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Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Page: 353


Senator CAROL BROWN (Tasmania) (18:14): I rise to speak on the Treasury Legislation Amendment (Repeal Day) Bill 2014. There are a number of measures that I want to speak to, each of them separately. They are all important and make some important changes, in particular to the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993, to repeal the pay slip reporting provisions.

Schedule 1 deals with the pay slip reporting provisions in the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act, which requires employers to include information prescribed by the regulations in the pay slips of their employees. People would be familiar with this when they look at their pay slips and see a number of things that are included, including their superannuation entitlements and payments. It was intended that regulations be made so that employers had to report on pay slips the superannuation contributions and the date on which the employer expects to pay them. This has not occurred.

There were existing requirements in the Fair Work Act 2009 and the Fair Work Regulations 2009 for employers to include in pay slips the number of superannuation contributions they are liable to make. It is important to note that these regulations are not changing. The requirement for superannuation guarantee payments to be made within 28 days of the end of a quarter is also not changing. The provisions—that this bill is removing—were enacted in legislation but never became a practical reality for business, because the regulations that were a requirement to give practical effect to them were never put in place.

There is no doubt that the intention of the original changes was good. The reality for employers, though—particularly small business—was increased cost via software and other upgrades. Labor believes it is arguable whether the requirements being repealed would have any effect at all on those negligent, unscrupulous employers who intend not to pay superannuation. In light of that, these changes have been brought forward.

Employees will still be able to check with their superannuation fund whether payments have been made by their employer. That is critically important. Labor will closely monitor the issue of unpaid superannuation payments, as should the government, because this is an important part of an employee's salary and payments. It is just what ordinary people are paid. The same as anybody else, we expect that when we get a pay slip and it details how much we are paid it also includes superannuation contributions. There is, of course, an expectation that those payments have been paid into our respective accounts, wherever they might be. We will monitor that, and we expect the government to do the same thing, particularly in light of the importance of superannuation in boosting people's retirement savings.

There is no political party in Australia that has done more to boost the retirement savings of Australians than Labor has. Going back many years, Labor has recognised that ordinary people need to have a mechanism available to them through the superannuation guarantee to set aside money for their independence and financial security in retirement. As noble a cause as it is, it is an important cause for individuals and families. What it also means is a huge saving to government, the budget and the bottom line. This is a good measure.

Last financial year alone, some $6 billion was saved from budget expenditure on social security payments because of superannuation savings held by ordinary Australians. They are people who, because of their retirement savings, either do not rely at all on the pension system or other welfare payments or rely only in part on government payments. The growth of retirement savings is something that should be encouraged. It should be nurtured. It should be assisted and not hindered by government. The government should do as much as it can to ensure that growth in retirement savings continues to occur and to ensure the stability of the system. This first schedule is important in making sure that we understand the basis of what is contained in people's pay slips.

I would like to remind the Senate that, unfortunately, this government has let down many Australians through changes to superannuation legislation. Most strikingly, in September last year, we saw one of what we know have been many broken promises from this government, this Prime Minister and his arrogant Treasurer, and that was the promise not to make any adverse changes to superannuation. We know what happened: a freezing of the superannuation guarantee contribution for over eight million Australians. If that is not an adverse change, I do not know what is.

This government attacked working Australians in its budget. The issue of retirement incomes is a significant one for people across the country and it is no different in my home state of Tasmania, especially in a seat like Braddon

But there were the Liberal members in the Abbott g overnment that were attacking retirement savings. But where were they? Missing in action. Standing up for your constituents takes a lot more than standing in the background at a press conference. This government has made it particularly harder for low- and middle-income Australians to save for their retirement. In addition to the delay in the increase in the superannuation guarantee, it also removed the low-income super contribution from 1 July 2017. What this government is saying to low-income Australians in particula r—particularly to cleaners, factory workers, manual labourers and clerical workers a round the country—is this: ' We ' re not going to give you any support to save for your retirement. We ' re not going to give you any tax concessions but we are going to ensure that high-income earners continue to get large tax concessions. ' This is in the context of the previous government putting in place a policy that ensured that we would give low-income workers in this country some tax concessions and pull back the tax concessions for high-income e arners in a very modest measure— just a little bit to ensure there was equity in the system. Those of us on this side of the chamber say s hame on this Treasurer and s hame on this Prime Minister for treating low-income workers of Australia with such contempt and such arrogance. The government that said they do not want any adverse changes in superannuation has made an adverse change if you have ever seen one: a tax hike for people on low incomes in Australia.

I return to the text of the b ill at hand. Schedule 2 makes mechanical and non-controversial changes to the Taxation Administration Act 1953 and consolidates duplicated provisions. It also repeals redundant laws and moves longstanding regulations into primary law. Labor supports these measures. They are good measures and measures that in government we were also moving towards. This is often the situation with legislation like this, and I have made Labor ' s case on a number of other tax and superannuation laws amendment b ills in this place. Regardless of how long a party is in government, it is not possible to do everything all in one day or all in many days. Like all governments towards the end of a term , there is always some unfinished business. This is part of that unfinished business.

Schedule 3 to this bill amends the Financial Sector (Shareholdings) Act 1998 so that persons who do not hold a direct control interest in a financial sector company will no longer be deemed to have a stake in that financial sector company solely as a consequence of their associate ' s direct control interest in the company. Under existing law, a person must obtain approval from the Treasurer to hold a stake in a financial sector company of more than 15 per cent. A ' stake ' is defined in c lause 10 of s chedule 1 of the Financial Sector (Shareholdings) Act as the aggregate of the direct control interest held by that person and the direct control interest held by associates of that person. ' Associates ' is widely defined in c lause 4 of s chedule 1 of the Financial Sector (Shareholdings) Act to include a person ' s relatives, partners, related companies and other parties. Where a person acquires a direct control interest in a financial sector company of more than 15 per cent, the associate of the person is required to also obtain approval to exceed the 15 per cent shareholding limit. This can be despite the associate hol ding no direct control interest or , indeed , any interest in the financial sector company. This imposes a burden for associates to reasonably comply with the law, particularly where associates are not aware of the requirement to seek the Treasurer ' s approval .

The measures in this b ill mean a person who does not hold a direct control interest in a financial sector company will no longer be deemed to hold a stake in that company solely as a consequence of their associates ' direct control interest in the company. Only where a person holds a direct control interest of any size would the interest be aggregated with that of the person ' s associates to determine the total stake held. For an associate holding a direct control interest in a financial sector company, the associate ' s stake is equivalent to the aggregate of their own stake and that of other associates, including the person acquiring the actual direct control interest. The ass ociate is required to seek the T reasurer ' s approval where the aggregated stake exceeds the 15 per cent shareholding limit. It is important to note that these changes will ensure that there is an appropriate examination of a shareholder ' s controlling interest. But it will take away the trap of associates who have no control inte rest in having to apply to the T reasurer in order to comply with the law. Labor supports removing this unnecessary burden.

Further, schedule 4 rewrites provisions from the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 into the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 and the Taxation Administration Act 1953 to unify the definition of ' Australia ' for tax purposes. This is a non- controversial mechanical change with no fiscal impact. Labor supports this change as well.

Labor is prepared to support fair and reasonable amendments and changes that improve the management and structure of our financial services sector, or other measures that improve consumer protections and also improve the ability of business to d eal with regulation properly.