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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 10348

Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (19:00): Madam Acting Deputy President Boyce, could I just take this opportunity before I start talking on the bill to wish you and all the other senators a very merry Christmas and all the best for next year. Could I also mention the staff, not only the staff who work so hard for the senators in this place but also the Senate staff, those who help with the operation of this establishment, who really work hard. It has been a great learning experience for me in my 4½ years, coming from the farm and small business and so on, always having the attitude of, 'Oh, public servants. They do nothing.' That was until I came to this place and saw them walk in at seven in the morning and walking out at 11 pm and midnight. They are also so professional in their work, and I would like to thank the Clerk and all associated staff for the wonderful work they do here in the Senate.

The Superannuation Legislation Amendment (Further MySuper and Transparency Measures) Bill 2012 is the third tranche of legislation implementing a recommendation of the Cooper review into Australia's superannuation system to introduce a new, low-cost superannuation product known as MySuper to replace existing default superannuation fund products. I will commend the Labor government for introducing superannuation many years ago, and, of course, following governments for maintaining it. I believe we are now heading towards $1.4 trillion put away in superannuation—a huge amount of money. Sadly, after the global financial crisis set in in 2007-08, with the crash of the stock market the value of that superannuation went down enormously.

Hopefully, with good times ahead, good government, and a return to success in the private sector we will see those shares return to some of their higher levels. No doubt by the time those who are very young, 20, 21 and 22, come to retire at the age of—who knows: 67, 70—they will have a good stack of money put away to get them through their retirement and relieve the burden from the taxpayer. We know now of the shortage of government money. We see the government debt. We see, sadly, lack of business confidence in Australia. This is largely a result of many of the things this government has done, but hopefully that business confidence will return. Even growth has been forecast for next year and the year after, according to Westpac's economists. Hopefully we will return to those days of growth where people could fulfil their life's dream of owning their own home, putting enough away in their super and retiring where they could be financially secure without relying on the fellow taxpayers of our nation.

It is quite alarming, I know, being in small business and employing people. Super does cost. Of course, when it was phased in, workers did sacrifice wage increases to get their super in line. I want to make a point here about the talk of raising super from nine to 12 per cent and, even as former Prime Minster Paul Keating suggests, to 15 per cent. The former Prime Minister is suggesting a two-phase superannuation system, with phase 1 there to support those of the ages from 60 to 80 in retirement and phase 2 going from 12 per cent to 15 per cent, where three per cent of that money will be put into a government backed longevity fund to help pay for the needs of the over-80s. I have some serious reservations about that.

People work and put their super together. Who is going to pay for it to rise to 15 per cent under former Prime Minister Keating's plan? You cannot make business pay. Already we are seeing too many businesses in Australia trying to compete against overseas businesses where the labour is very cheap—places like China and other parts of Asia, as well as Africa, where we have a high Australian dollar which has been brought by money pouring into our country and being invested in Treasury bonds to finance the $253 billion gross debt that this government has built up. We see money coming here as our Reserve Bank cash rate is still over three per cent, when many of the official cash rates around the world are zero or just a bit above. So investors see Australia as somewhere they can get a good return, hence the market of the Australian dollar. The sentiment has been bullish for many years now and we have seen the Australian dollar trading by parity, making it very hard for people in rural and regional Australia who rely on income from exports, whether it be the grains industries, the export beef market or even the dairy industry, which produces some nine billion litres of milk each year. In Australia we only consume around 4½ billion litres a year, so we rely heavily on exports and that high Australian dollar is hurting us.

The point I make is that when we are tinkering with super and talking about increases, we cannot make the businesses pay for it. I remember when I was in small business that I paid my employees' super but I did not have any myself. A lot of people in small business are like that. As they should, they pay award and often above award wages to their workers. But often the owner of the business gets the smallest slice of the cake. They do not receive wages from the business when times are tough and they do not have super. I came into this place at the age of 53 years old with $1,650 worth of super, which is not much when you get to the age of 53. I put $4,000 away in a super fund during the wool boom of the late eighties-early nineties. Then I could not contribute anymore, and that $4,000 just shrunk down with fees until I cashed it in and put the little bit left, $1,650, in with my AGEST super.

Getting back to this legislation. The bill, as originally drafted, would have changed the investment strategy of many Australians by forcing the transfer of potentially large amounts of money from funds where individuals have made a clear and active choice about their superannuation to a MySuper default product without the need for prior approval from the individual concerned. That is concerning.

However, on this occasion the coalition has scored a significant policy victory for Australians planning for their retirement who were at risk of having their savings transferred automatically, without their prior approval, to a government-legislated MySuper account—just automatically. The coalition has secured amendments from the government to resolve this and other issues.

Minister Bill Shorten wanted to rush this flawed legislation through in early October. But the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services held an inquiry and reported on 9 October. This is one of the huge criticisms I have with this government: rushing things. We look at the stimulus package, and the crazy $42 billion, where money was simply rushed out into the economy. We go back to the $900 handouts, which was to stimulate the economy. Sadly, much of that money went into poker machines or buying things like televisions and luxury items, most of which—in fact, I could say with confidence: all of those electrical items—were made overseas. It was a stimulus package for China; that is what the stimulus package was. And it was rushed, of course, through the school buildings program; with the absolute mess in New South Wales by the previous government managing that school buildings stimulus package. Small buildings, which I would say would be worth about $120,000, were being constructed at a cost of $330,000 and more.

There has been plenty of toing and froing over amendments in this legislation. That is what you get when a minister tries to rush legislation through. It was all too rushed. I ask the question: why rush in the MySuper? Is it about the super funds that the unions are involved with that seem to be very friendly to the Australian Labor Party? Is that what was behind the original rush of Minister Bill Shorten, when he attempted to bring this legislation in some time back?

The current process for the selection of default funds under modern awards, initiated by this government and run by Fair Work Australia, lacks transparency. It is littered with inherent conflicts and inappropriately favours union dominated industry super funds. And that is a great concern: the union dominated industry super funds. I was a member of a union once—in February 1978. We had a drought in 1977 in South Australia and I went out shearing to pay the bills. It was not long after a state election in South Australia when the then Premier Don Dunstan was re-elected, and his campaign was 'Unionism is not compulsory'. So we were shearing at Carriewerloo Station, 17 miles out of Port Augusta, from memory—in fact, the shearing shed where they made the film Sunday Too Far Away, with Jack Thompson, which I am sure many people have seen. When the rep came in he said to me, 'Have you got a union ticket, mate?' I said no. He said, 'Do you want me to take it out of your wages or do you want to pay me now?' I said, 'The Premier said unionism is not compulsory'. He said, 'Well, it's not compulsory—either buy a ticket or leave the shed; take your pick.'

Senator Jacinta Collins: Sounds like an AWA!

Senator WILLIAMS: The Australian Workers Union, AWU.

Senator Jacinta Collins: No, a workplace agreement.

Senator WILLIAMS: No, this was compulsory unionism under the Dunstan government. So, anyway, they took the price of a ticket out of my wages and ironically, next shed, they made me the union rep! This bloke came up to me and said, 'I haven't got a ticket; will you get me one?' I said, 'I wouldn't know where to get them, mate; get your own.' That was my 12 months in the Australian Workers Union. I saw how the union movement worked then: it was hold a gun at your head or leave the shearing shed—as simple as that. If you did not join the union, you had to leave your job. It was a terrible situation. Of course, the then Labor Premier Don Dunstan, now the late Don Dunstan—

Senator Jacinta Collins: A great man!

Senator WILLIAMS: I won't take that interjection—I will get into an argument!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Boyce ): That is good, Senator Williams—don't!

Senator WILLIAMS: And of course he was wrong with his election campaign that unionism was not compulsory. I found from personal experience—which is all I have to offer this place at any time—that unionism was compulsory.

We talk about transparency. Remember the last election? This government would be honest, transparent, tell-all, true to the Australian people—I think that during the campaign we saw the real Ms Julia Gillard. We had seen a few Ms Julia Gillards as the weeks had gone on, and people like Mark Latham were doing a good job in regard to the coalition's campaign; others were leaking here, there and everywhere—and transparency was the big thing.

Union members must ask themselves a question these days: what do they get from their union? I wonder what the lady tonight working in the country hospital cleaning the toilets and the bathrooms, and a member of the Health Services Union, is getting for her union fees. These are the battlers, the essential ones who work in our hospitals. They must be absolutely disgusted with what has been revealed has happened to their funds—absolutely disgusted. And no doubt in the future, if it is not happening now, we will see a mass walk-out of the union movement because of the disgusting and dreadful way that their members are being treated. I won't go onto the Australian Workers Union—I was a member for 12 months, remember. I also remember a bloke telling me, 'You must resign when you are a financial member or they'll sue you.' I said, 'Sue away, you can't get blood out of a stone.'

But back to the legislation. Even Labor has had to finally recognise that, in its 2010 pre-election policy on superannuation, when they promised the introduction of an open, transparent and competitive process to select default funds under modern awards. I take a lot of credence out of what Senate committee reports do—a good part of this place is the Senate committee inquiries into legislation. This piece in the coalition's dissenting report struck me. I will read it out to you, Madam Acting Deputy President. This is from the dissenting report of the coalition senators into the inquiry into this legislation:

Only a half-day hearing was set aside—

That is how important this legislation is: have a half-a-day hearing for the Senate committee to inquire into it.

with witnesses limited to just 30 minutes for each organisation—

If we talk about the rush, look at how you have rushed the Senate committee inquiry into this. Half a day for the hearing, 30 minutes for witnesses.

meaning the full range of issues has not been publicly canvassed.

It is as simple as that.

Worse still, committee members have only had days in which to assess the very complex evidence presented and draft reports and recommendations.

Transparency? Honesty? Those are words we hear from the Prime Minister at election time. Rush it through with a half-day hearing and 30 minutes for witnesses. It looks to me as though the government did not want this legislation to be scrutinised. That is what I must conclude. Surely, why not a proper Senate committee investigation? This is a big new paradigm we were told we would get when the Greens and the Independents propped up the Labor government. Mr Oakeshott said, 'It's going to be ugly but it's going to be beautiful. It's going to be a wonderful government.' Yes, let's rush things through.

Today, the government gives us just 90 minutes to debate this legislation. There are 76 senators in this place who potentially might wish to speak on this bill. But no, the guillotine will drop in 90 minutes. The bill is 100 pages long, so we are giving 90 minutes to a bill a hundred pages long—that is not even a minute a page.

Senator Edwards: Even less: it is 45 minutes.

Senator WILLIAMS: Forty-five. It has been reduced now. Back to that dissenting report, and I quote:

Given the significant implications of this legislation, including adverse financial consequences for a material number of individual super fund members, Coalition members and senators recommend that:

The government withdraw this bill pending further consultation across the superannuation industry to address the serious flaws identified in this rushed inquiry and to allow for the preparation of a full Regulatory Impact Statement for the whole bill actually before the parliament, which is compliant with the government's own best practice regulation requirements.

But no. It has been a rushed inquiry, half a day of hearings, 30 minutes to witnesses and rush, rush, rush. This was a mess from the start when Minister Shorten tried to rush it through some time back. Luckily, the coalition under the guidance of my colleague Senator Cormann have made some sensible alterations to this legislation, sensible amendments that will make a rushed program perhaps a little bit better.

In conclusion, superannuation is vital. As our population grows, with the baby boomers being the biggest sector of our population, if they cannot fund themselves in retirement it means more drain on the taxpayers—the working people of Australia. Those taxpayers already have enough drain on them because they have one hell of a debt to pay for now, with interest. The shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey says it could be up to $12 billion a year in interest only—$12,000 million must be found before one public servant is paid, before one Australian soldier receives any sort of entitlement, before one age pensioner receives $1. That is the financial stress we have been put under under this government. That is why we need people in the future to be self-sufficient in their retirement. Let us hope that the confidence to the private sector, to the stock market does return. I do feel sorry for those who have just gone into retirement claiming their super after the crash of the global financial crisis, brought about by ridiculous, stupid bank lending in the United States.