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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 6176


Mr GEE (Calare) (15:25): I rise to support the Treasury Laws Amendment (2018 Measures No. 4) Bill 2018. The superannuation guarantee is our only compulsory mechanism that ensures every Australian saves some of their income for use in their retirement. Along with the family home, superannuation continues to be a tax-effective means by which Australians can accumulate wealth from each and every pay packet. The government has consulted widely on this bill, and the result of that is the action that it is taking, as it well should. From shop assistants to shearers and drivers to builders and managers, these days everyone has an expectation that their wage or salary packet will also include the compulsory superannuation component. None of these people expect that they will be short-changed on their superannuation. It matters little whether the short-changing is deliberate or not. The point is that people in Australia expect to receive their superannuation out of their earnings and, when they don't, it is a bitter, painful financial blow.

We need to act on this issue because, while the vast, overwhelming majority of employers pay the superannuation guarantee, it can be simply devastating when they don't. For an employee, it can mean the difference between taking the big trip that you worked your whole life for or missing out, or between finally paying off the home mortgage or not. It's an awful experience for those people who are short-changed and then have to go through a very rigorous process to try to get their funding back, if they can get it back.

There's a very pertinent example of this from my electorate, which is the case of Graeme and Victoria Smith-Webb. Mr Smith-Webb was employed by a company in my electorate between 2011 and 2016. During the time that he was working for that employer, he noticed that his superannuation was not being paid, despite being shown pay slips which indicated that it had been so paid. Mrs Smith-Webb very diligently checked with the relevant super fund, which showed that nothing had been contributed for four years. Over a period of six years, despite numerous requests in writing to his employer and requests in person and over the phone to the relevant superannuation manager, Mr Smith-Webb's superannuation remained unpaid. They did everything they could. They alerted the relevant authorities in the Australian government. They did the right thing. Then, fairly recently, the employing company went into liquidation. Mr Smith-Webb was advised by the liquidators that he had Buckley's chance of seeing any of his superannuation and that this kind of problem was quite common. Mr and Mrs Smith-Webb feel badly let down by the system. They feel cheated and they feel aggrieved.

So this is an important bill to ensure that this type of behaviour does not continue from employers and that they are not short-changing their workers. In recent debate, the members opposite were talking a lot about phoenixing, and this bill will help end this exploitation of Australian workers with a reporting regime that regularly reconciles the superannuation contributions that employers say they are paying with what workers are actually receiving in their superannuation funds. The bill introduces amendments to improve compliance with the superannuation guarantee and puts several measures in place to either help employers who are getting it wrong or crack down on those who are doing the wrong thing. I'm not going to wade through each and every point of this legislation. Suffice to say there are some key initiatives that take advantage of the data that employers and superannuation funds already submit and initiatives that empower the ATO to fully reconcile wages, salary and superannuation data.

Nobody likes their government to be officious. In most cases, the ATO will contact employers to help guide these matters back on track and, where necessary, the ATO will be able to compel employers to undertake further education on the subject of the superannuation guarantee. I think that's very important. You've got to let employers know just what this means, just how important it is and that they can't be dudding their workers. Employers who do not pay their employees their superannuation entitlements are breaking the law. When they don't get their employees' superannuation into order, the ATO will have the power to compel a payment of any outstanding superannuation guarantee amounts. There may well be jail time—up to 12 months is on the cards—for those who continue to fail to meet their obligations. Importantly, this bill will also allow the ATO to tell employees what it's doing to recover their unpaid superannuation. This is only reasonable since those employees have actually earned that money; it's their money.

I understand that 70 per cent of employers reported by staff for not paying their superannuation are small firms turning over $2 million or less. These businesses have more manual systems and processes than larger firms, and it therefore makes sense to be introducing a single-touch payroll system to these firms on 1 July 2018. the single-touch payroll means that pay-as-you-go withholding of payments, employee salaries or wages and ordinary time earnings and superannuation contributions will all be reported with each pay run. In the same vain, for each payroll cycle, superannuation funds will now report to the ATO on the contributions received and overall account balances. These respective reporting requirements will then be reconciled against each other so that the ATO can identify and help clear up discrepancies much more quickly.

In short, these reforms will enable the ATO to keep an eye on any superannuation guarantee shortfalls at the employer and employee level and to take much more timely action where required. Intervening early, potentially before the employee is aware, can prevent superannuation guarantee liabilities from spiralling out of control and helps to ensure employees receive what they are owed. This bill is very important for the day-to-day operation of our superannuation and taxation system. It introduces some simple measures to improve the integrity of the data reported by small businesses to match it against reporting by superannuation funds and allows different government agencies to compare taxpayer data that they already hold. Quite simply, this bill makes our superannuation, taxation and welfare systems operate more effectively.

I will conclude by adding the observation that what Mr and Mrs Smith-Webb from the Calare electorate have been through has been an awful experience. As I said during my earlier remarks in the House, they feel deeply aggrieved that they haven't been able to recover Mr Smith-Webb's lost superannuation. It is a case that has highlighted the flaws in the system. We, as a country, can be doing much better for people like the Smith-Webbs. If this bill serves to ensure that others don't have to go through what the Smith-Webbs have been through, then that is a very good thing for this country and a very good thing for the people of my electorate. This is an important bill, and a lot of work has gone into it. I commend it to the House.