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Monday, 20 June 2011
Page: 3332

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (20:44): I am really trying to find some merit in the arguments put forward by the coalition. All I can hear is an attack on trade union involvement in superannuation. That is the bottom line and that is what is being argued. Both Senator Cormann and Senator Bushby have spent most of their time arguing against ACTU involvement in the merged fund. We know why they are doing that. It is because they are anti-union. They do not want workers to have the rights to act collectively or bargain collectively, and that has been the history of the coalition.

For Senator Cormann to stand up and cast aspersions on good, hardworking union officials in this country who are on the boards of superannuation funds is an absolute disgrace. It is typical of the smear campaigns that the coalition simply revel in. They do not worry about policy; they do not want to worry about the rights of workers and the interests of workers; they simply want to smear, and they have spent most of their time tonight smearing trade union officials who serve their members' interests on the boards of superannuation funds. Why are they doing that? They are doing it because industry super funds are demon­strated as the best, most effective and best-returning funds for working people in the country. That is why they are doing this.

The superannuation funds provide excellent returns. They consistently out­perform other funds in this country and they do that because they are innovative; they do that because they will get trustees who stand up and work for the members. It is not about profitability, it is not about creaming off the profits of the funds into the pockets of well-paid executives. It is about making sure that profits go back to the members, and that is why the coalition have spent their time here maligning honest Australians out there working hard on superannuation funds for their members.

Senator Bushby said he was not sure about the benefits. I was actually on the committee that dealt with this. I think it was very succinctly—

Senator Bushby interjecting

Senator CAMERON: You were as well, Senator Bushby. Well, again your input was totally unmemorable. That was another unmemorable contribution from Senator Bushby in the committee structure. Not only do the national press not know who he is; he is totally unmemorable when it comes to Senate committees. I am glad you reminded me that you were there. That is right—you were. I have the transcript here and I see your name. I do not see much else, but I do see your name, Senator Bushby.

Dr Helgeby from the Department of Finance and Deregulation was there. Both the Department of Finance and Deregulation and the Department of Defence came and made submissions to this inquiry. I suppose, if what is being put by Senator Bushby and Senator Cormann is the position, we have two senior public servants acting against the interests of Commonwealth public servants and Defence Force personnel. It is an absolute nonsense. To continue to push that approach on the basis of their hatred for the trade union movement does not do them much credit. They do not deserve any credit in this debate at all.

Dr Helgeby said, in the joint submission from the Department of Finance and Deregulation and the Department of Defence, that their submission demonstrates the importance of structural reform for the long-term delivery of superannuation for military personnel and Commonwealth employees. They were talking about long-term structural reform—something that the coalition know very little about. In 11½ years in government, their structural reform was nil. They left this country ill-equipped to face the challenges of a modern-world economy. Dr Helgeby went on to say:

The submission highlights the challenges of maintaining separate trustee boards and provides evidence of the significant potential benefits that would flow to members under a merged trustee and with improved scheme administration.

So what the two departments are saying is that the benefits you get from a merged trustee board include significant benefits for the membership. That is what they are saying. It is not the ACTU saying this; this is two senior public servants putting their position unequivocally and clearly to the Finance and Public Administration Legis­lation Committee. They said there would be significant potential benefits flowing to members under a merged trustee and an improved scheme administration. What they have pointed out is that the scheme needs improved administration.

For 11½ years the Howard government, in their usual incompetent and lazy manner, did not do anything about this. They were not concerned to try and improve public administration of superannuation. They lazily sat back and hoped the money would keep flooding in from the mining boom so they could say that they were good economic managers, and we all know it was nothing but a front and a farce. They never were good economic managers. Tonight is a demonstration of why they were bad economic managers, because for 11½ years they had an opportunity to merge those funds, to bring improvements to those funds and to make those funds operate more effectively for members of the Defence Force and members of the Public Service. And what did they do? They did nothing. They did not even look at this issue.

Dr Helgeby went on to say that he would talk about the benefits, but there were lots of misunderstandings about how the reforms and proposed legislation would operate. It was last year that this committee took place, and what is quite clear is that neither Senator Cormann nor Senator Bushby have any better idea about the benefits that this will bring to both the Public Service and the Defence Force than they did when Senator Bushby was on the committee. I do concede that he was on the committee, even though he did not make much of an input into the committee. But he was there.

According to Dr Helgeby, the reforms do not change members benefits or death and disability benefits. The bills will deal with structure and governance of superannuation, not with the design of the individual schemes. He went on to say that the reforms would improve efficiency in trustee opera­tions and allow the benefits of these improvements to be passed on to members in the form of reduced costs and, potentially, higher investment returns. Reduced costs and higher investment returns are mostly gained through the benefits of scale, particularly consolidation of funds under management.

The department says that there is clear industry evidence in Australia and overseas that the scale advantage enjoyed by larger funds is substantial. Our joint submission—that is, the submission from the Department of Finance and Deregulation and the Department of Defence—says that this is the appropriate way to go. This is the thing to do to benefit the members of both the Defence Force and the Commonwealth Public Service.

But let us understand that the coalition do not care about the Public Service in this country. They would try to treat the Public Service here as public enemy No. 1, not as public servants. They went to the last election—remember this when they stand up here with their doleful tears about the Commonwealth Public Service—saying they would get rid of 12,000 public servants' jobs. That was their contribution to public service efficiency: slash and burn the Public Service.

Senator Bushby, do not come here going on about your concern for economic efficiency, because you have no credibility in economic efficiency. For 11½ years you did nothing. Do not come here trying to pretend that you are concerned about the Public Service or that you are concerned about the Defence Force, because you have no concern about them. For 11½ years you allowed smaller returns to those public servants and the Defence Force because you did not have the vision or the intellectual capacity or the guts to actually take on a hard issue and deal with it. That is the problem with you lot over there: you are all talk and no action. All you want to do is be negative. You are negative in everything you do. Here we have a joint submission from the Department of Defence and the Public Service saying that this will benefit workers. It will mean benefits in terms of scale, benefits in terms of lower costs and benefits in terms of better returns. And all you can do is come here and criticise the ACTU.

The ACTU and a Labor government actually made sure that workers in this country achieved decent superannuation. That was done in the teeth of opposition from the coalition to provide workers in this country decent superannuation. Many workers back in the early eighties did not have superannuation; you had to be a white-collar worker to get superannuation. Let us not forget that. The first superannuation I got personally was when I became a state public servant in the electricity commission. That was the first time I ever got superannuation. Like many other workers in the electricity commission, when I left the electricity commission to take up a job helping workers as a trade union official I ended up losing tens of thousands of dollars of my superannuation because there was no vesting of superannuation to workers. All you got was your own contributions and the employer kept the contributions that they made for you plus the interest that those contributions made. And that was under a federal coalition government.

It took the Australian Labor Party to say, 'We want to provide superannuation to workers in this country,' and that is what we did. I am proud to say that as a union official I went out and fought against the opposition of the coalition and against the opposition of employers to get industry superannuation into this country. I am proud to say that I was on the board of the Superannuation Trust of Australia as a trustee. I was a trustee of Australian super, one of the most successful funds in this country. I challenge either Senator Bushby or Senator Cormann to step outside the chamber and say publicly what they are saying in here about me as a superannuation trustee in my time as a superannuation trustee or about any other trade union superannuation trustee. Have a little bit of backbone, Senator Bushby and Senator Cormann; get out there and claim that the trustees who are looking after workers' money in this country are ripping the system off and that they are only trying to get their hands on people's money. That is what is underlying this argument.

It is an argument by the extremists in the coalition, who have got absolute control of the coalition. You are an extremist on industrial relations. You are an extremist on superannuation. You are an absolute disgrace. I hope workers see the Hansard of what has been said here tonight . They will soon realise that, when the Leader of the Opposition is out there trying to pretend that he is a friend of workers, the coalition is about ripping away workers' entitlements, ripping away workers' rights to have a say on their own superannuation and ripping away the rights of workers to have representatives in superannuation trusts who understand their needs and understand them. It is quite clear.

Senator Bushby: What about the Defence Force?

Senator CAMERON: Senator Bushby, you hardly mentioned the Defence Force. You came here tonight not about the Defence Force but to mount an attack on the ACTU and ACTU trustees and super funds. That is what you did. We know you are part of the group of extremist young guns in the coalition. We know you are part of that group. You will not stand up for Tasmania against Senator Cormann when it comes to horizontal fiscal equalisation. You will not stand up to them on that issue; you succumb to them. You put Tasmania's rights in the background. You will let Senator Cormann bully you, you will let Senator Cormann intimidate you, you will let Senator Cormann stand over you and you will not stand up for Tasmania. I have seen you in action, Senator Bushby. You are absolutely pathetic. You do not stand up for Tasmania; you let the extremists in the Western Australian branch of the Liberal Party walk all over you.

There is one of the Western Australians, Senator Adams, coming in now to make sure that you cannot say anything about the Western Australian Liberal Party. Senator Cormann does not have the backbone or the courage. If he thought he was going to get the backbone or the courage, in would come the Western Australian senators to make sure that he could not open his mouth. Senator Bushby, you are absolutely pathetic.

I am absolutely proud that I was part of the process that brought superannuation to workers in this country. As a trade union official and organiser I was out there doing it while you were probably out arguing against superannuation for workers. In 1983, 39 per cent of the Australian workforce had superannuation. What were the coalition saying about the rest of the workers, who did not have superannuation? They were saying absolutely nothing. When the trade union movement decided that we would go out and make sure that workers got a fair go in this country, what did the coalition do? They were egging the employees on to stand up against the union movement getting super. So when you come here and bleat and moan about an amalgamation and a strong superannuation fund, you are acting in a purely hypocritical manner.

Senator Cormann has come in. You are now surrounded, Senator Bushby. We have Western Australians to the left of you and Western Australians to the front of you.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Kroger ): Order! Senator Cameron, please direct your comments through the chair.

Senator CAMERON: Madam Acting Deputy President, Senator Bushby is now surrounded by Western Australians. He will not stand up for Tasmania. If he was daring to stand up for Tasmania, Senator Cormann has moved in to make sure that he cannot stand up for Tasmania. Senator Cormann is here as a minder. He is here making sure that Senator Bushby cannot stand up for Tasmania.

Hearing the attacks on the ACTU tonight we know what they are about. They are about the extremists in the Liberal Party. They are about trying to curry favour with the businesses that would try to destroy the trade union movement. We know what the trade union movement will get, we know what workers will get, if ever the coalition ever comes back. It will be more Work Choices, less superannuation and a bad deal when you go on the job. So do not come crying crocodile tears about superannuation here. The coalition is an absolute disgrace.