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Thursday, 28 November 2019
Page: 6365


Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (11:10): I am pleased that the government is taking steps to address the huge issue that is unpaid super for many workers in Australia through this Treasury Laws Amendment (Recovering Unpaid Superannuation) Bill 2019. Back in September 2017 I asked the then Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, through a question in writing, whether she had 'considered conducting a moratorium for employers with unpaid superannuation guarantee charge to provide them with the opportunity to come clean and make good'.

I have consistently and ardently sought to help employees who have been denied their rightful super payments, because it is unfair for workers and their financial futures and security, and it is unfair for competing businesses who do the right thing. And it's unfair for the taxpayer, who picks up the burden through higher spending on pensions if people don't get the super they deserve.

I have already referred to the private member's bill I introduced which sought to deal with these issues in detail, but we do need to do so much more. Any measure that provides a meaningful opportunity for employees to recover unpaid super is worthy of consideration. The bill and the moratorium it legislates to induce payment of unpaid super does provide a meaningful opportunity, but while this is a potential step in the right direction, it is a very small step. According to Treasury, only $230 million from the debt of approximately $6 billion in unpaid super is anticipated to be collected.

I also recognise the moral hazard involved in encouraging delinquent employers into believing that such moratoriums may become a regular feature in the future. For this reason, I believe that some surety in the legislation that another moratorium of this type will not occur within a reasonable time frame—say, for example, within the next 10 years—is needed. This would provide some reassurance to those concerned that the moratorium sends a signal with a perverse outcome. Indeed, it would clarify and mitigate against perverse outcomes, and I would encourage the government to consider an amendment in the Senate that may provide this kind of surety to overcome the problem of moral hazard.

I should also note that, while I support this legislation in this place, Centre Alliance will give the bill further consideration in the other place, and so we reserve our position. I would ask the government to properly fund the ATO, to ensure that enforcement activities occur. Approximately $2.8 billion gets added to the unpaid super debt every year. Quite frankly, if the ATO were a business with such mounting debt for super, carrying that debt year on year, well, they'd sack their debtors clerk—that is, if the doors to the business were not yet closed.

And it is so difficult for employees: they can't sue their employer or their previous employer. They just cross their fingers and hope the employer will do the right thing and that the ATO will take up the money owed to them. I have constituents who have long since retired and who are still waiting for payment from their previous employer. I had the ATO write a letter to one constituent. They sent him a notice that they had been able to obtain just one cent for him! Seriously! It costs more to put the stamp on the envelope than what the ATO were able to claim. The current pathway for pursuing unpaid super is incredibly poor and does not get the outcomes that we need. According to Cbus, without action, unpaid super and lost earnings will reach $66 billion by 2024. We just can't afford this as a nation.

In closing, I would encourage the government to better resource the unpaid super section of the ATO. If the government is not going to do that, we need to empower employees by listing superannuation under the National Employment Standards, in the Fair Work Act. This would at least provide the avenue for employees to pursue recidivist employers through the courts.