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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 6104

Mr SNOWDON (LingiariMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Indigenous Health) (13:07): Is that you, Mr Deputy Speaker? I beg your pardon. How are you? It is good to see you here. This is very important piece of legislation, but unfortunately I have been very disappointed by the contributions from our opposition friends.

Mr Robert: You'll get over it.

Mr SNOWDON: I know I will. The member for Fadden has given us gratuitous advice about how we should run the world, as have the member for Paterson, the member for Wannon, the member for Hasluck and the member for Bradfield, whom we just heard.

Mr Robert: You should take all of it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Thank you, Member for Fadden. That will be enough.

Mr SNOWDON: I have to say that, whilst I was not surprised, it reminded me that once they put on the cloak of the coalition they must have a frontal lobotomy. You think, when they come here, they are free thinkers and actually understand the community and the people they work with. Then they come in here and say, 'We can't have unions.' The member for Bradfield asked what capacity unions have to understand the importance of superannuation. He asked how they know how to make decisions about the benefits that might accrue to their members from superannuation funds. I suggest to the member for Bradfield, and indeed to my comrade the member for Fadden opposite, that they actually look at the performance of super funds which are run by trade unions. They will find that some of them are among the best and highest-performing funds in the country. They are very good funds. They are run effectively, with boards which have independent directors and all the rest of it, by the trade union movement in the various industry sectors. They run very well, so let us not have the cant which has come from the member for Bradfield—the sophisticated, snobby cant from the North Shore of Sydney—talking about what unions can and cannot do. It is okay for the employers: 'We know what we're doing because we're educated.' Trade unionists are too, and they are a lot bloody smarter than you give them credit for.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Just be careful with the colourful language, please. Hansard is very sensitive.

Mr SNOWDON: Your sensitive ears, I understand, I do not want to upset you. But I have to say that the member for Throsby, the member for Dobell, the member for Oxley and the member for Fraser get it. They have not had this sudden transformational experience, once they have joined the parliament, that leads them to disregard the employees of this country, the workers of this country, and their rights to organise and to be part of an organisation. Mr Deputy Speaker: I just wonder.

I think it is important that we go to a couple of the points. There are a number of issues. None of these bills—the Governance of Australian Government Superannuation Schemes Bill 2011, the ComSuper Bill 2011 and the Superannuation Legislation (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2011—change the design of the civilian and military schemes or members' entitlements. It is important to appreciate that, when we are talking about members, the total membership will be around 682,000, of whom around 200,000 will be military members and around 482,000 will be civilian members through the old ComSuper. Let us think about this and the construction of the board and the appropriateness of proportionality and all the rest of it, and then think about the relevance of the comments which have been made by the members opposite. I recall having a very good discussion with the shadow minister, Mr Robert, who I must say was very frank about his concerns. One of the issues that Mr Robert raised with us—it was also raised last year at the inquiry held into the bills by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration, and in a minority report which reflected what the shadow minister said to me—was that the proposals:

… undermined the longstanding commitment to and understanding of the unique nature of military service.

We listened to the opposition, and I particularly listened to the shadow minister when he raised that question. The government has subsequently made a number of amendments to the bills to ensure the uniqueness of military service is maintained and properly recognised.

Mr Robert: Appreciate it!

Mr SNOWDON: I am pleased it is appreciated. Then there was the issue of lack of consultation. Let me make it very clear that I, personally, have met with the DFWA and the RSL regarding the amended bills. Both were consulted on the revised legislation and are satisfied that the amendments address of their concerns. So let us not have the argument that has been put that somehow or other there is no support for these proposals in the veterans community, because there is. We did the negotiation. We discussed it with people to make sure they were onboard with us—not necessarily onside with us—in terms of these recommendations and this legislation.

There was a question of a lack of demonstrated benefit, which of course we addressed. I say to the members opposite that, really, this is very important legislation for Australian Defence Force personnel, whose benefits will be substantially improved as a result. It is estimated that a 0.5 per cent increase in the net investment return for a member of the RAAF, who joins as an officer cadet and rises to the rank of group captain at retirement, will lead to an increase in superannuation benefit of $95,000 over full career, or $41,000 over 10-years service.

This bill seeks to improve the level of member benefits, and it will, improve service levels and the governance of the main civilian and military superannuation schemes by establishing the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation. The opposition does not disagree with the merits of this legislation; it disagrees with one component of it—the right of employees to be represented by a trade union and the right of employees to have their trade union's peak body represent them on the board. Let me just put to bed once and for all the clear contradiction between that position and the position which operated whilst they were in government. The Superannuation Act 1990 establishes the current civilian superannuation board, ARIA, with the appointment of members to the board set out in the trust deed at clause 4.1, which provides:

Three of the Trustees shall be persons nominated by the Australian Council of Trade Unions …

It is an accepted principle. The appointment process for the consolidated board is consistent with the existing process. So let us not have this confusion that somehow or another we are doing something new and different. We are doing something which is consistent with past practice.

Mr Robert: Past Labor practice.

Mr SNOWDON: This existed while you were in government for—how long, 13 years?

Mr Robert: Glorious years.

Mr SNOWDON: For all that time, we had a superannuation board which had three representatives nominated by the ACTU. So let us not be confused any longer about the contradictions which are so evident in the position being adopted by the opposition. I appreciate that the member opposite, the shadow minister, who is a genuinely nice sort of bloke, has to do jobs that he sometimes does not enjoy. I appreciate that he probably does not enjoy this at all. I hope that this is not a genuine reflection of his attitudes towards the trade union movement.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.