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Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Page: 6075

Senator WATSON (2:15 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, Senator Coonan. Will the minister advise the Senate of what the government is doing to help people find and access lost superannuation funds? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —I thank Senator Watson for his enduring interest in all things to do with superannuation. I was very pleased recently to be given the opportunity to launch a campaign to unite Australians with almost $7 billion worth of superannuation savings that had been effectively lost to them. This is money that is listed on the Australian Taxation Office's lost members register. One in three Australians—as many as 2.75 million people—have an average of $1,500 invested in superannuation accounts that are, for all intents and purposes, lost. That is a very significant amount of money for a very large number of people. The super funds managing these savings can no longer find the rightful owners, and the purpose of this campaign was to put those people back in touch with their money, which will remain invested and continue to grow until they retire. The Australian Taxation Office, the Conference of Major Super Funds, the Australian Preservation Fund and other major superannuation industry bodies are to be congratulated on the success of the campaign, and I commend them for their initiative.

Between 25 and 27 October, the campaign provided on-the-spot searches at major shopping centres around the country, so it was very accessible to people just walking around the shops. Nearly 13,000 searches were completed, and the individuals involved were reunited with $4.7 million worth of unclaimed superannuation. Through the campaign's hotline and web site, more than 60,000 search forms have been sent to Australian employees wanting to search the register, and approximately 2,000 additional requests are being lodged every day. This is a great credit to the superannuation funds, which provided funding for the campaign, and the Australian Taxation Office, which provided staff and IT services to allow for on-the spot searches. This is, after all, employees' money—it is their savings—and we need to do what we can to reunite them with it.

As well as helping people find super that is already lost, the government does want to help ensure Australians can take a more active role in managing their superannuation in the future by actually letting them choose where to invest and to consolidate their savings into one account if they please. This is why I am moving ahead with the government's twin policies of choice and portability. In some ways it is not surprising that many Australians do lose track of their superannuation. Under the current system they have very little opportunity to get involved in their own superannuation beyond receiving the odd statement. The fund their money is invested in is often chosen by their employer or their award, and even if they are not happy with the fund in which their money is invested there is next to nothing they can do about it. Not only will choice deliver control into the hands of those with the greatest stake in super—the employees—but the additional competition in the system will lead to better services and lower fees from superannuation providers.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator COONAN —I know from those shouting opposite that the ALP is trying to give the impression of having a policy, but Labor seems to have forgotten the difference between a policy and an option. Senator Sherry is probably going to stand up at a conference at the end of the week and spout about more options. There is a fear of commitment amongst the ALP frontbench. They are afraid of committing themselves to any policies whatsoever. My challenge to those opposite is to stop talking about options and stand up and commit yourselves to something.