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Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Page: 9827


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (11:36): I must say that I'm not convinced by the answer. I just want to move to another issue—the death benefit disputes. It's worth looking at an example of the achievements of the SCT. One of the most difficult aspects of superannuation disputes are superannuation death benefit disputes. These kinds of disputes are just one example of the value of a specialised, professional and statutory body for resolving superannuation disputes. It's important to note that there are significant differences between retail life insurance disputes and superannuation death benefit disputes. Under superannuation law, it's often up to the superannuation trustee to determine how payments of the death benefit are divided between the deceased person's family members in accordance with the rules of the superannuation fund. This can be a very difficult process, and the trustee may have to consider the rights of a number of family members of the deceased person and the level of reliance the family members had on them. The superannuation trustee often has to look into the dependence of family members on the person who has died and whether they had a reasonable expectation of continuing financial support, such as the surviving partner and financially dependent children.

One of the strengths of the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal has been its ability to resolve these disputes through what is known as its conciliation process. Through this conciliation process, the SCT allows all those with a claim to the death benefit to be heard, but the information is kept confidential and the SCT has the power to do this. As the SCT reported to the Senate committee, this information:

…can be highly personal, sensitive, inflammatory and identifiable (for example, the assertions that are made in the context of family members disagreeing about who is entitled to a death benefit under a superannuation life insurance policy).

It's encouraging that the SCT is able to resolve the vast majority of these very difficult disputes between family members by conciliation. Only a small proportion have to go on for final determination by the SCT. This reflects the value of a specialised, professional tribunal with expertise in superannuation law, and strong and established processes for resolving these claims.

Just as important with disputes like these is certainty. The dispute resolution process needs to give an opportunity to all those who feel that they may have an entitlement to part of the death benefit to be heard. But once everyone is heard, there needs to be a final resolution so that there can be certainty and families can move on. This means that anybody or institution tasked with resolving these disputes must have the power to join additional parties. It must also have the power to make a decision that is binding on all those parties.

One of the criticisms of the way non-superannuation disputes are handled under AFCA is that for non-super disputes, such as banking disputes, there is no power to join parties. Any dispute scheme that is involved in resolving superannuation death benefit disputes needs power to join a number of parties and the power to deliver a resolution that is binding on these multiple parties. These are necessary powers but they are also significant powers, and it is appropriate that such significant powers lie with a statutory tribunal body like the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal.

Labor is concerned that the loss of the expertise and statutory powers that currently exist would be detrimental and result in Australians, who have worked hard for their retirement savings, being denied access to a specialist tribunal which deals solely with superannuation matters. The Prime Minister promised a new tribunal in October 2016. This bill has no new tribunal; instead, it abolishes an existing tribunal. This amendment will protect that tribunal. What we get in AFCA is no significant change from the existing arrangements for disputes from banks. But for superannuation disputes, we get the abolition of a tribunal—a strong statutory tribunal that, resource constraints aside, has served Australians well in handling complicated and heated superannuation disputes, and it does that in an accessible, fair and conclusive manner.

Labor will not accept this government abolishing a crucial piece of the architecture of Australia's superannuation system. We urge this parliament to stand up and prevent a reduction in consumer protections and outcomes that will come from the abolition of the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal and its replacement with a private body, a generic, one-stop ombudsman scheme. There is very little change in this bill for customers who have a dispute with the banks. They can go to an ombudsman scheme now. AFCA will be an ombudsman scheme as well, and AFCA has no new powers for these disputes. The Prime Minister promised a tribunal. The bill fails to deliver one. Instead, what this bill presents is a rebadging of the existing Financial Ombudsman Service and the Credit and Investments Ombudsman and the abolition of a tribunal, the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal.

In relation to superannuation disputes, this bill represents a substantial reduction in the quality of dispute resolution in its attempt to replace a statutory Superannuation Complaints Tribunal, with specialist expertise for complex super disputes, with a generic private body one-stop shop ombudsman whose powers are based on contract law. As such, we commend this amendment, as it protects the quality and integrity of superannuation dispute resolution by retaining the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal. I would urge all of the crossbench to support what has been a very effective, efficient and longstanding tribunal with runs on the board in dealing with the specialist issues that arise from superannuation.

The problem that we have is that this government does everything in its power to resist superannuation being delivered to working-class people in this country. It resisted superannuation being introduced in the first place. It continues to resist increases to superannuation for workers who need superannuation so that they can retire with dignity. This is part of its attack on superannuation. It removes a tribunal that has worked effectively and efficiently over many years. It takes it away from a statutory organisation to a privately run organisation.

We don't believe it's the appropriate way to go. We would hope that the crossbench supports our position. The crossbench should not be aligning itself with the government to further attack the efficacy of the superannuation system in this country. I would ask One Nation to give serious consideration to supporting this body, the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal, that has been effective, that has been efficient and that looks after families—it's not just workers; it's families—who end up in disputes or disagreements over superannuation payments. I ask that One Nation continues to support the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal as the most effective and longstanding proposition to deal with these superannuation disputes.

I take the view that these are important issues that we should deal with. Just before we go on, I'd like the minister to answer these questions: can the minister confirm that the SCT will be wound up four years after the bill receives royal assent; can the minister confirm that the SCT has provided advice to the government that, on current funding levels, the SCT will not be able to finalise all disputes until December 2022, over five years away; and can the minister guarantee that the SCT will receive additional funding from the government to resolve the disputes?