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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 6138


Dr LEIGH (Fenner) (12:49): Unpaid superannuation is a significant challenge for Australia. Labor is pleased that the government is—belatedly—taking action on unpaid super. Industry Super Australia, not the government's favourite body these days, has previously estimated that 2.4 million workers are losing $5.6 billion in payments every year. That is the equivalent of those workers losing $2,000 a year. That is money that should be going into their retirement savings. Unpaid superannuation is wage theft—pure and simple—because superannuation is delayed compensation. If you're not paying superannuation, that is as bad as not putting money into the worker's pay packet. It is as bad as the scandals we have seen over recent years of employees being paid in cash and being asked to hand some of that cash back to the employer—that is, it is morally equivalent to that behaviour.

Superannuation theft is wage theft. That's why in December 2016, Labor moved to establish a Senate inquiry into the nonpayment of superannuation. That inquiry heard many cases where employers weren't meeting their superannuation obligations. It made a series of recommendations about strengthening compliance to ensure that workers received the superannuation to which they were entitled. The government—spurred on by that important Senate inquiry—finally set up their own cross-agency working group, and the bill before the House today includes some of the recommendations from that cross-agency working group.

The bill includes changes that would allow the tax commissioner, in cases where employers failed to comply with their superannuation guarantee obligations, to issue directions to pay unpaid superannuation and to undertake appropriate education courses. Failure to comply with those directions can lead to criminal charges. It allows the tax commissioner to disclose more information about superannuation guarantee noncompliance by affected employees. It extends Single Touch Payroll reporting to all employers, facilitates more regular reporting by superannuation funds, improves the operation of the commissioner's collection and compliance measures and streamlines employee commencement processes. Labor supports the measures in this bill. They will go part of the way towards addressing the significant problem of unpaid superannuation in this country.

At the same time as the government are moving these measures, they are proposing a superannuation guarantee amnesty for employers who haven't paid the workers their superannuation guarantee. That would give employers who haven't paid superannuation to their employees a penalty holiday. It doesn't just cover the last year or two; it goes back 25 years. If you believe that superannuation theft is as bad as wage theft, why would you have an amnesty going back 25 years? Why would you just let those who had ripped off workers to get away with it, to be given a tax break, to not be subject to appropriate penalties? When welfare recipients do the wrong thing, the government comes down on them like a tonne of bricks but, when dodgy bosses do the wrong things, it's a few feathers floating down on their shoulders. The government just can't help giving more and more to businesses. As we see today, the government are not supporting penalty rates. They are taking away penalty rates from low-paid workers but, at the same time, are trying to push through a tax cut for big business.

That amnesty was a complete surprise. There wasn't consultation that preceded it. It wasn't recommended by the Senate Economics References Committee's inquiry into superannuation guarantee nonpayment. Indeed, it wasn't even recommended by the government's own cross-agency working group. The Turnbull government's proposed changes would mean that an employer who hadn't paid superannuation entitlements for 25 years could pay it back during the amnesty, without a single penalty. The government want to give such employers a free pass. Labor believe they should be subject to significant penalties. Those penalties would normally include an superannuation guarantee charge—the SG shortfall nominal interest and the $20 employee per quarter administration component—and penalties of up to 200 per cent of the amount of the SG general interest charge where the superannuation guarantee charge or penalties aren't paid by the due date. But, under the government's proposed amnesty, the administration component of the superannuation guarantee charge and the penalties would be waived. Even worse, the superannuation guarantee charge and contributions offset against the superannuation guarantee charge would become tax deductible for employers. So dodgy employers who hadn't paid superannuation for their workers would get a tax break under this proposed amnesty. Indeed, this is obviously something that was dreamed up in a dodgy back room, because, when we asked the Prime Minister about it during question time, he clearly had no idea what was going on. There was no announcement of it in the budget. It was presumably a decision taken but not announced. It was only when the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services mentioned it that the public first got wind of what was going on.

Labor believe in cracking down on unpaid superannuation. Labor believe that employers who do the wrong thing should be subject to appropriate penalties. That's why we've had a strong package for dealing with dodgy phoenix activity. That's why Labor believe that we need adherence to the law, not one set of laws for regular Australians and a different set of laws for employers that rip off their workers' superannuation.

The bill also includes changes in schedule 8 that will tidy up changes made in previous government bills. This does, unfortunately, remind us of the debacle in 2016 when the government announced a rushed and flawed superannuation package in the 2016 budget and then, after concerns over retrospectivity, scrapped the flawed package and announced a revised package. It rushed to legislate, and this schedule 8 is engaging in some necessary cleaning up of that second package. The bill that's being cleaned up only just passed the parliament in February this year but already the government is needing to tidy up the transitional agreements. It is not clear why it couldn't get it right in February 2018. Labor will support these measures.

Finally, the bill allows three entities to become deductible gift recipients. They are Australian Philanthropic Services Ltd, Foundation 1901 Ltd and Sydney Chevra Kadisha. As the shadow minister for charities and not-for-profits, I am pleased to say that Labor will be supporting these organisations receiving tax deductibility status. They are among many great charities and not-for-profits in Australia doing important work in our community.