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Tuesday, 11 February 2020
Page: 802


Mr THISTLETHWAITE (Kingsford Smith) (13:15): I'm speaking in support of this bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Reuniting More Superannuation) Bill 2020, but also in support of the very sensible second reading amendment that's been moved by the shadow minister for financial services, the member for Whitlam, which correctly points out what this government has tried to do to destroy the superannuation system that was established by Labor when we were in government in the 1980s and 1990s.

That second reading amendment points out that this government has a group of rebel MPs—and let's face it, rebel MPs have been getting away with quite a bit in the coalition over the course of the last couple of days. It's these rebel MPs that are members of the government backbench that are trying to undermine the compulsory superannuation system in this country by proposing ideas such as making superannuation voluntary for low-income employees in Australia—a system that would completely undermine the universality of the system and ultimately result in people retiring with inadequate balances in their superannuation accounts, particularly those that take breaks from the workforce like women, and people having to rely more on the age pension in their retirement. We are also critical of the government for the role that they have been playing in criticising the superannuation industry and some of the measures that they've tried to look at, such as freezing superannuation account balances into the future.

Nonetheless, this bill does contains a single schedule that amends the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act, the RSA Act and the SUMLM Act to facilitate the closure of eligible rollover funds, or ERFs as they're more commonly known, by 30 June 2021. ERFs were designed to look after unclaimed superannuation and balances, for ERFs are typically low and accounts inactive. This measure addresses one of the recommendations of the Productivity Commission report in 2019, which interestingly found that people aren't having enough money put into their superannuation and many Australians will retire with inadequate balances into the future. They made a series of recommendations. One of them was recommendation 5, which recommended that the ATO be responsible for holding lost superannuation accounts and that APRA oversee the wind-up of eligible rollover funds. This will allow the ATO commissioner to reunite superannuation accounts they receive from eligible rollover funds with a member's active account. It comes on the back of some changes that were made by the parliament last year. Those changes build on the Protecting Your Super 2019 legislation, which saw low-balance and inactive accounts transferred by trustees to the ATO, not ERFs. By all accounts, that change and that new system have been quite successful in reuniting Australians with unclaimed superannuation.

Fund trustees transferring inactive or low-balance accounts to the ATO have made ERFs redundant. This legislation provides a timetable to wrap up the remaining ERFs by 30 June 2021. ATO matching has been more successful than AUSfund and is in the members' best interests. That relates to the legislation that was passed last year in respect of involving the ATO in reuniting funds with their owners.

The ATO has successfully reunited more than 2.1 million lost and forgotten superannuation accounts, and this is a greater success than the one that AUSfund had over the course of a 10-year period. And of course the superannuation system helps Australians to retire with dignity. It was established by the Labor Party to ensure that it was a universal system and that occupational superannuation applied to all Australians, not just the wealthy, as it had in the past, up to the point when the Treasurer, Paul Keating, as part of that Hawke-Keating government, established the system. With superannuation included as part of the pay packet, every Australian had the opportunity from that point on to put aside and build up a retirement nest egg to retire comfortably.

Yet we all know, even in this day and age, some 30 years on from the establishment of the compulsory superannuation, that too many Australians are retiring with inadequate balances in their retirement savings, which is why our superannuation system needs to be strengthened and protected, not undermined. That's what we've seen from a number of MPs on that side—attempts to undermine the universality of the superannuation system by suggesting things like voluntary payments for people on low incomes that ultimately are going to lead to people retiring with less and less in their superannuation balances, being unable to fund their own retirements and having to rely on the age pension, and with an ageing population putting a greater impost on the budget and the social security system into the future.

That's the situation we ought to be trying, as a parliament, to avoid. But calls by those opposite are based purely on ideological attacks and reflect the fact that many on that side have never believed in the notion of compulsory superannuation and want to attack the system. That's the reason we know that those opposite aren't fair dinkum about compulsory superannuation, and that's why we've got ideological attacks—

Mr Tim Wilson interjecting

Mr THISTLETHWAITE: such as those from the member who is screaming out across the parliament, who's been one of the cheerleaders for these changes that they're proposing for freezing superannuation.

The Liberal Party has form when it comes to undermining superannuation. A recent report showed the price Australian workers are paying for the Liberal-Nationals government's freezes to the superannuation guarantee. We all know that when the coalition get into government they seek to undermine compulsory superannuation, and they seek to do it by freezing staged increases that have been put in place by previous Labor governments. We saw the Howard government do it when they were elected to office in the 1990s, and now we're seeing it done again by the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. Those freezes unfortunately have a detrimental effect on Australian workers, and that's been demonstrated by Per Capita's report The super freeze: what you've lost, which showed that this government's 2014 superannuation freeze has already cost the average worker more than $4,300 in retirement savings. You don't boost retirement savings incomes by freezing superannuation.

The last time the Liberal-Nationals government froze the superannuation guarantee, wages growth didn't pick up. We got record low wages growth instead. So, this notion that's being pushed by those opposite that there's a trade-off between staged increases in superannuation and wage increases is not borne out by the anecdotal evidence or by the statistical evidence, because since that freeze has been in place we've had record low wages growth here in Australia, and Australian workers have fallen further and further behind. Those opposite would have Australians fall further behind in their retirement by trying to freeze the superannuation guarantee increases—increases that were put in place with plenty of lead time and plenty of information for employers to ensure that they were able to pay them, and they were staged in very small increments.

The report claims that the real take-home pay for the median worker has actually declined since the instigation of the superannuation guarantee freeze. Anyone who thinks that freezing superannuation again will make employers suddenly pay higher wages is kidding themselves. It was this notion of trickle-down economics at its best, once again, when we saw the government pushing cuts to corporate tax rates. Where's the boost to wages in the wake of the cuts to corporate tax rates? It hasn't been going into the pockets of workers; it's been going into the pockets of employers and big businesses throughout this country, cheered on by those opposite. The previous speaker, the member for Forde, wanted to criticise the industry superannuation funds. Well, what about those bank-run superannuation funds? Don't they perform well—the ones that have been propped up and supported by those opposite through their policies. We all know that they've done their best to protect the banks and the dodgy dealings that have been going on in the banks over the course of the last decade by the fact that they voted 26 times against holding a royal commission into the banking industry in this country.

Anyone who thinks that freezing superannuation again will make employers suddenly pay higher wage rises is kidding themselves. It's not about higher wage rises for low-income workers at all. This is about an ideological obsession that those opposite have with the notion of compulsory superannuation. They never supported it when Labor instigated it. They never supported it through the life of its processes, and they have never supported the staged increases that Labor legislated for whilst we were in government.

The Prime Minister and the Treasurer have an appalling record on wages and superannuation. Their retirement incomes review shouldn't be a stalking horse for more cuts to the pension or for further delays to the legislated increase in the superannuation guarantee to 12 per cent. That's what we're all worried about on this side of the chamber: that this retirement incomes review isn't about checking on the state of the superannuation system and its adequacy and whether or not it's producing the right outcomes for Australians in retirement. It's become a stalking horse for those opposite to come up with an excuse to, once again, freeze the increase in the superannuation guarantee, which is staged to increase to 12 per cent over the coming years.

Those of us on this side of the House are committed to the legislated superannuation guarantee rise. We call on this divided government and those who are seeking to agitate for a freeze in the legislation to do the same. Freezing the legislated increase won't lead to pay increases, and it won't change super tax benefits for high-income earners. The original timetable has been delayed twice, costing workers who are retiring today between $60,000 and $100,000 in their superannuation balances.

Our world-class superannuation system means that we have an investment pool of $3 trillion worth of savings. Our system, compared to our population, is the envy of the world. The reason it's the envy of the world is Labor took that decision to institute compulsory superannuation and to ensure that there were regular increases in the notion of compulsory superannuation and the minimum guarantee into the future, to ensure that people have a retirement nest egg, but, just as importantly, to ensure we have a pool of investment funds that will fuel growth in business and productivity in this country. This creates a nest egg for Australians and is being invested in infrastructure and businesses which are generating wealth, creating jobs and ensuring Australians own more of the economic activity of this country.

Anyone that wants to see a system reduce not only the compulsory savings of Australians but that pool of investment funds isn't fair dinkum when it comes to ensuring the veracity of retirement incomes policy. The Reserve Bank has identified low productivity growth, globalisation, underemployment and a decline in bargaining power, all as drags on wages growth and productivity. Wages are weak now, not because of the superannuation guarantee but because this government does not have a plan to boost growth, to boost investment in our economy and, importantly, to increase wages.

We agree that workers need a wage rise, but we don't think that that should be paid for by a freeze on compulsory superannuation increases. That's not the way to produce income increases in this country to boost investment and to boost growth in the economy. The last time the Liberals and Nationals froze the superannuation guarantee, wages growth didn't pick up. We got record low wages instead, and that is their record when it comes to supporting wages growth in our economy.

In conclusion, Labor created the world-class superannuation system that we have in Australia so everyday Australians can have dignity in retirement, and we will always fight to protect it, no matter what.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Brian Mitchell ): The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.