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Tuesday, 8 October 1985
Page: 810

Senator MESSNER(4.46) —On behalf of the Opposition I notify the Australian Democrats that we will not be supporting their amendments. I will outline the reason why we will not be supporting the amendments. The major objection by the Opposition to this legislation, as outlined in the second reading debate, is that fundamental point that the Superannuation Legislation Amendment Bill delivers the ultimate control for decision making of the Superannuation Fund Investment Trust into the hands of nominees of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. To that extent I believe that we are on common ground with the Democrats and we have the same view as they do about the ultimate effect of such behaviour on the Australian community. During the second reading debate I drew attention to the fact that trends in the community in recent times generally have been towards the expansion of union based and sponsored superannuation schemes, such as the builders unions superannuation scheme, the Australian scheme and so on.

Senator Walsh —You dropped QUEST out.

Senator MESSNER —No, I stand by that. It has been set up on much the same principles as the other schemes.

Senator Walsh —Conspiracy theories don't have a smidgin of fact behind them, you know.

Senator MESSNER —If Senator Walsh sat back and listened to the debate, he might see the light. The control over vast sums of money will be delivered, by the expansion of those schemes-unless the Government intervenes to control them and turn them into appropriate and properly run superannuation schemes-into the hands of a tight bunch of trade unionists. The principle that applies under those schemes, such as the BUS scheme and so on, will apply in exactly the same way to the Superannuation Fund Investment Trust, which has literally billions of dollars under its control and in many ways controls the ultimate direction of the Australian economy. Clearly the power to control that money, given to such people as would be nominated by the ACTU under this Bill, would mean that there would be an element of union control which certainly would not have the support of the majority of Australians. That is why we are so strongly opposed to the basic premise of the legislation.

Turning to the Democrats' amendments, they have proposed a means by which the employees will have an opportunity to elect directly the members of the Trust who represent employees. While we say that that is a laudable objective-I believe they have striven hard to try to establish some kind of means by which that can happen-the problem with their suggestion is that it is simply impractical and will not work. I have pointed out that our major objection is that ultimately unions will have delivered to them the control over the Superannuation Fund Investment Trust and it is our belief that the proposals by the Australian Democrats, which are based on a membership elected by the employees, will ultimately produce the same result. A person who wished to gain election to the Trust would need to marshal a considerable amount of support, far beyond the amount that is mentioned by Senator Siddons as being a threshold, and obviously the only way in which that support could be marshalled would be by an effective team operation. Such a team operation is already clearly established to operate in such a way-that is, through the trade union representative of those employees. We say, therefore, that ultimately under the Democrats' proposals, control will fall back into the hands of the union itself. The practical result will be that the Democrats' amendment will achieve exactly the same result as the Government wants-that is, domination by the ACTU and by the unions. That is why the Opposition opposes the Democrats' amendment. We do not believe it is the answer and we return to the point that we have been making all along-that is, the criteria by which people are appointed to the Trust to make decisions on behalf of employees should include expertise in a wide range of investment techniques and interest in industrial relations and obviously skills in that area, so that they can make the proper decisions on behalf of the employees of the Commonwealth who are members of the Trust.

Surely this is the basic issue. To what extent and in what way should we nominate people who will be involved in the day to day supervision of the Investment Trust?

Senator Mason —What is your suggestion?

Senator MESSNER —I will come to that when we put forward our amendments. Had Senator Mason been following the debate he would have known our attitude from the second reading discussions. The point is that we have a proposal which sets out the means by which that can be achieved. We believe that our approach is the most practical from the point of view of ensuring that the interests of the employees-that is, of the contributors to the Fund-are best served; and we believe that that will have the objective of ensuring that there are not ideologically based decisions imposed upon the managers of the Investment Trust by members of the Trust itself who have their ultimate direction from and loyalty to the ACTU. As a parting shot I think we should mention again the fact that the ACTU is not exactly renowned for its business success. We only have to remember the fiascos of the ACTU-Bourke's store in Melbourne which went broke, and ACTU-Solo Enterprises and so on.

Senator Puplick —Who was running those at the time?

Senator MESSNER —The ACTU was. I believe that it was during the time when the present Prime Minister was President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. In fact, it was his great vision that these ACTU controlled business ventures should be extended across the whole community. But of course he could not even get the ACTU-Bourke's store off the ground. But now he has a grander vision; now he has a vision of using the funds of the contributors to the Superannuation Fund Investment Trust, who are of course employees of the Commonwealth of Australia, for business purposes and for the extension of the activities of trade unionists in the community. That is the fundamental philosophy which stems from the direct philosophic base of Prime Minister Hawke, previously failed President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, who was responsible for the greatest period of inflation growth and job destruction in the 1970s when he occupied that position. The Opposition will not support the Democrats' amendments and we stand ready to move our own.