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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 10353

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (19:19): I am very pleased to contribute to this debate on the Superannuation Legislation Amendment (Further MySuper and Transparency Measures) Bill 2012. Unfortunately, I will have to curtail my time because I know there are so many of my colleagues who want to make a contribution to what is a very particular piece of legislation, one that requires far more scrutiny than we are able to give it in the very constrained time that has been allowed by the government and the Greens political party.

It is good to see at least that the Greens are in the chamber for the debate. I say to Senator Ludlam that we are constrained in this debate, because you and your Labor Party mates have guillotined this and many other bills through the parliament. Senator, I am not sure whether you were here but in the Howard government's time when we, on about five occasions, time managed a bill we would then have hour-long contributions by the then Senator Brown, your former leader, and, I think, from Senator Ludlam about how awful and how undemocratic it was, and how the world was coming to an end, because the Howard government time managed two or three bills when those were essential for Australia.

Senator Ludlam: I was here.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You were here? You were. Well, have a look at the hours spent on Work Choices. Have a look at the hours spent on the Regional Forestry Agreements bill. At any suggestion of curtailment you would have the Greens up one after the other telling the Senate how undemocratic, how awful the coalition was and yet here, in this year of the record number of guillotines, have you heard one peep from the Greens? Not one peep! In fact, that is not unusual because they were there providing the majority for the Labor Party.

Why do Australians take no notice of the Labor Party? Because they are led by a Prime Minister—a leader of the Labor Party—who deliberately told untruths to the Australian public before the last election. Why are Australians no longer listening to the Greens?—if you need evidence of that have a look at even the ACT election—because they see the complete hypocrisy of the Greens political party. If the coalition does something, it is bad, evil, the end of the world, but if the Labor Party does exactly the same thing then it is okay and they will support it.

Senator Ludlam: Madam Acting Deputy President, on a point of order, I wonder if you would care to draw Senator Macdonald's attention to the question that is actually before the chair.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Boyce ): There is no point of order. Senator Macdonald is speaking to the bill. However, Senator Macdonald, I would ask you to direct some of your comments, please, to the actual bill itself and the content of the bill.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Madam Acting Deputy President, thank you for that. When I was interrupted I was saying this bill is all about MySuper. One element of it is converting more superannuation when people do not know that it is happening to the union super fund. I have not noticed those from the Labor Party who have spoken declare conflicts of interest, I might say. I know at least one senator who was at the top end of town—he sat on the board of directors of these very big insurance companies. And I suspect there are many others. Perhaps during the course of the debate Labor senators will indicate which of them as union officials, for no other reason—none of them had any great expertise in the superannuation or insurance industry—than that they were union bosses, suddenly ended up in the boardrooms of some of the biggest financial companies in Australia. They were all getting quite substantial fees.

How do I know that? Because the wink-and-nod arrangement was that, if you were a union official who sat on the board of one of these super companies, the only reason you were there—it was not the quota in that instance—

Senator Conroy interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I can talk about quotas over there. You were only there because you were a union official. The rule was that, if you got $40,000, $50,000, $60,000, $70,000 or $150,000—I do not know what they got—as a director because you were a union official the money was to go into the union. But of course a couple of them—who can blame Mr Thomson—got a little greedy and did not follow the rules. The money they got, and I think in that case—I should not mention it because I am not sure of the facts; I thought it was over $100,000 but it might have been $80,000—

Senator Conroy: The one you need to speak to is Kathy Jackson—your heroine.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Macdonald, ignore the interjections.

Senator Conroy interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Stop the interjections, please, Senator Conroy.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Senator Conroy will have an opportunity later, and I hope he uses that. It seems to me that he is defending Mr Thomson. I do not know whether it is true or not. But Fair Work Australia, which Senator Conroy and his team set up and filled up with ex-union officials, even said Mr Thomson was using lowly paid member's money for brothels and free trips around the world. That is not from me—I would not make those allegations. Fair Work Australia, made up of union officials that Senator Conroy and his mates appointed have determined that, not me. And in the shades of that, this case that I am talking about went to court. The union sued this director of a company because he did not follow the arrangement to put the money into the kit.

Senator Conroy: Do you think he kept it in plastic bags in his backyard?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: It got to an interesting stage in the court case, and then do you know what happened? It was settled. Would you believe that? It was settled.

Senator Conroy interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: So the full facts could not come out, there was not a full-scale court case, and we were never to know what the deal was, who got it. Senator Conroy, if I am wrong on this, please use your opportunity in the debate to tell me this court case that I relate did not happen. You might tell me how it ended up; I do not know, because it just sort of disappeared.

This bill in part of its operations has the impact of favouring the union super funds. I would like to know how many of my colleagues opposite were actually directors of these union super funds.

Senator Cormann: Mr Shorten was.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Mr Shorten was. I do not know that; I take your word, Senator Cormann. I am pretty certain he would have been. I wonder how much he got paid in a top-end-of-town job as a director of a very big insurance company.

Senator Conroy interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Senator Conroy, you can tell me whether he did the right thing and put his director's fees into whatever union he was representing at the time. I would be interested in that. I think it is relevant to this bill, because since this government has been in power there has been quite a number of pieces of legislation dealing with the superannuation industry and the insurance industry.

In fact, I know all of us, including Labor members, were approached by groups of financial advisors, people who deal in the superannuation industry—honest, God-fearing family men, many of them in small businesses in small country towns like the town where I live—who were offended that the Labor Party were saying they were all crooks. As they brought in this legislation that we are debating now, there was a slur cast on these people, who in many cases I know are pillars of the financial advice industry. They are good people. It was a good industry. They gave good and valuable advice. But the Labor Party, and one can only surmise why, were hell-bent on making the public wary of these small businessmen and women.

When you see legislation like this, when you see union officials and former senators sitting in the big end of town around the boardroom table getting big director's fees for their involvement in union super funds, you can only wonder about the rash of legislation before us.

I did want to start my contribution by laughing at Senator Thistlewaite's congratulations for Mr Shorten on this bill.

Anything funnier I do not think I have heard, though someone said Julia was honest and I found that pretty funny.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, you must use the correct title of the member.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Someone said the Prime Minister was honest and we all know that before the last election she showed anything but honesty.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, you need to be careful not reflect on the character of a person in the other house.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Perhaps I should relate the facts. Here is a leader of the Labor Party who promised hand on heart that there would be no carbon tax under a government that she led and then the first bit of legislation is a carbon tax. If she had not made that promise on the eve of the election, she knows as I know that she would never have been elected. In fact, the Labor Party would have been annihilated. We hear all the comments about how important global warming is, how importance it is that Australia does something and how necessary the carbon tax is. To Senator Conroy, if it is so necessary why did you promise before the last election not to bring it in? I would love to hear an answer to that, even by way of interjection.

Mr Shorten is the architect of this bill, and Senator Thistlethwaite said he has done a great job on it. I only have a few minutes more to speak, unfortunately, but I could spend 20 minutes and then another 20 minutes saying how good Senator Mathias Cormann is. He is in the chamber, sitting at the end of the bench. He was the one who turned this awful piece of legislation into something that is mildly okay. I give credit and thanks to Senator Cormann here.

This legislation was amended yesterday. I have a report here from all the Labor Party people, including Senator Thistlethwaite, who said the bill was great as it was. Were there any Greens on that committee? I am told there were. Senator Ludlam, I do not know who it was, but they said that the bill as it stood was a great bill and should be passed. Yet, just yesterday, Mr Shorten accepted Senator Cormann's amendment, the amendment in the coalition's dissenting report that the minister had been alerted to seven months ago.

Senator Cormann: Seven weeks.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Sorry, seven weeks ago. I was not on the committee, clearly. So the coalition alerted Mr Shorten to the flaw. Even if you accept the bill, the way it was presented was wrong. The coalition committee members pointed that out. Did the Labor Party or the Greens members on that committee understand or agree? No. 'Pass the bill as it is,' they said. Thankfully, the coalition put in a dissenting report and they persisted. To give credit where credit is due, Madam Acting Deputy President, I think, you were on that committee too. On our side, we have people who actually understand these things, follow them, have a bit of business experience and a very great understanding of the insurance and the superannuation industry. They were able to see through this while the Labor people all said: 'The minister said it is good. Yes, it's good. Put it in the report.' The majority report was supported by the Greens, who said that the bill should be passed as it is. Thanks to Senator Cormann, an evil bill, if I can call it that, has been made mildly okay.

We are going to move some amendments. I know that you, Madam Acting Deputy President, and Senator Cormann, amongst others, are very keen to progress those amendments. I hope you can speak quickly because at the rate we are going you are going to have about 30 seconds to move three amendments and explain them to the Senate and to people who might be listening to this as to why these are good amendments and should be adopted.

The Greens and the Labor Party have curtailed this debate. I will be voting for those amendments but, like most senators who will be voting on this, I would like to have them explained because I was not on the committee. I would like to question Senator Cormann when he moves the amendments to find out whether they are good amendments, though I am sure they are, but I would like to satisfy myself of that. I am not going to get that opportunity, am I? Of course not. Thanks to the Greens, who joined with the Labor Party, debate on this very, very important piece of legislation will be curtailed.

I am conscious time is running out. I know my colleagues are very keen to make a contribution. I have pages of material here I would like to contribute to the debate. If I do not do it during the second reading stage, I would like to do it in the committee stage of the bill. Senator Ludlam, will there be a committee stage? No. You and your party have ensured that there will no committee stage. The Greens show all their piousness—'Oh, this has to be looked through.' Not a lot of the senators today were here in the days when the Greens used to spend hours telling us how important committee stages were, how important the Senate was and how important full discussion and accountability was. Yet, when they have the ability to make a difference today, what do they do? They join with their mates in the Labor Party to curtail proper assessment of these important pieces of legislation.

I would to say a few more things, but I know my colleagues are very keen to speak, so I will leave it there and urge the Senate to support the amendments which I think are good, though I am never going to find out for sure. They will be moved by Senator Cormann to try to make this bill better.