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Thursday, 25 February 2021
Page: 4


Senator AYRES (New South Wales) (09:53): I urge Australians listening to this and Australians reading this in the coming weeks to seriously consider Senator Rennick's speech of last night and just a few moments ago, because, while Senator Rennick is held up to ridicule in public from time to time because of his more extreme utterances, the truth is that he does say what the majority of the Liberal Party backbench are thinking; he does represent the view of most of the people in the Liberal Party. And what a shallow, cold-hearted, miserable view that is.

Superannuation in Australia is a national achievement. It's an achievement wrought through struggle and sacrifice; through collective bargaining and legislation; through Australian employers and unions, workers and government working together to establish a $3 trillion pool of national savings.

There is much more work to be done to build a stronger bedrock of retirement savings for Australian people. I know that many people in the Liberal Party want to see working people go back to where they think working people belong—that is, dependent upon others, dependent upon the age pension, worried about their retirement security. That's where the Liberal Party want people to go back to, where they think they belong. But we on this side, and I think every working Australian, will continue to fight for a retirement savings system that treats people with dignity; gives people opportunities; allows people to continue to build a system that actually creates jobs; deepens and diversifies our national pool of savings—it is the envy of countries around the globe—deploys productive capital; and, despite all of the Liberal Party's efforts, can still invest in national infrastructure. It is easier for a Canadian super fund to invest in Australian infrastructure than an Australian one. I know the Liberal Party don't like it; they don't like the fact that workers' money can build jobs and build infrastructure in Australia. Over the next three years, industry super funds will invest $19½ billion in projects, create 200,000 jobs and save the federal budget $3 billion.

Indeed, our system does contain inequities that need reform. The gender pay gap is compounded in superannuation. Women retire with 42 per cent less super than men, and women live four to five years longer. Ensuring that Australian women in retirement are independent and have their own retirement income should be a key objective of reform. That's a direction of useful reform that the Liberal Party could engage in, but they are beyond reform; they are only interested in pursuing their ideological prejudices and biases in government and in maintaining government. If that means sopping up to Senator Rennick or Senator Hanson, they will do whatever is required in government to persist, but they will not do genuine reform in the interests of the Australian people.

Low-income workers are more vulnerable to superannuation theft. That should be an objective of reform for this government. Low-income workers are much more likely to have used the early access scheme. Billions of dollars were ripped out of retirement incomes, mostly of low-income workers. And the government continues to make it harder for Australian super to invest in Australian infrastructure. That should be an area of reform.

Our test on superannuation reform is very simple: we will support measures that make the system stronger and fairer. To that extent, we will support the legislation that's before the Senate. The bill will allow the tax commissioner to reunite superannuation accounts with amounts they receive from eligible rollover funds which have become redundant. ATO matching has recovered millions of dollars of lost superannuation so far. But the bill doesn't represent the scale of reform that's required to rebuild our superannuation system after the Liberal Party robbed it during the coronavirus pandemic. It doesn't represent the scale of reform that's required to fix the inequities that exist in the system. It doesn't begin to repair the damage done to the system by Mr Morrison, Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott.

The Liberal Party have only bad ideas for superannuation, only prejudiced ideas, only ideas that are about their own shallow ideology. They opposed compulsory superannuation when it was first proposed. Who can forget Mr Howard's period as Treasurer, where he basically pushed Australia off a cliff in terms of our economic performance? At the time, he said:

The Government has decided not to introduce the scheme of' national superannuation recommended by the majority of the Committee.

…   …   …

The major transfer of resources to the aged implied in a national superannuation scheme of the type recommended could substantially impede the Government's ability to meet other social welfare priorities.

Further, he said:

In addition, the Government believes that the freedom of choice individuals currently enjoy in arranging their affairs in respect of income in retirement should be retained.

What a miserable, straitened, confined view he had then of the possibilities for the Australian economy. And there's a straight line between that and where the Liberal Party and the Morrison government are today on superannuation. They've got the same bigoted attitudes to working families now that they had then. He drove the Australian economy off a cliff in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was on the wrong side of history then; the Liberal Party are on the wrong side of history now. The Liberal Party were on the wrong side of history when they ransacked the superannuation system last year, forcing ordinary Australians to raid their own retirement savings so that the government could scrape through the recession. It was not in the interests of ordinary Australians but in the interests of the fiscal position of the Morrison government. And the backbench enthusiasm, which reaches right into the minister's office, for Darwinian superannuation proposals means that they will be on the wrong side of this debate for decades to come.

The Morrison government are consistently wrong about superannuation because they don't understand it; they don't get it. They are incapable of empathising with the interests of ordinary people. They see $3 trillion of workers' savings and they can't understand how it got there: 'Why isn't it in the hands of our mates in the banks? Why isn't it with the spivs and the speculators?' Instead, it's supporting decent retirement incomes for Australians. It enrages them that trillions of dollars are managed cooperatively, efficiently and effectively by boards that are run cooperatively in industry sectors, by unions and employees working hand in glove in the interests of the members of the superannuation funds. Nothing gets the Liberals more twitchy than hearing about the history of superannuation and about Laurie Carmichael and Bill Kelty and Tom McDonald and Mavis Robertson and Paul Keating and the thousands of other Australians who fought to build the system, because that's not the constituency that they represent. They represent the spivs and the speculators in the finance sector.

Superannuation is a threat to their entire worldview, so when the coronavirus struck and the economy shed a million jobs in a week they decided not to let a good crisis go to waste. It was a chance to strike at the superannuation funds they'd hated for so long. The early access to superannuation scheme was a ram raid. It is reported by APRA that nearly 3½ million Australians withdrew from their super a total of $36.4 billion, and counting. Many people emptied their accounts and will retire in poverty as a consequence of the Morrison government's decision. Its target wasn't the superannuation accounts of the wealthy. CEOs still get tax breaks on their self-managed super funds. Its target was the people already struggling through the super system: casual workers abandoned by the government in terms of JobKeeper in hospitality and tourism, young people, women. They were all abandoned. Fifty-three per cent of the jobs lost in the first months of the pandemic were held by women. Women withdrew higher percentages of their superannuation balances. Most likely, most of the people who withdrew their account balances were women workers, and, as far as the Morrison government is concerned, that's a good outcome because it weakens the superannuation system.

Why did they do this? There was a spillover of anger from people like Senator Bragg. These backbench ideologues will never have to make the kinds of decisions ordinary Australians have to make. They will never have to work multiple jobs in struggling to save, or make tough decisions about which bills to pay and which bills to defer. They will never have to choose between a job that breaks their aging bodies and possibly decades of poverty. They will never have to sell their own homes to fund the specialist aged-care services that they need. The people on that side, they've got their trusts, their big houses, their 15 per cent superannuation courtesy of the taxpayer, their multiple investment properties. We've learnt from the example of the former member for Dunkley this week that they've always got a cushy job lined up around the corner—sometimes even before they have left the parliament.

I've attempted to read the book by Senator Bragg. I sent someone from my office to go and ask for it. Apparently the office didn't want to hand it over. I think it's in a safe out the back. It is a book that is full of distortions and mistruths, most of them deliberate. I've read the quotes where he makes outrageous, dishonest claims about the interaction between superannuation funds and the political system. He claims that they are big donors to political parties, which is a deliberate mistruth. Everybody knows it's a mistruth, but, in some wacky Trumpian sort of approach, people on this side think if they continue to tell a lie that it will somehow become true. Senator Bragg said, 'Since super started in 1992, every single age group has experienced lower levels of home ownership.' Well, that is a deliberate misrepresentation. The reason home ownership has declined is that the investor share of new mortgage lending has grown from 10 per cent in the early 1990s to 40 per cent. The reason young people aren't buying homes is that they have been priced out by investors and there isn't enough supply in the market. But he is determined to shift the blame somehow to the superannuation system, which is miserable indeed. Compulsory superannuation hasn't affected the capacity of people on the other side to purchase multimillion dollar properties.

Mr Wilson's new campaign is 'Home first, super second'. The only policy Mr Wilson can muster to the unequal housing situation is more speculation in the housing market. It sort of makes sense if you've led the life that Mr Wilson has led, if you've had the access to wealth and property and power that Mr Wilson has had. But he also enjoys a 15 per cent superannuation contribution. Perhaps his position ought be to really be 'Four houses first, 15 per cent super second', or perhaps 'Holiday homes first, family trusts second'. It's an inspiring message for the hardworking people of Australia: the opportunity to die in poverty because you are forced to raid your super in your 40s to scrape together the deposit to beat some joker who is backed by a tax exemption on his seventh investment property. That idea that capital belongs in speculative property markets rather than in workers' retirement incomes is a shallow, venal, narrow, cold-hearted approach to the many millions of working Australians who are relying upon government. It lacks ambition. It lacks imagination. It's all about ideology and a shallow, narrow sense of the future for working-class Australians.