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Tuesday, 5 December 2017
Page: 9599


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (12:31): The idea from the movie Groundhog Day is something that I think is a modern trope that everybody understands—where you have to keep going over the same thing, and eventually, sometimes, the lesson gets learnt. So, it's an act of hope, I suppose, that I come into the chamber this afternoon to say, 'We need to talk about superannuation.' We need to keep talking about superannuation to this government because, when it started, they didn't understand it, and through the progress of the years, they've tried to impede its growth and development over and over.

Yesterday, we saw them really trying to have a go at Industry Super, which is delivering a two per cent to three per cent better result for its members than the banks are doing with the superannuation that they look after in the retail sector. We saw them wanting to attack that. And here we are again, and I'm going to have to do it all over again because this government—the Liberal-National coalition—do not understand what the people in the gallery and across this nation understand, which is that superannuation is a very important investment for Australians. We understand it. We know how important it is. They shouldn't be treating it like a little piggy bank that they can raid whenever they get the opportunity. As soon as they get into government, they go after superannuation. The Treasury Laws Amendment (Reducing Pressure on Housing Affordability Measures No. 1) Bill 2017 is another attack on superannuation, and it reveals, once again, that this is a government that just doesn't get it.

Back to the history—superannuation is a Labor idea, implemented by a Labor government all that time ago under Paul Keating. Let me tell you, I grew up in the western suburbs, in the working-class suburbs. My father was an Irish immigrant. He ran a small business. He employed lots of people. There was not much talk about superannuation in our house. I didn't know what a public servant was. Superannuation wasn't something that we knew. But Paul Keating did. And as a leader in the Labor Party, he put a marker in the line of the history of this country and said, 'We are going to build a superannuation system that will support Australians, who will be able to retire with dignity.' Australians who didn't have great wealth already, Australians who were just going to work hard all their life, look after their families, contribute to their community, pay their tax—those Australians. The real ones. The ones on whose back this country has been built. They're the ones that Paul Keating was standing up for with his visionary view of what could happen if we actually did invest in superannuation.

The government from the beginning completely opposed this. They had all sorts of claims: the economy would collapse, small business would never survive and we'd ruin jobs and the future of the nation if we instituted superannuation. But here it is, down the track, and every Australian today—even young people who are starting on their first jobs, hopefully in a retail situation where they join the union, the SDA, and start to contribute to their superannuation—with a $2 trillion set of funds in superannuation are in a vastly different position than they were when this government decried superannuation in the first instance.

We started off with a small amount. Incrementally, we got up a little higher. Labor wanted to get to 12 per cent. As soon as Tony Abbott came in, that whole incremental increase stopped. When you change the government and you put this lot in, it changes your economic future in a very bad way if you're an ordinary working Australian. And they'll come up with all these little distracters, gifts and cute arguments, and they'll pretend that they're great economic managers. But I'll tell you who they're great economic managers for: people who've already got a hell of a lot of money. They're great economic managers for the banks. They've stood and waited for the banks to tell them, 'Okay, we're ready for a royal commission, and this is what we'd like it to look like.' That's the sort of government this Liberal-Nationals government is. Instead of doing the right thing by Australians, they pull a con job as often as they can.

That is why Labor of course does not support these bills that are before the house right now. I know that people across this country are concerned about the affordability of housing. Well, let me tell you, in the last period when Labor was in government we built over 20,000 houses. We still haven't caught up on what John Howard had taken away. The minute they get in, they cut investment in housing. And we've got this same attrition of housing access and housing affordability under a government that continues to claim economic credentials that it simply doesn't have. These bills that we are debating today will do absolutely nothing to reduce pressure on housing affordability—unlike what the government is signalling in the bizarre title of this bill. This is what it's called: the Treasury Laws Amendment (Reducing Pressure on Housing Affordability Measures No. 1) Bill. Well, that's the first deception. With this legislation they're not doing what the title suggests. And that's what you get: you get this sort of front. But you've got to be a bit smarter than that. Don't accept what they say, because behind that front is always an attack on the life of ordinary hardworking Australians—the people the Labor Party stands up for.

Alongside not addressing housing affordability, with this piece of legislation they're looking to ruin another bit of our world-class superannuation system. These bills show that the government doesn't understand the purpose of the superannuation system, as I said in my opening remarks. This bill will do one thing. It'll undermine Australia's superannuation system, and Labor cannot and will not support it, because it's only the Labor Party that will always fight to protect your superannuation. For men and women, Labor is the party of universal compulsory superannuation. We decided that it was an important thing. We invested in it, we made it happen, we legislated for it, we've protected it, we've grown it and we've nurtured it, until we were in the position that we are, with a sound and solid superannuation system. There's more work to do to make it better. But every time this government gets in, they try to whittle it away, and this is another example of an attempt to whittle it away.

We know that Australia's housing affordability issue is something that wrests the mind of every Australian, whether you're a young person who says, 'I wonder if I'm actually going to be able to afford a house like my parents,' or whether you're a parent who says: 'I'm so proud to be an Australian, I love this country, I'm so glad I grew up here and I'm really happy that I was able to afford a house, but what about my kids? Will they have a chance? Will their children have a chance?'

Grandparents are saying, 'This is not the kind of situation that I thought I'd see in my country.' Instead of really addressing the fundamental problems we have around housing with carefully considered strategy, we have this government of dysfunction, disunity and chaos cobbling up misnamed bills and pretending to do something good for the Australian people.

The Labor Party has led the genuine debate about affordable housing. We've committed, in opposition, to important negative gearing and capital gains tax reforms—critical to keeping the pressure down on prices and making sure that people can afford a home, and ensuring that the taxation system shouldn't support people who have multiple opportunities to grow their wealth through many, many houses while young people in our country can't get their foot on the ladder to buy their very first house. The Labor Party is committed to making the taxation system fairer and to helping ensure ordinary Australian men and women can afford to buy a house and can have financial security for their families not just at the time they purchase a house but at the time that they grow their wealth over the course of their life and by the time they retire. That's what superannuation is about. It's about making sure that every Australian is in a position to retire with dignity. Before Keating made that happen, that was not the case in this country.

Instead of addressing the housing affordability issue, the government is exploiting the taxation structure of the superannuation system through this bill, and its exploitation goes against the purpose of superannuation. We all know that the superannuation tax structure is quite generous. It offers incentives through the tax system as an important way to encourage Australians to save for their retirement, and that is particularly important in a system where contributions are compulsory. There's a flat and generous taxation structure on the superannuation system, and it's meant to create an incentive so that people save for their retirement understanding that the dollars that they put in are taxed at a lower rate than they might be paying on their actual wages. The government argues that the purpose of super is to provide income in retirement to substitute or supplement the age pension—that's in the government's objective statement on the bill. But we, in Labor, see this superannuation system as much more important—much more than just that one goal. Older Australians who've worked all their lives should retire not in poverty; they should retire with financial security and, above all, with the dignity of savings that they've accumulated over time that have been invested wisely, that have grown their wealth, so they can make the choices they want to make, they deserve to make, in their retirement.

The taxation structure facilities that will allow that are ones that Labor supports—but not this bill. We know that most of those people in the top tax brackets gain the most benefit from taxation structures around superannuation. With that background, how is opening up the super system to people to put more money in it going to help those who cannot afford a home? The title 'the first home super bill' is a complete misrepresentation. It will not help young people on low to middle incomes in Australia purchase a home. In fact, researchers who look at the impacts of government decisions on superannuation have argued that it could lead to exactly what we don't want to occur—an increase in house prices, putting more pressure on families and also putting more pressure on the age pension. Instead of focusing on the structural issues that are facing our superannuation system, we can see through this bill that the government remains focused on repurposing or redesigning the system, ignoring its ultimate purpose for the Australian people. The current superannuation system is facing some challenges. It needs work to make it fit for purpose for our time.

One of the big problems we face—I want to put this on the record today when I know many of my colleagues are wearing white ribbons as we talk about women, about equity for women and opposing domestic violence—is that there's a huge gender gap. We have to make sure that women in retirement are safe, that if they need to they can make choices to leave unsafe relationships. That is a real issue that the government should be dealing with, and I wish I were in here talking on a bill addressing that problem. But we're not going to see it from this government. We're going to see something dressed up as something else and we're going to see an erosion of good policy for ordinary, hardworking Australians.

The facts demand reporting here. We know that women, on average, retire with around half the superannuation of men. That's just not acceptable. They do a lot more than half the work in many, many situations—certainly around the house. That remains the evidence we see: full-time working women doing many more hours of housework at home than their partners. Of course, those opposite will say, 'Well, they can just rely on their partner.' But that is a comment from another time. That is not the Australia that I've brought my daughters up to be a part of, as equal participants in creating the knowledge, the community and the wealth of this nation. Women are entitled. There are 50 per cent of us; it should be fifty-fifty. That's not the case in superannuation. In fact, older single women are one of the fastest-growing cohorts of people living in poverty. The Labor Party believes that financial independence is a critical goal that we must strive towards for this group of Australians.

The gender pay gap is a factor of interrupted work patterns and insecure work for women. Those are the things that cause the gap. It has been caused in part by cultural norms around what a woman's 'proper place' is. It cannot be into the future, but it's something that we're dealing with at this point in time—the legacy of that attitude. Until we have a proper change in cultural attitudes towards women and men in the workplace and with regard to superannuation, we should focus on ensuring the superannuation system works for all Australians—not just those working full-time, who are predominantly men; not just those in high-paying jobs, who are predominantly men; and not just those in continuous employment, who, sadly, are predominantly men. Things can change. Things will change. Paul Keating instituted superannuation. What a change that turned out to be! But we've got to set our sights on the right goals, not the sorts of goals that this bill seeks to achieve.

One union that is so often maligned by those opposite but is standing up and fighting for ordinary Australians is the SDA. Time and time again it's spoken about the need to ensure the gender gap in retirement is eradicated. With around 60 per cent of its members being women working in the retail sector, it is very well placed to fight for the rights and equity of those women. One of the things that unions do—unlike the ridiculous caricature of unions that we constantly hear from the other side—is invest in the intellectual work of putting together submissions to the important work that this parliament does. They put on the record what's happening to working people. The SDA did this work. It got together a submission to the Standing Committee on Economics in which it recommended that superannuation actually be paid on paid and unpaid parental leave. They said:

Women's participation in both paid employment and unpaid caring responsibilities must be genuinely acknowledged and reflected in meaningful policy outcomes to ensure that women are not relegated to a life of poverty and distress in their retirement years.

I don't know how anyone in this chamber—whether they are a clerk working here; the Deputy President; one of the staff in the advisers' boxes, who are here supporting us; the person doing the Hansard; or a person in the gallery—could disagree with that. We actually believe in egalitarianism in this country. But, instead of doing something about that, the government are sitting here trying to take away the capacity of superannuation to deliver a decent, dignified retirement for all Australians. They're not dealing with the gender equity gap; they're just turning a blind eye to it. Mind you, it's pretty easy to turn a blind eye to it when you've got hardly any women in your party. That's another difference between the government and the Labor Party. Unlike this government, the Labor Party believes in pursuing proactive policy settings in superannuation that equitably maximise retirement incomes and seek to address the structural labour market disadvantages that women face. When you're in part-time employment, when you're not guaranteed employment, when you take leave to have children, that pulls you back. We need to do something about that, we need a vision for that, and we're not going to see it from those opposite.

Labor also believes in the necessity of superannuation to fund decent retirements for people who are challenged by the changes of automation and technology. We need to embrace the advantages of innovation when it grows our economy. We need to make sure that the technological changes that are part of our time create new roles and great jobs for the men and women of Australia. We know that, to make that happen, we have to invest in education. That's not what we're seeing from those opposite. They're not saying, 'Let's skill up, let's increase the wealth of the nation.' These guys are saying: 'Let's raid the piggy bank of superannuation, because the people are too dumb to figure out that, if they put the money away now, it'll affect them in retirement. We'll get away with this. We'll look like we're doing something about housing.' That's how cynical this bill is. They're attempting a little swiftie: 'Don't worry, the Australian people won't notice.'

I'm sure the Australian people are beginning to wake up to the fact that they cannot trust this government. This government lacks unity. It's eating itself alive. The Nats are fighting against the Liberals. This government has no vision for superannuation and has never had a vision for superannuation for the people from Curran Road, Blacktown, where I grew up, where no-one talked about superannuation. People are talking about superannuation now, because Labor put it on the agenda, and I reckon they're smart enough to figure out that this government doesn't give a toss for ordinary working people and their superannuation needs. This bill is another example of the fact that this Liberal Party, under Malcolm Turnbull, just doesn't get it.