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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2291

Senator REID —My question is also directed to the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. Women will not be celebrating these changes. Why has the government bowed to the ACTU by refusing to increase competition in superannuation so that low income earners, so many of whom are women, will be able to maximise the return on their investments? Why has the government rejected the introduction of a superannuation savings account which, as well as increasing competition, would mean low administrative costs, not another layer of government bureaucracy, and would give workers greater control over their savings? Why must Australian women be required to subsidise the ACTU's monopoly on the use of their savings?

Senator CROWLEY —In the light of what I have just said, clearly the opposition prefers not to hear the good news and the facts that address precisely the way of making superannuation benefit women. The points that Senator Reid's question raises are whether or not we are interested in assisting women in superannuation. That is the whole point of all the measures I have just spelt out. This government is very concerned to help women with their—

Senator Alston —Mr President, I raise a point of order on the grounds of relevance. The minister has just said that she thinks this question is all about helping women in relation to superannuation. The crux of the question was actually: why has the government refused to increase competition; why will it not allow superannuation savings accounts; and why must working women be required to subsidise the ACTU's monopoly? The question is all about competition, and Senator Crowley is prattling on about something completely different. I ask you to direct her to be relevant.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Crowley was early into her answer and I have no way of judging how relevant that is until she develops it. I ask you, though, to address the—

Senator Alston —Mr President, can I simply say this—

The PRESIDENT —Are you challenging my ruling?

Senator Alston —No, I want clarification. You have said that you are not in a position to judge whether the answer is relevant. When you hear a minister talking about women and the question is about competition, you are in a position to judge. If you are never going to be able to make a judgment of that sort, there is no point in having a standing order relating to relevance. I simply ask you to take account of what has been said, not just assume that maybe she will come back to the point.

The PRESIDENT —I have made my ruling.

Senator CROWLEY —Thank you, Mr President. Senator Reid's question was about women and superannuation. I make the point that the question, in as much as it is appropriate for it to come to me, refers to the points that I have already raised and the matters about women. The further points that Senator Reid asked about would be much better and more appropriately addressed to the Minister representing the Treasurer.

  To the extent that the question has come to me, there are some points from what I have just said that I think will assist Senator Reid. First of all, it is important to know that these measures are focused on increasing the retention of superannuation for women and also the capacity of those small funds to be brought together at no cost to women, the transfers being provided free. It is also very interesting that one of the things that has disadvantaged women is the multiplicity of superannuation funds.

Senator Hill —Mr President, I also take a point of order on the issue of relevance. The question that was asked of the minister is really a very simple one: why has the government rejected the introduction of superannuation savings accounts, which would better benefit women?

Senator West —If you don't ask the right minister, how can you expect to get an answer?

Senator Hill —No, she is. We are asking her representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. We are interested in the welfare of women. We are interested in women getting a better return from superannuation and she was asked in that light, as we want to benefit women in superannuation, why the government rejected the introduction of superannuation savings accounts. It is a simple question.

Senator Cook —Mr President, on the point of order: it is worth while—

Senator Vanstone —Sit down. She has found the answer.

Senator Cook —What does Senator Vanstone have to do with anything? On the point of order: as the question is based on an erroneous premise that banks are somehow denied offering superannuation to people, the question itself should be ruled out of order because it is based on something which is fundamentally untrue. Banks are not prevented from doing that and thus the whole question is out of order.

The PRESIDENT —This throws up the ridiculousness of the situation you place me in. You expect me to make judgments on the value of the question and the answer. That is not something that I can do. If something is clearly irrelevant, if you are answering B instead of A, I will rule it out of order. It is not at all clear in this case.

Senator CROWLEY —I said that I was answering this question to the extent that it was addressed to me as representing the status of women. To that extent I can very happily repeat the answer that is appropriate to the status of women. The question about financial arrangements, or what might be in the Treasurer's mind, or why the government might have decided one thing or another—let alone whether it did—is a matter that appropriately should be addressed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. I simply want to say: why does Senator Reid want to ask about what has not happened while rejecting the very good news of what has happened? If her question is about what is good for women, why does she not appreciate what is provided in this answer?

Senator REID —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. My question clearly was directed to the welfare of women and to superannuation, and why the introduction of a superannuation savings account has been rejected. If the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women cannot answer it, will she refer it to the Treasurer to get an answer?

Senator CROWLEY —Certainly, if there is any further information on this matter that might assist Senator Reid.