bill of the past, a bill which seeks to entrench the ACTU in a position of influence which is not necessary. Our opposition is not anti union. As a matter of fact, I have met with unions recently to discuss the carbon tax and the impact that it is going to have on the industries in my electorate of Wannon. What we have seen from Paul Howes and others is that there is great concern on this issue. We on this side are happy to work with unions to raise issues where jobs are at stake but this bill is entrenching the power of the ACTU and it is going back to the days of the old accord. As we know, the old accord did not deliver ultimately for the Australian economy and we do not want to see the ACTU in a position of power here especially when it does not represent more than half the public servants who would be caught up by this bill.

I would like to talk on this bill and then talk about the Public Service. I was employed as a public servant in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for a number of years. I was not a member of a union and I must say I would have found it an affront to find that, having paid money into superannuation, the government would be demanding that the ACTU have this dominant role over the money which I had worked for and which I was putting into superannuation. I would then like to specifically detail some of the problems with this bill.

There is a simple way forward which the government should acknowledge and should agree to, and that is to allow a greater role for the minister in appointing people rather than having a greater role for the Secretary of the ACTU, Jeff Lawrence. As a matter of fact, it seems ridiculous that we would even be having this discussion on the role that the leader of the ACTU should have in appointing people to these positions and on the fact that we are taking power away from the elected minister to even be able to replace ACTU appointees.

This bill and the cognate ones establish ComSuper as a statutory agency consisting of a CEO and staff. The bills merge the existing trustees for the Commonwealth civilian and military superannuation schemes into a single trustee body, the Commonwealth Superannuation Corp­oration. The function of ComSuper is to provide administrative services to the Commonwealth Superannuation Corp­oration. The CEO of ComSuper is appointed by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation in consultation with the Minister for Defence. The Commonwealth Super­annuation Corporation will be trustee for existing Commonwealth superannuation funds including the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme, the Public Sector Superannuation Scheme, the Public Sector Superannuation Accumulation Plan, the Military Superannuation and Benefits Scheme, the Defence Forces Retirement and Death Benefit Scheme and the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Scheme. The CSC board would consist of 11 members appointed by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation: five employer directors chosen in consultation between the finance and defence ministers, three members nominated by the President of the ACTU, two members nominated by the Chief of the Defence Force—so the ACTU has more representation regarding these military schemes than the Chief of the Defence Force—and one independent chair.

The bills also establish the Defence Force Case Assessment Panel. The panel will review any decision referred to it by the CSC relating to military matters, such as death and disability pensions. The panel has been included in this version of the legislation in response to concerns raised by stakeholders in the veteran and ADF communities. The coalition agree with the establishment of such a panel; however, we are concerned that the CSC is not bound by the recommendations made by the panel. The overall legislation remains, as I have previously said, unacceptable.

These bills have a history. They were first introduced on 4 February 2010, when the coalition also raised its concerns about them. We have been very consistent on this matter. There were some slight improvements made to the bills but they have not gone far enough. The coalition continues to oppose these bills, as the ACTU has a disproportionate representation on the board and is the exclusive representative on the board of public sector employees.

At this stage I state that I have an interest in this bill because I was a member of the Public Service and I paid superannuation into a fund. That money is still in that superannuation fund, so it is with direct relevance that I speak on this. As a member of the Public Service I also know full well that the majority of the Public Service are a non-unionised workforce. Around 40 per cent of most departments are members of a union and roughly 60 per cent are not. Therefore, it does seem incredibly strange that the ACTU would be given such a privileged position. I would like to hear from members on the other side exactly why they have given the ACTU such a privileged position.

It seems especially strange that the Chief of the Defence Force and those from, for instance, staff representative bodies—who do an equally good job representing those members employed within the Public Service—are not given such a privileged position and are not considered part of this. The bill should contain no special provisions for ACTU representation on the board. Board members should be appointed by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation in consultation with the Minister for Defence. I cannot see what would be wrong with that. Why couldn't we have the minister, if she wanted to, appoint someone from the ACTU or someone from the union? No-one would have a concern with this as long as the person had the relevant expertise and there was proper balance in the decision as to who the three appointees would be. But this says to the President of the ACTU, 'You have carte blanche on the three appointees.' Not only that but if they are to be removed the minister has to go to the President of the ACTU and say, 'Please, can you remove them?'

I am not quite sure how members from the other side got into this place but I thought we were the people who were elected to represent Australia and our constituencies. I do not recall seeing the President of the ACTU facing the Australian people. We ultimately are the ones who must go back to the Australian people, stand before them and say, 'These are the reasons we have made these decisions and we are coming back to you to seek to represent you.' The President of the ACTU does not do that. Why then should we make an elected member of parliament, who has become a minister, go cap in hand to the President of the ACTU to seek to have board members removed? As someone who has been a member of the Public Service and who has money in one of these superannuation schemes, I find it absolutely ludicrous that this would be the situation.

It brings with it other issues. For instance, the three ACTU members can prevent a quorum. If they do not want a meeting to take place, they can use their numbers to make sure that there is not a quorum. It is a fact. This is the dominant position which has been given to them. I will spell it out for those opposite: given that a quorum of nine members is needed for a board meeting, the three ACTU directors can prevent a meeting being held. This newfangled accord that we are putting in place to look after superannuation for the military and the Public Service means that the three positions which have been given to the ACTU can be used to stop a meeting being held.

Mr Gibbons: Why would they do that?

Mr TEHAN: Who knows? Who would know why? But why would a government allow that to happen? We know that the Greens are running the agenda at the moment, but not only will this lead to the Greens running the agenda; it also looks like the ACTU will be fully back in influence as well. What will that mean for the grassroots union members—those who are worried about their jobs, worried about the impact of the carbon tax? Once again, they will be shut out. Their voices will not be heard and that is a real worry.

As I have said before, having these three ACTU members on the board means that defence and veteran representation on the board is less than it should be. Currently the ACTU is able to nominate more directors than the Chief of the Defence Force. The defence and veteran community believes that military representation on the CSC board should be at least equal to that of the ACTU or, alternatively, that the military should continue to have its own independent board. I think that is fair. Given what our defence personnel do so magnificently in defending Australia, the fact that we will not allow them to have as much control or more over their hard-earned superannuation as the ACTU is an indictment of this government.

In summary, I have three serious concerns with this governance bill. The special provisions for ACTU representation on the board should be changed. The provisions for defence and veteran representation on the board should be changed so that that community has greater representation. The minister should be allowed to dismiss an ACTU nominated director. He should not have to go begging, cap in hand, to the head of the ACTU saying, 'Please, we think there is a problem with this nominated director so could you remove him?' The minister elected to this parliament having to go cap in hand to Jeff Lawrence to get someone removed is an absolute indictment of this bill. The last thing which needs to be changed is that the ACTU should not be in a position, because their numbers allow them to decide whether or not there will be a quorum, to decide whether a meeting goes ahead or not. Whoever drafted this bill should have taken that into consideration as well.

As someone who worked in the Public Service, as someone who provided money into a superannuation scheme, and it is still there, I find particularly worrying the direction in which the government is headed in putting together the board which will ultimately have the say over where all the money of our defence personnel and our public servants will be invested and how it will be managed. The fact that the ACTU is given such a prominent position on this board, especially ahead of the minister and people elected to this parliament, is of major concern.