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Tuesday, 8 October 1985
Page: 819

Senator PETER RAE(5.49) —Having listened to the debate that has taken place and having heard Senator Mason making some statements, I would like briefly to put a point of view which appears to have escaped Senator Mason and a number of other honourable senators on the other side of the chamber who have spoken. He criticised the Opposition's amendments, saying that they meant that people did not know how to deal with their own money and that therefore the Australian Council of Trade Unions, representing the people whose money was involved in the Superannuation Fund Investment Trust, should have the control.

Senator Mason —You did not hear me correctly, Senator Rae, with all respect to you. I did not make any such statement, as Hansard tomorrow will reveal. I have not sided with the ACTU in this matter at all; let me make that quite clear.

Senator PETER RAE —The position that I found quite extraordinary was any suggestion that the taxpayer as such does not have a very clear and very firm interest in what happens to this Fund. The Commonwealth superannuation scheme involves an employee's contribution and a contribution made by the employers; that is, the taxpayers of Australia. The employee's contribution goes into the Superannuation Investment Trust Fund. Each time any money is paid into that there is a tax benefit to the person who makes the payment because it provides a rebate or deduction over the years for that person making the contribution. So immediately there is a tax benefit to the contributor. In other words, there is a tax debit to the taxpayers as a whole.

The second point is that, so far as the total scheme is concerned, the employee's contribution is paid back when the employee leaves the Fund by one means or another. In other words, when an employee retires he gets back his own money and the taxpayer then takes up the responsibility for the payment of a pension for the rest of the life of that person. Again, it is the taxpayer, Consolidated Revenue, paying the other part of the Commonwealth superannuation scheme entitlement. Thus, throughout the whole scheme, a taxation benefit is being conferred on the employee and a taxation cost is being imposed on Consolidated Revenue. So far as the remainder of the scheme is concerned, it is totally payable by the taxpayers. In that event it is the taxpayers who determine how successfully or otherwise this scheme is operated. To suggest that their interests should not be given some substantial primacy surprises me. I wanted to point that out because it seemed to be overlooked in the debate.

What this debate ought to be about is true accountability; about who looks after the funds, and to whom those looking after the funds are accountable. There ought to be accountability to the Parliament, through the Minister, on behalf of the people as well as a degree of accountability to the employees through their proper organisations, not just the limited ones which are affiliated with the ACTU. That was the final point that I wanted to make. Some speakers were entirely overlooking the fact that a significant number of people who are involved in the Commonwealth superannuation scheme are not members of ACTU affiliated unions. They have just as much right--

Senator Coates —Who are they?

Senator Short —More than 50 per cent of the contributors.

Senator PETER RAE —Senator Short, who has investigated these percentages, says it is more than 50 per cent. All I know is that I have a list of organisations; a percentage of people are members of the ACTU affiliated organisations. The percentage is even higher than my recollection had me believe. Over 50 per cent of the contributors are not affiliated with the ACTU and yet this Government wants them all-that is, four out of five; three directly, and one by veto-to be accountable to the ACTU, which does not represent even 50 per cent of the members. That seems to me to be a fairly persuasive argument in support of what the Opposition has put before this chamber and a very strong condemnation of the approach of the Government. One of the things it does is to enable a diminution of the degree of accountability of the Minister-of the government of the day and the Minister in particular-to the Parliament and through it to the people. I believe it is that responsibility which is being taken away by the Government and duckshoved over to the ACTU as a result of the way in which the Government has drafted the proposal before us and its refusal to accept either the Australian Democrats' proposals for change or those which have been put forward by the Opposition.

Senator Mason —You didn't accept ours.

Senator PETER RAE —We had some better ones; that is the difference between those of the Democrats and ours. I said that the Government did not accept the Democrats' change and apparently it does not propose to accept ours. But I would have thought that the Democrats would accept ours as better than the Government's proposal, and I will be very surprised if they do not. In fact, I would find it incredibly inconsistent for the Democrats, having put forward their proposals, not to vote for the proposals which the Opposition has put forward. I hope the Democrats will reconsider their position. It is extremely important, as has been recognised by everybody, that the best possible and best available degree of management, selection and accountability should take place. Quite obviously, selection and management by the representatives or the nominees of the ACTU, which is a minority interest, is not in the best interests of those taxpayers to whom I have referred, nor of all the eligible members of the Commonwealth superannuation scheme.

Question put:

That the amendments (Senator Messner's) be agreed to.