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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2290

Senator NEAL —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. I refer the minister to the statement made yesterday by the Treasurer which outlined measures designed to strengthen the government's established superannuation policies.

  Opposition senators interjecting

Senator NEAL —Opposition senators may not be interested in the effect superannuation changes will have on women, but other people are. I ask: how will these changes impact on superannuation for women?

Senator CROWLEY —I am delighted to have this question to follow the last one because it is clear that the Treasurer's statement on superannuation changes will assist women. It will increase not only the amount of superannuation that women have access to but also the superannuation they can continue to keep claim to. The measures addressing the small amounts problem—that is, where small amounts are eroded by administrative fees and charges—will ensure that women have equal access to superannuation.

  We know that many part-time and casual workers, most of whom are women, receive superannuation benefits that are small. The problem is also compounded because many of those casual and part-time workers may have more than one superannuation guarantee account as they move from job to job or hold more than one job. The result is that, because of those fees and charges, a number of those small superannuation accounts are eroded to zero. The Treasurer pointed out yesterday that that is totally unacceptable, and the government has provided a variety of ways to address this problem, in cooperation with the superannuation industry.

  The package of measures yesterday has three main objectives: firstly, to minimise the number of small superannuation accounts; secondly, to reduce the actual cost of administering small accounts; and, thirdly, to ensure as far as possible that those small accounts that remain in the superannuation system are not eroded by fees and charges, particularly in excess of investment earnings.

  The central elements of the package announced yesterday are: firstly, the use of the Australian Taxation Office for employers who are required to make small and irregular contributions for their employees to hold payments until they reach a ceiling of $1,200; secondly, a transfer protocol to allow the aggregation of small accounts that a person may hold in a number of different superannuation funds; thirdly, the voluntary extension of the tax file number to provide an accurate and simple mechanism to aggregate accounts, to reduce lost accounts, and to simplify fund administration; and, fourthly, to limit the charges applying to members with small balances. This means that women with small accounts—below $1,000—can feel confident that their funds will be protected and will not be eroded by fees and charges. It is important to note that these measures will also assist women who already have small accounts. The measures announced by the Treasurer will provide for these accounts to be transferred free of charge to another fund which has member protection policies or to the ATO.

  I am surprised that Senator Hill is not celebrating these achievements, particularly on behalf of the women of Australia. Under this government, superannuation coverage for women employed full time has increased from 40 per cent in 1988 to 94 per cent in 1993, and from eight per cent to 46 per cent for those employed part time, largely due to the government's support for award-based superannuation and the superannuation guarantee.

  Our commitment to ensuring that women have an equal go was one of the features that emerged from last year's review of the Office of the Status of Women. One of the priority areas for examination under the heading `Income security for women' was superannuation. As a result, the OSW held a seminar that brought together industry, consumers and government policy makers where the problems faced by women were raised. It is interesting that this question of very good news in the superannuation area for women follows Senator Hill's question. He does not seem to want to acknowledge the achievements for women in superannuation. These reforms will go a long way to helping Australian women have access to their superannuation benefits. (Time expired)