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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 5729

Senator BUCKLAND (3:19 PM) —I also rise to speak on the take note motion moved by Senator Sherry. In the last 18 months in this chamber we have witnessed the fallout of the Commercial Nominees debacle with all of its ongoing difficult issues. Senator Coonan, the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, in her answer today did not give us any assurance and this issue remains a source of grave concern. We have been given no assurance that it is going to get any better and we have grave concerns, as do many Australians, waiting for the government to resolve the issue.

Commercial Nominees was a for-profit corporate trust. It acted as a trustee for a number of public offer superannuation funds and some 475 small funds. One of those public offer funds was the Australian Workforce Eligible Rollover Fund, AWERF. Commercial Nominees directed money from these funds into a number of unregulated investment trusts, where it was also a trustee, moving money from one pocket to another. Unbeknown to fund members, these trusts invested in business related to Commercial Nominees directors, including a mushroom farm. They moved money out of funds into their own pockets and into their own business enterprises. The Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer has done nothing to redress this situation. Through these suspicious investments, Commercial Nominees lost millions of dollars worth of members' retirement savings. These members are ordinary workers who have entrusted their money to a company that was using it for its own gain and that fraudulently took their money.

In December 2000 APRA replaced Commercial Nominees as a trustee of AWERF and two other public offer funds. In February 2001 it replaced Commercial Nominees as trustee of the 475 small funds. On 14 June this year, after a delay of over 12 months and not without significant pressure from Labor, Senator Coonan agreed to provide assistance to some 181 of these small funds that had suffered losses as a result of serious fraud by Commercial Nominees. Labor had every right to be critical of Senator Coonan for providing less than full compensation as permitted by the act. At least members of these funds have received something, but the act provides for full compensation—far more than what has been received by these funds.

Senator Coonan's answer today shows that she has done nothing concrete to ensure that the 21,000 members of Commercial Nominees' AWERF—who have lost superannuation savings at the hands of what is arguably the worst and most dishonest trustee in history—receive at least some of their losses back. The Australian Workforce Eligible Rollover Fund had around 40,000 members. The fund was divided into a number of pools, some of which were invested in Commercial Nominees' own unregulated trusts. This translates to some of the members not having suffered losses through fraud, but around 21,000 of the members have. (Time expired)