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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31713

Mr CREAN (6:08 PM) —The Labor Party opposes the Superannuation Budget Measures Bill 2004, which has come back from the Senate, and the way in which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration presented the humiliating backdown that the Treasurer was forced into. It has been a long week but even the Leader of the House in this place could not hide his mirth at the explanation we just heard.

This is a bill that proposes changes to superannuation on two fronts. First, it proposes a reduction in the super surcharge. Labor is opposed to a reduction in the surcharge. The reason we are opposed to a reduction in the surcharge tax is that only four per cent of recipients benefit from any reduction. Labor takes the view that every person in receipt of superannuation contributions should get a tax cut. That is why we have put forward a reduction in tax from 15 per cent to 13 per cent for all wage earners. That is a fair tax cut—without the narrowness and the focus just at the top end of this government's approach.

The parliamentary secretary who just spoke tried to blame this on Shayne Murphy, but it was the government of the day that put forward the amendments that we had to fix the mess on today. The government effectively abolished the surcharge by the amendment that was agreed to in the Senate last night. Do not come in here and tell us that the government can afford the abolition of the surcharge. It costs, in terms of the forward estimates, $2.3 billion. Where is the $2.3 billion that it says it can afford? We still have not seen how this government has funded the $1.3 billion that has been spent since the budget, and now it tells us it really could afford an abolition of the superannuation surcharge. That defies belief. This is a government that makes it up. It mucks it up and then it makes it up.

Obviously, we were opposed to what was done in the Senate last night—but do not blame Senator Murphy. This happened on the Treasurer's watch. That is what happened. The Treasurer was happy to have a go at Senator Sherry and accuse him of a super blooper, which did not happen, but the Treasurer hides and denies any involvement in his own mammoth super blooper, although its cost to the budget would be $1.2 billion a year—$2.3 billion over the forward estimates and $12 billion over the 10-year time frame that the Howard government likes to talk about. This is a monumental muck-up by the Treasurer, but where is he? He should come in here and offer a mea culpa. He goes out and smears Senator Sherry, but he will not own up to his own incompetence and ineptitude.

The other part of this bill goes to the question of the co-contribution. Labor have said that we believe that the government's measures in terms of encouraging low-income earners into superannuation are badly targeted. I heard the parliamentary secretary mention that there were six million potential recipients. When the Treasurer introduced the previous co-contribution measure, he said it would benefit one million people—not six million but one million. Again the parliamentary secretary is simply making it up as he goes along. It is very interesting that in Senate estimates last October Senator Coonan indicated that there were only 540,000 people estimated to receive that co-contribution. Either Senator Coonan is right or the Treasurer is right but, if the Treasurer is right, the forward estimates are wrong. They understate the cost of this measure, because Senator Coonan has said in Senate estimates that the cost is based on 540,000 potential recipients. So the parliamentary secretary is grossly exaggerating when he comes in here and talks about six million beneficiaries. The Treasurer has stated that the figure would be one million, which is more than double the estimates, according to forward estimates. (Extension of time granted)

I will not take much longer, but these issues are terribly important, because this government are mucking up on the run. This government are not really focusing on where the real need is in addressing superannuation. Their tax cuts are only targeted at the top four per cent and the assertion that the co-contribution benefits low-income earners is simply not being borne out by the facts. The take-up that was asserted by the government is not happening, and now what we have is a change in the legislation. Whereas previously people could only benefit from the $1,000 match up if they were in excess of $450 a week and in receipt of the SGC—the super guarantee payment—now the definition has been changed, such that anyone can get this contribution if only 10 per cent of their taxable income is earned. This is not a measure targeted at low-income earners; this is a measure designed to benefit the spouses of high single income individuals. We believe that is the wrong targeting. We wanted to get further information in relation to this co-contribution, and the government denied it to us in the Senate estimates. That is why we are opposed to this dimension. We are not opposed to genuine superannuation reform that benefits people on low incomes and encourages greater adequacy for all in the work force, but the government's measures do not do that. That is why we say that both aspects of this bill are not in the appropriate direction. We oppose them. We want further information about the co-contribution.

In conclusion, going back to who is to blame, I understand that the government is trying to run around and privately blame Senator Murphy for the muck-up that occurred in the Senate yesterday. We understand that the Treasurer, Treasury and Senator Coonan signed off on the amendments last night. This was all their work, as we understand it. If they deny that it was their work, what were they doing? They were the ones responsible for considering amendments. They had the responsibility for dealing with this in the parliament. What we have is another classic example of blame shift. We have the government acting on the run—they mucked it up, got themselves into trouble and, rather than coming in here and admitting openly that they mucked it up, they have been denigrating other good people who know more about superannuation than the Treasurer and Senator Coonan will ever know. They also sought to denigrate them on previous occasions and then hid, when they were culpable for massive incompetence and massive muck-ups in their own superannuation amendments.

The Labor Party is opposed to these amendments and only Labor in government will really do something that advances superannuation for the whole work force—not just the top four per cent but the whole work force. The only time superannuation has been advanced in this country for the whole of the work force has been when a Labor government has been in power. This is a government that has dropped the ball on superannuation. The only way we can complete the unfinished business is by achieving the return of a Labor government. Superannuation will be a major issue for us for reform in government. If the Australian people want advances in this area, they should vote for Labor, because this government has never had their superannuation interests at heart at all.

Question put:

That the amendments be agreed to.