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Tuesday, 8 October 1985
Page: 803


Senator COATES(4.01) —When the Superannuation Legislation Amendment Bill 1985 was being debated on 18 September I was commenting on the reaction of the Opposition and the Australian Democrats to the Bill. The Bill had been referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations, which reported back, approving the Bill in general terms and making some recommendations, most of which the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) was able to adopt. I informed the Senate several weeks ago that the Minister for Finance had agreed to these recommendations. We now find that the Opposition and the Democrats are opposing key parts of the Bill.

Senator Messner said in his contribution that the main point with which the Opposition took issue on this legislation was the Government's proposed membership of the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund Investment Trust. Apparently, the Opposition is upset that three of the five members will be appointed as nominees of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Of course, at the moment, the Opposition is trying to make out that the ACTU is a grand ogre in the overall scheme of things in this country. I need to explain that the ACTU is the logical organisation to appoint trustees on behalf of the members of the fund because that is the way in which the Public Service organisations have their peak representation. As I have tried to explain before, there is no longer a Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations because the ACTU, by agreement with all the Public Service unions, has replaced CAGEO as the peak body. So it is the obvious organisation to appoint representatives on behalf of the contributors to the Superannuation Fund Investment Trust. I emphasise, for the benefit of the Opposition, that we are talking about contributors' funds, not government funds. Those people who are appointed to the Trust are there as trustees. They are there to represent the contributors. They are not there as direct puppets of the ACTU.

I wish to quote what Mr Gradwell had to say when he gave evidence to the Committee on 5 March. In answer to Senator Vanstone's question about constraints that might apply to members of the Trust he said:

I think it is important to answer that question as a matter of principle. The ACTU will be involved in a process of canvassing the contributory base and putting forward names to government for appointment.

By `the contributory base' he means the contributors and the Public Service unions that represent them. Mr Gradwell went on:

On appointment, however, those appointees will assume the responsibility of trustees for the Trust and will be acting independently. It most certainly will not be the ACTU's intention to give them instructions about how they carry out their duties.

That assurance ought to be enough for Senator Messner. Senator Messner ought to be ashamed of himself for his bumbling lack of attention to the detail of this Bill. He unreasonably dismissed the Senate Committee report without even explaining why. I would be interested to hear why he dismissed that report. He rejected the opinions of members of his Party who were on the Committee, although I gather that some of them have changed their opinions since the unamimous report. Senator Messner also ignored the changes which the Minister for Finance said he had agreed to make and the amendments which he said he would move in the Committee stage. The Finance and Government Operations Committee went through all of this in great detail. If members of the Opposition are not willing to acknowledge that unanimous report they ought to think again before agreeing to the referral of such Bills to the Committee; otherwise it makes our operation a waste of time.

I emphasise that this Bill gives the Superannuation Fund Investment Trust specific objectives and duties for the first time. One of the reasons which led to problems in the Trust was that its objectives and duties had not been specifically set out for its members. This led to some of the confusion and the lack of direction that have manifested themselves over the last few years.

The Bill is in line with the Committee's recommendations. I suggest that Senator Messner should reread what the Committee said about the Bill in its unanimous opinion and perhaps reconsider his opposition. There are not the sorts of dangers that the Opposition suggests. The obligation of the trustees is to the contributors. We are not talking about government funds, but contributors' funds. I imagine that most of the detail of this Bill will be dealt with in the Committee stage but I urge the Opposition and, in particular, the Democrats to reconsider their problems with the Bill. The Democrats had a representative on the Finance and Government Operations Committee in former Senator Jack Evans, who took an active interest in this matter and who agreed that the compromise that we suggested in our recommendations, which recommendations have been adopted by Senator Walsh, was appropriate. I commend the Bill-


Senator Siddons —This method of appointing the trustees, as set out in your Committee's report, did not spell out that three members were to be appointed by the ACTU.


Senator COATES —It certainly did. In fact-


Senator Siddons —Jack Evans was not aware of that.


Senator COATES —He certainly was. With his agreement we proposed that those people whom the ACTU appointed had to be people who had been suggested by Public Service organisations. The original draft of the Bill merely said `ACTU appointees'. What we suggested, and what Senator Walsh has now agreed to, was that they should be selected from amongst those people whom the Public Service organisations put forward to ensure that some person who had not been nominated by any Public Service organisation was not appointed.


Senator Messner —But still nominated by the ACTU.


Senator COATES —By the ACTU on behalf of the Public Service organisations.


Senator Siddons —That gives the ACTU control.


Senator COATES —Not at all. The ACTU, in consultation with the organisations, appoints the people. Those organisations represent the contributors. One may regret that there is not longer a Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations. That organisation voluntarily disbanded and merged with the ACTU, which is now the peak representative body. One cannot have a situation of the Minister having to consult with dozens of individual organisations about who should be appointed when they have a peak organisation as their representative. That is the appropriate way for it to be done. I acknowledge that if CAGEO were still in existence that would be the appropriate organisation. It is not because it has been subsumed into the ACTU; there is an Australian Government employees' section of the ACTU which will have this responsibility. The Opposition really is worrying about nothing in this matter.


Senator Siddons —Certainly it was Senator Jack Evans's understanding that it would not be the ACTU that would be nominating the trustees.


Senator COATES —You should read the report which he signed.


Senator Siddons —I have read it. It doesn't make that clear, to my mind.


Senator COATES —It does. The ACTU appoints those people from among those suggested by Public Service organisations; that is the totally appropriate way for it to be done. There were contributor appointees on the former trust who acted as trustees for the organisation. I commend to the Senate the Bill and the Government's amendments, which will be moved by the Minister.