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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 214

Senator URQUHART (TasmaniaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (15:30): I rise to take note of answers given by Minister Abetz to questions asked by Senator Wong on the government's plans to scrap the low-income superannuation co-contribution. This nasty measure will affect over 3.6 million low-paid Australians. Sales assistants, cleaners, food and hospitality workers, carers and labourers as well as nearly all part-time workers are in this conservative government's firing line. They are in the firing line, despite comments from the Prime Minister after the election of 'no adverse changes to Australia's superannuation system'. On 26 September, just a week after being sworn in, Mr Abbott made the pledge:

The assurance that I give the superannuants and the superannuation savers of Australia is there has been no adverse changes to their superannuation arrangements under this government.

Yes, the new Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, assured the Australian people just a week after being sworn in that there would be no adverse changes to their superannuation. He just forgot about the 3.6 million Australians that he planned to slug by removing their tax rebate on their superannuation savings. Barely one week into his term of supposedly governing for all Australians, the Prime Minister simply forgot about the lowest-paid workers in our community, forgot about his plans to end the much needed boost to the superannuation savings of low-paid Australians. This boost enables workers to save an extra few dollars a week for their retirement, and without such an incentive most could not afford to do so.

Yesterday the backpedalling was in full flight. The Prime Minister's previous assurance of 'no adverse changes' was replaced with a guarantee of 'no negative unexpected changes' in the Governor-General's address. Yes, low-paid Australians now have to cop it sweet that this conservative government will be making changes to the superannuation system. This conservative government, who so espouse the virtue of private individuals supporting themselves and caring for oneself in retirement, are so willing to bluntly pull the rug from under low-paid Australians and slap them with this unfair tax, a tax that penalises one section of the workforce—our lowest-paid workers—for saving for their retirement. These workers will receive no tax break on their contributions, paying more tax than if the money were part of their take-home pay. This regressive slug typifies the new brand of class warfare those opposite plan to wage on our working Australians.

The conservative government will scrap Labor's 15 per cent concessional tax rate on earnings above $100,000 in superannuation income streams. This measure that sought to level the playing field in superannuation would affect only about 16,000 people with superannuation assets typically over $2 million. They will of course maintain their generous 30 per cent tax concessions on the super contributions of high-income Australians. This is an unjust policy that typifies the class warfare that the new conservative government seek to wage on our low-paid Australians and workers more generally.

It is a policy that in particular hurts working women. Around 2.1 million of the affected workers are working women. We all know that female workers face many other barriers to saving for their retirement. Women continue to be paid, on average, four-fifths of their male counterparts. Women face more breaks from the workforce. They continue to be overrepresented in lower-paid industries where their wages are suppressed because the work is seen as 'women's work'. A significant percentage of low-paid working women are mothers working part time while looking after young children. This is exactly the part of a woman's career where an additional $500 a year will be of most benefit in building savings, and yet this conservative government are quite content to penalise those low-paid workers, the overwhelming majority of whom are women, to provide tax cuts for those who need them the least.

It is obvious from the answers provided today that tax concessions are fine for the haves but too onerous on the budget bottom line to be extended to low-paid Australians who need them most. I call on the government to listen to the community, to listen to the experts and not to proceed with this regressive class warfare. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.