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Thursday, 3 June 2021
Page: 5561

Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (13:18): I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Your Future, Your Super) Bill 2021. I think we in this place all know that superannuation is the most important legislative instrument available to working Australians to secure their financial independence in retirement. We all want our friends and family to live comfortably in retirement, and any changes that seek to increase the funds available to retirees should be viewed positively. This bill, on balance, addresses many of the deficiencies in the current legislation that have a concerning effect on retirement incomes. However, I think it's really important to say that it's not perfect, and I believe consideration should be given to sensible amendments that would maintain the intent of the government's proposed reform.

Minimising the number of superannuation accounts held by an individual is necessary, and the proposed stapling provision will no doubt bring about a reduction in the number of funds held. My concern with this provision is that many employees may end up with a poor-performing stapled fund. This concern has been raised by many entities and has been the subject of many submissions that called for sequencing to eliminate poor-performing funds before the stapling scheme commences. Such a change is simple and strengthens the provision without any consequence for fund members. I think that that is an issue that should be considered very carefully in the other place. It's really about provision of time. I think that, while this chamber does much good work, we all need to acknowledge that it's the other place that really does peel the onion of bills and takes the time to go through them step by step. So I would really urge the government to look to the Senate to address that particular issue.

The annual performance test will find great levels of support by fund members, who reasonably expect their funds to hold up to scrutiny, and that may help them in comparing their fund's performance against other funds. What I don't understand, however, is why the government has chosen to restrict the performance test to the MySuper segment. All superannuation products should be the subject of an annual performance test. When I met with the minister, I spoke to the minister about this. I think there is a reasonable expectation in this place that we should have one rule that covers everyone. According to some in this place, one or more contentious components of the bill relate to the best financial interest provisions. I strongly believe that superannuation funds must be accountable and that the decisions of the funds should always be made in the best financial interests of members.

Third-party payments for ideological or political purposes—or any other purpose, for that matter—that are not in the best financial interests of members shouldn't be occurring. It's disappointing that we have a need to legislate in this place to protect members' funds from inappropriate payments. I can't understand why a super fund would think it appropriate to make political donations, advertise at a sporting event or hire a corporate box, particularly when we are talking about a compulsory payment. We're not talking about some kind of discretionary spend; we're talking about something compulsory. So I don't think any of those expenses actually benefit the members.

My concern with the bill is that having a unilateral approach without a financial threshold will impose unnecessary administration costs on the fund which ultimately may reduce financial returns for members. I think it's fair that we would expect the operations of a super fund to have expenses, such as their employees and just the day-to-day running of an office. But I think, when we're looking at those extravagant advertising deals and when we're looking at those extravagant purchases—as I said, around corporate boxes and the like—they should be curtailed. Certainly not a dollar from any superannuation company should be going into this place by way of political donations to any party. Effectively it is the desire to improve fund expenditure. The total cost may potentially be greater than the payments the legislation seeks to mitigate.

All too often in this place we see an ideological divide on superannuation legislation and, consequently, an unpreparedness to assess on merit. I think this is certainly the case with this legislation and is compounded by the vested interests of superannuation funds. I'm pleased that the government has removed the directions power which would otherwise have given any government of the day the ability to dictate what investments a superannuation fund may or may not invest in. This was an overreach, and its removal was appropriate. It was my most concerning aspect with respect to this proposed legislation.

In determining my position on the bill, I have sought advice from the government and the opposition. They've found what I think to be the most helpful of advice, that being the independent analysis by groups such as Choice undertaken through partnership with Super Consumers Australia. I think it's really important for people who are following the Hansard that I read out a quote from Super Consumers Australia. They said:

Holistically, this package will benefit superannuation consumers and it is important its measures are considered as a whole and not in isolation. A number of industry submissions have embarked on self-preservation, hiding behind the veil of alleged widespread consumer harm. Much of this analysis fails to recognise the intersecting impact of each of the measures and the failures of the current superannuation system.

I think that is a big problem in this place, in particular around superannuation. Every single time we debate just the tiniest of bills, it is highly contentious—and it really shouldn't be. What I as a crossbencher do is try and find sources where I know that there isn't a vested interest in providing advice.

We should all seek to improve the financial returns of the superannuation funds for the millions of hardworking Australians. So I give my qualified support for this bill, with the assurance that amendments will be made in the other place to improve this bill and address the concerns that I have raised today.