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Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 115

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (5:27 PM) —I want to first of all deal with the remarks made by Senator Sherry. I note that the Labor Party will now be accepting the message from the House of Representatives. I think it is fair to place on record just what has happened in respect of the anticipated passage of this bill. Last night in the Senate we had a chaotic and a divided Labor Party effectively voting down a bill that just two days before they had said they would support. Just two days ago, in the other place, the shadow minister, Mr Fitzgibbon, said in his speech on the second reading debate of the Tax Laws Amendment (Superannuation Reporting) Bill 2004:

The bill is a genuine attempt to reduce the compliance burden on small business. Labor supports this and will support the bill.

Yet last night in the Senate we had Mr Fitzgibbon's Labor Senate colleagues introducing their own amendments to create a complex new reporting structure that would have simply added to the burden of complying employers. This is notwithstanding the fact that much of the information referred to in the amendments is already provided.

Senator Sherry —Mr Temporary Chairman, I raise a point of order. The minister is misleading the chamber in saying that we voted the bill down. We did not vote the bill down last night. The minister is lying.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Lightfoot)—You should withdraw that, Senator Sherry.

Senator Sherry —I withdraw that. I now have the minister's position clearly on the record to say—

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —There is no point of order, Senator Sherry.

Senator COONAN —I can understand how Senator Sherry, as the spokesperson for superannuation, realises that just about anything that the Labor Party do on superannuation consigns them to utter irrelevance. Senator Sherry was actually the architect of a superannuation policy that he took to the election where he proposed to rip $4 billion out of the superannuation savings system. Not worrying about the workers, Senator Sherry's policy, on behalf of the Labor Party, was going to rip into the savings of workers and rip into and actually abolish the co-contribution, when it was a measure designed specifically to help low- and middle-income earners.

It ill behoves Senator Sherry to be talking piously, so it would seem, about Labor's position on this bill. I can understand why Senator Sherry is very sensitive about the fact that he has just had to do a huge backflip by accepting the message from the House of Representatives and dropping the poor old Democrats down a hole once again. You cannot trust the Labor Party on these kinds of amendments, that is for sure—as Senator Cherry would appreciate.

Labor were once again in complete disarray last night, introducing their own amendments to create a complex new reporting structure that would simply have added to the burden of employers needing to comply with this legislation. Thankfully, it would seem that cooler heads have prevailed in the House of Representatives. Senator Sherry now has his riding instructions. He has been told what to do and the Labor Party will now be supporting this legislation without amendment, as they should have done in the first place.

It really did get worse, because Labor also voted for a Democrat amendment that would reverse the intention of the bill by reintroducing the superannuation reporting requirement, which the shadow minister said on Monday Labor would support removing. So there is confusion all around on the part of the Labor Party, but that is not very surprising. This bill has a commencement date of 1 January. It is too important to fall victim to Labor's continued internal chaos and policy paralysis.

As for the issues raised by Senator Cherry, who I think does try to get some balance into the approach taken by the Democrats, I reiterate comments I made in the debate last night. The government notes that there is a combination of practices and safeguards to be found throughout the legislation that satisfies the government that it will allow employees to remain informed about their superannuation. That is important.

As I pointed out in my earlier comments, the government does recognise the importance of employees knowing that their super entitlements are being met and their having a sense of ownership over their retirement savings. As I have already noted, employees will continue to receive annual statements—at least—from their superannuation funds and, importantly, they can contact their funds as frequently as they like to satisfy themselves with certainty that their entitlements have been received by the funds and are being allocated to their accounts. This level of conclusiveness is not provided by current or, I should add, mere employer reports. I do not mean that annual reporting is not important—it is. The government takes the view that an appropriate balance is reflected in this legislation, and I am sorry that Senator Cherry has not reconsidered his position. I am glad that the Labor Party now accepts the government's position and will be supporting the legislation.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Coonan's) be agreed to.