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Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Page: 3225


Senator WATT (Queensland) (12:36): That was yet another highly ideological contribution from the antisuperannuation ideologue himself, Senator Bragg. It's interesting to watch how some of the newer senators in this chamber seek to make their mark in the chamber and in wider debate. At one end of the spectrum, you have Senator Stoker out there making appalling comments likening the Queensland Premier's actions to the death of George Floyd. At the other end of the spectrum, you've got Senator Bragg out there waging his ideological war on superannuation. It seems that, with every year and every intake of senators in this chamber, the drift of the Liberal Party to the right just continues on so many fronts. We have seen it again from Senator Bragg now, and shortly I will mention some of the other contributions, if you can call them that, from Liberal Party senators on the debate regarding superannuation.

Superannuation is a great Australian achievement. It is a great Labor achievement. From the very beginning Labor has pushed for superannuation, with the sole purpose of giving working Australians a dignified retirement. In contrast, from the very beginning we have seen the Liberal Party and the National Party fight tooth and nail to stop superannuation, to whittle it away and to abolish it. There can be no other reason for them wanting to continue that ideological war than that they want to deny working Australians the dignified retirement that many people who are wealthier in our community get to enjoy. Well, I don't support that and nor does anyone on the Labor side. We believe that, no matter what your circumstances in life, you are entitled to a dignified retirement, and superannuation has become a core way of guaranteeing that all Australians, no matter what walk of life they are from, get that dignified retirement that they are entitled to.

A dignified retirement should not be the sole preserve of people who live in Potts Point or Mosman or some of the wealthier suburbs of our capital cities. A dignified retirement should be the entitlement of every single Australian, whether you live in the inner city of a capital city, whether you live in the outer suburbs or whether you live in our regions. No matter who you are, no matter what work you do, no matter what circumstances you come from, you should be able to enjoy a dignified retirement, and that's why Labor will always stand for superannuation and why we will always stand against the ideological attacks of people like Senator Bragg as they seek to undermine superannuation and as they seek to undermine Australians' entitlement to a dignified retirement.

I am supportive of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Your Superannuation, Your Choice) Bill 2019 and Labor is supportive of the bill. It will bring forward the rule for non-concessional superannuation contributions and allow those aged 65 and 66 to make up three years of non-concessional superannuation contributions, rather than stopping at age 64, which is inconsistent with the pension age.

Labor has a very proud track record when it comes to superannuation. As I said, Labor delivered superannuation and we will always support and fight for policy that enables Australian workers to have a stronger superannuation balance and to have security and dignity in their retirement. In contrast, those opposite have shown they hold no respect for our superannuation system and have repeatedly attempted to undermine it. As I said, they opposed it at the beginning, they have opposed increases to it, and they have sought every possible measure to try and undermine it and take it away from people. The net result of that is only the wealthy in our community get a dignified retirement and that is something that we're not about whatsoever on this side of the chamber.

Let's refresh peoples' memories about some of the other things that Liberal senators have said about superannuation just in recent times. In July last year, in his first attempt to make a name for himself in this chamber, Senator Bragg, in his first speech, made the point that superannuation should be voluntary and that by doing so it would save the government money.

Senator Canavan interjecting

Senator WATT: I think I just heard Senator Canavan yell out 'Hear, hear! ' So it seems that even people who claim to respect people from Rockhampton think that superannuation should be voluntary as well. Senator Canavan, I can tell you that any of the people I've met in the manufacturing sheds in Rockhampton, who you pretend to represent, don't want to see their superannuation made voluntary. They want to see their superannuation increased, not taken away, not made voluntary. That's just Senator Canavan, who likes to dress up as a worker but comes down here and rips workers' entitlements away from them.

Senator Bragg said making superannuation voluntary would save the government money. That tells you all you need to know about Senator Bragg's priorities and the priorities of the Liberal Party, aided and abetted by Senator Canavan and the National Party. They are clearly more worried about the bottom line of the Australian budget and pennies and cents than about the retirement savings of millions of Australians. We say, on this side of the chamber, we are for working Australians. We don't have to dress up in outfits like Senator Canavan does and try and pretend that we never worked for the Productivity Commission with a big free market ideology. We don't need to disown our past. We know that from day one we have always been for superannuation. We don't need to put out silly memes that pretend we look like a manufacturing worker because we act in the interests of manufacturing workers by making sure they have fair pay and conditions while they are in the workforce and by making sure they get the dignified retirement they're entitled to through superannuation.

Senator Bragg, along with other coalition MPs, Mr Tim Wilson, Mr Craig Kelly, Mr Jason Falinski and Mr Andrew Hastie and our old friends in this chamber Queensland Liberal senators Amanda Stoker and Gerard Rennick, have also argued against increasing compulsory employer superannuation contributions from 9.5 per cent to 12 per cent between 2021 and 2025. The spurious argument they put up was this would somehow reduce wage increases that Australian workers need. It's the first time I have ever heard anyone on the coalition side of the chamber actually care whatsoever about wage rises for Australian workers. Every time we see a minimum wage case before the Fair Work Commission, what do we see? We see the Liberal Party and National Party come out with their allies in big business and say why pay rises can't be granted to working people. But all of a sudden, when it comes to superannuation, they say they care about pay rises. Need I remind government senators that over the entire period that this government has been in office, under their stewardship, we have seen wage rises in this country stagnate. We have seen the lowest wage rises that this country has ever seen. So don't try and come in here and pretend that increasing peoples' superannuation is going to take away their wage rises; you're already doing it. This government is already presiding over the lowest wage rises that this country has ever seen.

What is it about Australians retiring with more money in their bank accounts that the Liberals and Nationals don't like? It only gets worse from here. In November last year, Queensland Liberal senator Gerard Rennick described superannuation as a 'cancer'. Do you have to take some sort of—

Senator Bragg interjecting

Senator WATT: It's not funny, Senator Bragg. You and I both know people who are dying of cancer, so to liken superannuation to a cancer is yet another grossly insensitive remark from Queensland Liberal senators in this chamber.

Senator Rennick accused his own side of politics of having sold out on personal responsibility by allowing superannuation to continue. In February this year—I think this occurred on one of the Sky News interviews that I do miss, Senator Rennick; they are my amusement and shock for the week—Senator Rennick reasoned in an interview that Australia had survived 200 years without super, assuming for a moment that Australia has only survived for 200 years, and that's why we didn't need to worry about making superannuation compulsory right now. What absolute garbage, what absolute rot from Senator Rennick! To that I say we survived nearly 200 years without Medicare. We survived over 200 years of white occupation of this country without paid parental leave. Do you think we'd actually want to get rid of those kinds of things as well? We survived without the NDIS. We survived without iPhones, but they're kind of handy to have in life these days, just as superannuation is kind of handy if you want to have a dignified retirement. So if it's good enough to get rid of superannuation because we apparently survived 200 years without it, does that mean that the coalition also wants to get rid of Medicare, get rid of the NDIS, get rid of paid parental leave and get rid of all sorts of other benefits that Labor governments have brought into this country to ensure that working people, the kind of people that Senator Canavan dresses up to try and pretend he cares about, get a decent standard living? I don't think that the government is going to get rid of any of those things, and nor should it get rid of superannuation in the way that so many of its extreme right senators seem to be committed to doing.

Even more recently, during the terrible COVID outbreak, we have seen again this government make decisions and interfere with people's retirement savings in a way that will make the possibility of their having a dignified retirement that much harder. We've seen the government allow superannuation to be used as an alternative to the government's actually doing its job and making sure that working Australians and people who've lost their jobs have the support that they need to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, we've seen government action which has opened the door to people having their superannuation accounts defrauded by criminals. Thanks very much yet again! That's how much you care about working people. Instead of providing the support that people require, you set up a scheme and do it in a way that allows criminals to get in there and defraud people of their retirement savings.

From 20 April this year, this government allowed Australians who were suffering as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to apply for early access to their superannuation. This scheme would allow people to access up to $20,000 over two years. So far already over two million Australians have accessed this scheme, with over $13 billion in personal retirement savings having been withdrawn. I want to make clear that I make absolutely no judgement whatsoever on the individual Australians who have made the decision to access their superannuation early, but I do make a judgement on this government for forcing Australians into the position where they had so little support from this government that they were left with no choice but to go and raid their own retirement savings. I've forgotten the exact number, but there are many, many superannuation accounts which have actually been emptied, so people now have no retirement savings whatsoever, because they were forced into the position of having to access their superannuation early because this government refused to provide the support that those people needed.

We've gone on a lot in this chamber about the fact that the government excluded well over a million short-term casuals, they excluded dnata workers, they excluded university workers, they excluded arts and entertainment workers and they excluded migrant workers. They excluded all sorts of categories of working people from receiving the JobKeeper payment. These sorts of decisions have a consequence, and one of the consequences is that people are left with no choice but to access their superannuation savings early, meaning that they have very few funds for their retirement. To the bean counters on the other side, who are more obsessed with government budgets than about actually looking after their fellow Australians: you might want to think about the fact that that might have some impact on the age pension down the track. If all of a sudden you are going to have all sorts of Australians without sufficient retirement savings, because they have been forced to access their savings early, what do you think they're going to need when it comes to retirement? They're going to require the age pension. Well done! More economic illiteracy from this government that says it has economic credibility. Let's not even go into JobKeeper and the bungles with it that have consequences for Australians. It is an absolute disgrace that the figures that we received at the COVID committee hearing, as of 21 May, indicated that the government had paid out $8.1 billion in JobKeeper payments but, in contrast, Australians had had to access over $13 billion in their own superannuation funds. So, again, deliberate decisions of this government to exclude whole categories of workers from receiving the JobKeeper payment have meant the government has kept its JobKeeper bill down and actually transferred the cost of surviving, of putting food on the table, into the hands of Australians having to raid their superannuation funds early.

This is going to impact on people's retirement. It will increase the cost to the public in the longer term in the form of more age pensions, and that is a direct result of decisions this government has made which have, in the end, been directed by its ongoing ideological war to tear down our superannuation system, a system that is the envy of the world. So many other countries around the world just wish that they had had the sort of far-sighted Labor government that we had back in the eighties and nineties that introduced and enhanced superannuation to make sure that people had a dignified retirement. But that's not what the Liberals and Nationals want. They say they care about working people and about middle Australia, but every time they come down here they slip in more and more measures to try and take away people's superannuation rights, along with their pay and conditions. We've also learned through the COVID inquiry that there's been wide-scale fraud committed on the early superannuation scheme. I don't have time to go into that in detail, so that might have to wait for another day.

In conclusion, compulsory superannuation, created by Labor, is a national achievement which sits alongside Medicare and the NDIS. These are initiatives that have made our nation stronger and our society fairer. Too many Australians still retire without adequate retirement savings and are forced to rely on sometimes inadequate government pensions, which is why our superannuation system needs to be supported, strengthened and protected, not undermined. We will resist every attempt by the government to do so. (Time expired)