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Tuesday, 8 October 1985
Page: 815

Senator SHORT(5.23) —I want briefly to support the amendments moved by Senator Messner on behalf of the Opposition. The reasons for the amendment have already been put very clearly both in the second reading debate and in the comments that Senator Messner has made. There is one basic objective and reason for these amendments; that is, whatever we do in relation to the superannuation fund of the Commonwealth, particularly taking into account the size of that fund, which is far and away the largest superannuation fund in Australia in terms of funds and members, must be in the basic interests of the contributors. It is their money we are talking about. It is not anybody else's money. It is not even the Commonwealth's money. We are talking about huge sums of money. We are talking about a fund which has several billion dollars already invested, which accumulates additional funds at the rate of $7m a week, $1m a day, and which therefore not only is of vital importance to the contributors but also has a very big effect on the money markets and the whole investment structure of this country. They are the two things we have to bear in mind. The argument is not about the interests of the Public Service unions as such. It is not about anyone else's interests. It is about the interests of the contributors.

Part of the Government's Bill we are objecting to relates to the membership of the Superannuation Fund Investment Trust. We object quite simply because the legislation proposes that the Australian Council of Trade Unions would have control over four of the five appointments to be made to the Trust. Our amendments are proposed to the Government's legislation because of our concern that that is not in the best interests of the contributors. It was put in the second reading debate-I think by Senator Walsh, who was trying to make cheap capital out of it, very unsuccessfully I might say-that this is some sort of exercise in union bashing. It is not an exercise in union bashing. It is an exercise in protecting the best interests of the 307,000 contributors to the fund. If the proposals which the Government has put forward and which involve very considerable ACTU involvement do not go to the heart of protecting the interests of the contributors, those changes being proposed are wrong. If the Government wants to make cheap political capital out of that in terms of the response by both the Australian Democrats and the Opposition, so be it. It will be unsuccessful.

As I said in my speech in the second reading debate, we make no apology for the fact that our proposed amendments remove the ACTU from the central, pivotal role that has been given to it in this legislation. It is worth noting a couple of facts which to date have not been brought to light. The first is that in the negotiations for the changes to the superannuation Bill that we are now debating, as I understand it, the Public Service unions were not consulted. All the negotiations were done with the ACTU itself.

Senator Coates —Who do you think represents them?

Senator SHORT —Another point worth noting-and Senator Coates's comment relates to this-is that the Public Service unions affiliated to the ACTU represent far fewer than 50 per cent of the contributors to this superannuation fund.

Senator Walsh —What is your source for that?

Senator SHORT —The unions themselves.

Senator Walsh —You have just made it up.

Senator SHORT —I did not make it up. It is a far more accurate figure than the honourable senator's totally misleading 70 per cent figure. Fewer than 50 per cent of the contributors to the superannuation fund belong to Public Service unions affiliated with the ACTU. It simply does not make logical sense, regardless of any other consideration, to argue that therefore the ACTU can effectively represent the interests of those 307,000 people, some 160,000 or more of whom have no association whatsoever with the ACTU.

The amendments that we have moved have one objective and one objective alone; that is, to protect the contributors' interests. The way in which that can best be done, and the only way in which it can be done, is for the trustees of the fund who have the confidence of the contributors and of the investing community-primarily the contributors-to be skilled in the tasks allotted to them, because they are the trustees of the contributors' money. The whole thrust of the Opposition's amendments is to ensure that those five trustees collectively have a range of skills in the area in which they need skills; basically, in investment and in the handling of money both on a secure and maximum return basis.

Senator Walsh, in his earlier comments, made the remark that trustees are not investment managers. I agree with that, but if Senator Walsh is trying to draw the conclusion that trustees do not need to have expertise in investment or in the management of investments that would really be an extraordinary statement coming from someone who purports to be one of the two people responsible for the finances of this country. It was a very damaging comment, although it did not surprise too many honourable senators on this side of the chamber. I come back to the Opposition's amendments. Their purport is clear. We have explained the reasons for introducing those amendments, and I commend them to the Committee.

Before I sit down, I wish to pick up Senator Walsh's comments that Senator Vanstone and I were members of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations, which reported on the Bill in May, and that the Opposition will not now support all the amendments that were proposed to that Bill. He suggested that this was a vote of no confidence by the Opposition parties in Senator Vanstone and me. I cannot speak for Senator Vanstone. If Senator Walsh is suggesting that a member of this Senate cannot sit on a Senate committee as an individual and do his or her best in the interests of that committee and that when a report is brought forward in the Senate and an opportunity is given to debate it in whatever party room we are talking about, that person or that person's party is bound by what that individual has said in that committee, that is an extraordinary interpretation of the role of Senate committees and their members. I say that regardless of which side of the chamber members of those committees come from.

Senator Coates —Does that explain why you changed your mind?

Senator SHORT —I say to Senator Coates, as I said in the second reading debate, that I did not change my mind. I do not wish to disclose the contents of private meetings of a Senate committee, but the honourable senator is as aware as other members of the Finance and Government Operations Committee and I are of the very real concerns that were expressed right from day one by the Opposition members on the Committee about the role of the ACTU in this exercise. We were all under a great deal of pressure as a committee to report on this Bill. The Government very graciously gave us sevendays to do so. Senator Walsh claimed that we had all looked at the question in an extended, leisurely fashion. Quite obviously, he has overlooked the fact that the whole exercise was carried out in seven days. The pressures were considerable because it was hoped that the Senate would deal with this legislation before it rose for the winter recess. That was the reason why we all, as members of the Committee, tried to co-operate to get this matter back to the Senate for full consideration. That was the reason for the rush. I believe that was the reason why people on all sides compromised their views to some extent in trying to reach an agreed conclusion. I find it absolutely extraordinary that Senator Walsh should draw the conclusion that people have gone back on anything agreed on in that Committee. It does not surprise me, coming from him.

Senator Walsh —That is complete nonsense.

Senator SHORT —It is about time that Senator Walsh learned something about Treasury and Finance matters. From my point of view, I completely rebut the assertion.