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Tuesday, 27 September 2022
Page: 49

Senator WALSH (Victoria) (16:36): I rise to speak on the urgency motion on transparency and accountability, moved by Senator Reynolds. I can assure chamber that our government is committed to delivering accountability, transparency and good governance in every part of our financial system. So we welcome this motion today.

You've really got to ask yourself what is going on with those opposite. It has been only a matter of months since Australians banished them to the opposition benches and ended their decade of wasted opportunities and messed up priorities, and apparently, they haven't learned a thing. They've got nothing to offer Australians. They themselves admitted: 'We're the opposition; we have no policies.' Instead, they're throwing random bits of mud and trying to see what will stick.

Today they're trying to talk about transparency and accountability of all things. We welcome this motion. We welcome the conversation today. It's pretty rich for those opposite to suddenly claim that transparency and accountability are matters of urgency for them, on the opposition benches, considering their decade of rort after rort, scandal after scandal, cover-up after cover-up. This motion has come from the people with the former Prime Minister who was the minister for health; the Minister for Finance; the minister for industry, science, energy and resources; the Minister for Home Affairs; and the Treasurer—all at the same time.

Senator Watt: You must have missed some.

Senator WALSH: I probably missed some. They were all kept secret from his own ministry, and from the Australian public as well. So let's talk about transparency and accountability. We welcome it. They are the former government, who want to come to this chamber and talk about transparency and accountability—really? Let's be absolutely clear: those opposite have no interest in transparency and no interest in accountability, and they had 10 long years to demonstrate that.

This motion has absolutely nothing to do with either of those anyway. It is just another ploy in the war that those opposite are waging against our proud Labor legacy of superannuation in this country. What Australians are asking themselves right now is why the Liberals hate super so much. Is it because it was thought up by the union movement, Senator Hume? Is it because it was made universal by a Labor government, Senator Reynolds?

Senator Reynolds interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Sterle ): Order! Excuse me, Senator Walsh. Now, I'm pretty lenient here, Senator Reynolds, but I am going to ask you to withdraw that.

Senator Reynolds: I withdraw, and my apologies.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Reynolds.

Senator WALSH: Maybe they hate super so much because it is a legacy of the union movement; it is a legacy of the Australian Labor Party. Or is it just the industry super funds that you on the opposition benches hate? And why would that be? Is it because the industry super funds consistently outperform the rest of the sector? Is it because you can't stand the idea that workers in a union would have an interest in ensuring their retirement savings are working for them and choose to invest them in an industry super fund? Or is it because industry super funds have dared to invest in nation-building projects and infrastructure in this country—projects that will deliver good, secure jobs for the very workers whose retirement savings are invested; nation-building projects like the Star of the South, Australia's first offshore wind farm; nation-building projects like the construction of social and affordable housing, which will create thousands of jobs, as well as drive down the cost of housing and rentals?

Those opposite can't stand to see these projects funded; as well, they can't stand to see the returns that those projects will deliver for members. They just can't stand to see the superannuation industry step up and deliver the very things that your government refused to deliver. That's why the former Treasurer tried to insert himself into the boardrooms of the super funds. And it's why they're back here, continuing their ideological war on super.

This motion has absolutely nothing to do with transparency and accountability. It has absolutely nothing to do with protecting the interests of super fund members, because those opposite do not care about super fund members. They do not care about Australian workers and their retirement. They definitely don't care about workers' hard-earned retirement savings, because, for the last decade, on the watch of those opposite, Australian workers have lost $5 billion per year in unpaid superannuation. There has been $5 billion per year missing from the retirement savings of Australian workers because those opposite have sat back and allowed the ATO to take a light-touch approach to dodgy employers—a light-touch approach which has done nothing to stop employers stealing super from their workers.

Senator H ume: You were the ones that tried to block the amnesty.

Senator WALSH: I think the taxation commissioner has admitted it himself, Senator Hume. A light-touch approach has resulted in less than 15 per cent of unpaid super being recovered by the tax office and has shifted the responsibility for chasing unpaid super onto workers themselves.

As if forcing workers to do the job of government agencies weren't enough, those opposite made that job almost impossible. We know those opposite just sat by when workers tried to get their stolen super back. We know they sat by while workers who reported unpaid super to the ATO were consistently given no information about the progress of their claims. We know they sat by while the ATO kept workers completely in the dark about any deals they made with employers about their hard-earned super. Where was the sense of urgency then? Where was the sense of urgency from those opposite about transparency and accountability then, when it came to unpaid super? Where were the Liberal senators who could have come to the defence of Australian workers or super fund members then? Why did those opposite sit back while $5 billion per year went missing from members' super accounts?

Well, we know why. It is because those opposite are only moving motions like this one as part of their ideological war on super. But going after the funds isn't enough for those opposite. In their war against super, the Liberal Party themselves are going straight after workers' retirement savings. They want to force workers to raid their retirement savings to buy a house, despite the consequence that will have of driving up house prices.

Senator Scarr interjecting

Senator WALSH: I will take your interjection about choice, Senator Scarr, because during COVID you did force Australian workers to raid their retirement savings to get through the global pandemic. You said this in the chamber yesterday; you're saying it again today. You're saying that it's a question of giving people a choice. I am not sure whether you actually understand what choice is.

When you champion low wages growth as a deliberate design feature of your economic plan, when you do nothing to drive down housing prices to make them more affordable, when you deny Australian workers access to pandemic support based on the industry they work in, when you leave casual workers, workers in the arts and university workers off pandemic support because you hate those sectors, when you leave workers with absolutely no support in the middle of a global pandemic, you are not giving them a choice. You are not helping them to make a choice. What you are doing is forcing them to raid their hard-earned retirement savings because you can't be bothered coming up with policies to actually help them yourself. Almost half a million Australians had their super funds closed or almost completely cleaned out as a result of what you are calling a choice; $37 billion was taken out of accounts by people who really needed those funds the most, leaving them at absolute ground zero when it comes to retirement security.

But those opposite, they don't want to stop there. It's not enough to have workers drain what's already in their accounts. Now coalition senators have even more policy ideas to go after workers' retirement savings. So apparently you do have some policy ideas, Senator Hume, on the backbench. They're suggesting that the government increase taxes on super. They've said the government should not proceed with the legislated increase to the super guarantee. They've called for the requirement for employers to pay super to be removed altogether. And, most shamefully, they've called for super not to be paid to low-income earners at all. If they cared about transparency and accountability they would own up to their hatred of superannuation.

Opposition senators interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Sterle ): I'm trying to listen intently, and I understand these conversations can get quite boisterous, but when there are three of you, who haven't got the softest voices in the Senate, it's starting to hurt my ear. So I'll just ask if Senator Walsh can be heard in silence for the remaining 29 seconds.

Senator WALSH: If you cared about transparency and accountability you would own up to the fact that you hate super. You hate Labor's proud super legacy, and you hate the industry super funds the most. You would be honest with Australians that you just want to tear the whole system down, and that's what this is about. Our world-class superannuation system is a Labor legacy. We will always stand with workers to strengthen it and protect it. We have no interest in being drawn into a war with you on super. (Time expired)