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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2294

Senator KERNOT —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Senator Gareth Evans has said already in question time today that the government's record on superannuation is second to none. I think the Treasurer's solutions announced yesterday are, while necessary, second best. What is the government going to do about the big superannuation issues such as taxation concessions which cost this government $6 billion this year? Will the government continue to give a superannuation tax concession that provides a 32c in the dollar subsidy to high income earners and only a 6c in the dollar subsidy or benefit to low income earners? Does the government acknowledge the findings of groups as diverse as EPAC, CEDA, ACOSS, the Tax Research Foundation, Access Economics and its own independent national savings expert, Dr Vince FitzGerald, that this is fundamentally unfair? On the issue of women and superannuation, does the government acknowledge that these concessions advantage men over women because of the four times lump sum value that men earn?

Senator COOK —It is obviously a well-known fact in this chamber—senators have been reading their newspapers and watching television—that the government made a statement yesterday on superannuation. The Treasurer made a statement in which he dealt with small amounts of superannuation and how the value of the amount put aside for small contributors on superannuation can best be retained so that those contributors get some value for the superannuation allocation made.

  What Senator Kernot has raised in her question is a series of tax related matters and a question of tax concessions which of course were not included in the statement made yesterday by the Treasurer. Those are broader matters than simply superannuation because they go to the whole issue of the taxation settings in Australia and are picked up in that bundle of goods. By not directly dealing with them yesterday, it is quite clear that the government's policy on tax and tax on superannuation funds remains intact and will continue. But I do agree with Senator Kernot that the provisions for superannuation made by this government are second to none—

Senator Kernot —I didn't say that; you did. I said they are second best.

Senator COOK —Senator Kernot quoted it approvingly, and I thought we had a meeting of minds, if not emotions, on this point. But, in any case, whether she approves of it or not let me say that it is perfectly true. Thanks to this government, 60 per cent of the Australian population who did not have superannuation coverage in the past now have superannuation coverage. That percentage of the population can now look forward to greater comfort in their retirement, whereas in the past they did not have that expectation.

  Under the opposition, superannuation was the preserve of about 40 per cent of the work force—those who were employed in the public sector and those who were employed in the higher paid, white-collar industry but certainly not the ordinary battler, the blue-collar worker. The blue-collar worker did not have access to superannuation. So one of the great reforms of this government has been to extend superannuation to them. That has been fairly widely acknowledged, if not always in this chamber. To come back to Senator Kernot's fundamental question, our tax arrangements remain intact.

Senator KERNOT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the minister agree with Senator Crowley, then, that yesterday's announcement by the Treasurer substantially addresses the issue of superannuation for women? How can Senator Crowley say that when, on looking at the issue of concessions, we see that, as I just said, on average men receive lump sums four times those of women? The government has not pulled the picture together properly, and it is just not true that the government has fixed up the problem for women in superannuation in one day's announcement yesterday.

Senator COOK —This question has really raised the debate. Of course I agree with what Senator Crowley said because she is right. She is right because what the Treasurer did in yesterday's statement was address the issue of small amounts where the handling charges wipe out the value of the contribution. That is what the Treasurer did yesterday.

  Given that women, unfortunately, to a large extent are still streamed into low paid jobs, and are a large part of the part-time work force and do drop in and out of the work force more than men do, they can potentially lose, and in fact have lost, their superannuation contribution because the charges in handling that contribution have taken away its value. Specifically, one of the issues addressed by the Treasurer in his statement yesterday was restoring that value. By the composition and nature of the work force, that will advantage women to a great extent. (Time expired)