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Thursday, 14 February 2019
Page: 10351


Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (19:15): I might respond to that, and to Senator Watt's not-so-veiled threat that they're going to remind us constantly of the time that we tried to improve outcomes for vulnerable workers in this place.

Senator Patrick, you weren't in here for my second reading contribution. But if you had been and you'd been listening, you're a very intelligent man, so I'm sure you wouldn't have had a problem picking up the gist of my argument. Having worked in the financial services industry myself and having sat on numerous inquiries in here, I know that we have what's called the 'asymmetry of information'. Most people who take financial products don't understand them. They don't know what they've got, where they've got it or what it costs them. That's why the system is so easily rorted.

The Greens are very happy to say that we stand for the universal provision of something like life insurance, especially through superannuation. It's a critical part of the way the system is set up, and it was supported by the royal commission. As I said in my second reading contribution, some countries even include that life insurance with social security so that everyone is covered. The problem we have is that a lot of young Australians, particularly those who are financially illiterate—and, sadly, there are many of them in this country—and in high-risk occupations, especially blue-collar occupations, are the most likely to suffer death and disability outside the workplace. That's a fact.

You can tell me that they should be able to opt in. Great—if I trusted the system. If I trusted the system, the provision of information and the processes in place to make sure that every vulnerable worker and every young Australian in this country opted in for insurance. then it might have been a different matter. But my understanding, having worked in the financial services industry, is that most people wouldn't actually opt in because they wouldn't get the information they needed to make that decision in the first place, or they would be too busy to make that decision, or there is something more pressing in their lives, like putting food on the table or watching Big Brother or whatever it happens to be. We believe that that system is in place for a good reason, and the Greens would actually like to see the role of government go even further in this area.

In relation to your point, Senator Watt: we've just been through a royal commission that has been scathing of the role of the regulator, APRA, amongst other regulators. Unfortunately, I accept that Labor's amendment that's before us has the right intentions. It's trying to find a medium between opt in and opt out. But the issue is that it's highly arbitrary and it's extremely subjective. I don't trust the regulator to be in a position to have the information to make those decisions and I don't know how it's going to work.

What we have before us is a simple proposition; it's surgical, it's precise and it keeps things the way they are, which keeps that provision of life insurance for some of the most vulnerable Australians. That's why we're doing this—we are standing up in this place and making sure that the most vulnerable Australians are protected. And it's not just us. I've got the report here, from the Parliamentary Library, that goes through the entire process. I recommend that you read it, Senator Patrick. It talks about the number of stakeholders, particularly unions around this country, that are extremely concerned about moving from opt out to opt in. It's actually a fundamental principle that we want to protect Australians where we can, and we're very proud of this amendment.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR ( Senator Gallacher ): The question is that amendments (1) to (34) on sheet 8501 be agreed to.