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Thursday, 25 February 2021
Page: 8

Senator SHELDON (New South Wales) (10:20): Like my colleagues, I note our support for the Treasury Laws Amendment (Reuniting More Superannuation) Bill 2020, which seeks to make it easier for the ATO to reunite superannuation rollover funds with members' active accounts. This bill addresses a recommendation of the 2019 Productivity Commission inquiry into superannuation. I note also that the ATO has successfully reunited more than 2.1 million lost or forgotten superannuation accounts, assisting Australians to afford dignity in retirement, which was the objective of the policy of compulsory superannuation.

What we must not overlook, however, is the fact that this bill sits within the broader Liberal Party agenda that they are peddling when it comes to superannuation. They are doing practically everything they can to rip the guts out of Australians' retirement savings. This is the party that brought the misleading 'your super, your choice' legislation, which took aim at mandated super in lawfully negotiated enterprise bargaining agreements, a bill that was about giving employers more choice, more freedom to undermine the choices of their workforce, leading to poorer returns and outcomes for workers. As the McKell Institute found in their submission—if the government cared to read it; but it didn't fit their ideology—in review of the bill, 'Employers and employee unions who collectively bargain for a fund are most likely to select a high-performing fund.' By reducing the scope for employers and employees to negotiate around superannuation in their agreements, the government has restricted freedom of choice for these workers and left them at the mercy of predatory retail funds and aggressive employer actions. It was clear that this bill was just a thinly veiled assault on industry super funds, all part of the Liberal agenda to move billions of assets and funds under the management of industry funds, looked over by employers and worker representatives, over to the poorly-performing for-profit retail funds and their mates.

Senator Hume interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Polley ): Minister!

Senator SHELDON: It was a bill based on shoddy research, driven by an ideological agenda.

Documents obtained by my office under freedom of information reveal the extraordinary lengths the government went to in order to build a case for this legislation. They provided no performance bases or rationale when selecting several funds for the Attorney-General's Department to investigate. They relied upon a sample analysis that was never intended as a representative sample. It was a select reading of enterprise agreements tied to the funds that government wanted to go after. Sadly, this bill did pass, clearing the way for the poorly-performing retail funds to seize the financial futures of thousands of Australians. The retail funds have regularly been caught out delivering poor performance and higher fees.

Senator Hume interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Did you have a point of order, Senator Watt?

Senator Watt: Members are conventionally heard in silence. The minister is obviously very sensitive. I ask that you rein her in, please.

Senator McGrath interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator McGrath, you're not helping the situation. Minister, I ask you to stop interjecting.

Senator Hume interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: There's no point of order. Sit down, Minister. If you want to make a contribution at your time, you can do so, and you can raise the issues that you're interjecting on. Senator Sheldon, please continue.

Senator SHELDON: I repeat, these retail funds have regularly been caught out delivering poor performance and higher fees. Year in, year out, these retail funds underperform industry funds. Of course, it begs the question: why are retail for-profit funds even allowed in the superannuation space?

The Liberals' war on superannuation doesn't stop there. Their mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic left Australians with little to no choice but to draw down upon tens of thousands of dollars from their superannuation accounts. The Liberal-National parties told people who lost their jobs, many of whom were denied JobKeeper, that they had no choice but to short-change their futures to meet the demands of the present. What is the cost of this government-sanctioned vandalism of retirement savings? Almost $38 billion has been taken out of superannuation.

Liberals like Senator Bragg tried out lines like, 'Super is people's money anyway; why shouldn't they use it in times of hardship?' But the language ignores the actual hardship. We're going through a global health pandemic. We're in the midst of a recession. It's not because of market failure. People weren't forced to raid their super because they had made bad financial decisions. The vast majority of Australians accept the necessity of measures limiting travel—border restrictions—and mandating social distancing. All of these were the correct responses to a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. But there was never any justification for forcing people to effectively trade away their future now by running down their hard-earned retirement benefits. The truth is that this undermining of superannuation will hurt most of those industries who have been devastated by COVID-19, all because this government has failed to take responsibility for looking after people affected by the economic consequences of COVID-19. The Liberals like to talk about responsibility, how working people should be responsible for their lives. Well, when are the Liberals going to be responsible? When are they going to be accountable? They should take responsibility for the livelihoods of people whose jobs have been lost as a result of COVID-19.

Not content with acts of sabotage, Liberals are now trying to present a false choice to Australian workers, telling them they must choose between higher wages today or dignity in retirement. It's a false choice. Since the former Abbott government, in 2014, delayed scheduled increases in superannuation, real wage growth has been marginal. In the past five years have workers been rewarded with higher wages because of the Abbott government's delay? No. In the last decade real wage growth has only exceeded two per cent in a single year—under their watch. There is little or no evidence that employers are miraculously or generously passing on the savings of delayed superannuation payments to their workers in the form of higher wages. Whenever the election is called, workers will be given a chance to deal with this false choice presented by the coalition. What the government is really proposing is that workers choose between dignity in their retirement or an unreliable promise of further wage growth. This choice is being pushed by the renegade Liberals on the backbench—the thinly veiled work of henchmen for the big banks, put into parliament by the vested interests of Australian financial vultures. They are here to do the bidding of the big four banks and for-profit retail funds.

This government wilfully forgets the central reason for superannuation's existence. It's not a piggy bank for the government to smash open during a crisis. It is not a rainy-day fund for the government. It is the savings of the Australian community. It is to supplement and as best as possible complement the age pension for individual Australians. Paul Keating, when speaking to members of Industry Super Australia in August last year, said that superannuation was:

… a great public bargain with the community: defer consumption for your working life [and] you will get a very low rate of tax [and] ownership of the funds.

Speaking of quoting Keating, the backbencher Senator Bragg, the coalition's superannuation wrecker in chief, who is doing his best to undermine Senator Hume, has been quoting Keating of late. He tweeted in August last year:

Keating told the 1992 ACTU Congress: "You are losing your industrial muscle; I have given you the opportunity to take on financial muscle. You will get that through your superannuation funds."

The only thing is: Keating never said those words. There is no record of him saying them. You want to know why? Because there was no ACTU Congress in 1992. But I will give the senator the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he's thinking of the 1993 ACTU Congress in which Keating spoke—except the transcript of that speech has been up for years, and there is no appearance of that quote. Maybe it's another speech by former Prime Minister Keating—except a pretty thorough check of all his published transcripts show no results for that quote. Maybe a Hansard search would turn something up? It turns out there's no reference to that at any time either. Could it be that Senator Bragg is mistaken? Has he had a Ronald Reagan moment? Could it be that Senator Bragg, in his relentless quest to undermine super and become the finance minister, has incorrectly and falsely quoted the former Prime Minister and Treasurer? Maybe it's another one of those conspiracy theories the senator thoroughly enjoys, like when he tweeted about the evils of George Soros and the Left's 'web of money'. Any senator caught in such a situation would, you'd think, immediately retract such a statement or offer the source for this quote. Instead, the senator sent a link to an article in the Spectator magazine that doesn't feature a direct quote, and decried all the fact-checking as 'spin'.

This is coming from the man who spent years before being elected advocating for and defending the most scandal-prone and worst-performing part of the finance industry—superannuation run for profit by the big banks. Back when he argued against a royal commission into the banks, he argued against the Future of Financial Advice laws that forced shonky financial planners to do the right thing by their customers. The only difference between then and now is that Senator Bragg is lobbying for the banks and their interests right now, while on the taxpayer's dime. Just one example of this phenomenon is Senator Bragg's bizarre attack on the news website of the industry-super-backed The New Daily and their commercial agreement with the ABC. He's a modern Liberal defender and protector of all things commercial—unless it involves the ABC and news content that he disagrees with. Bragg was happy to deliver the keynote at the 2020 FinTech Awards, where the top gong went to a payday lender, Beforepay, that charges only five per cent to lend up to $200 for a week—the equivalent of a 260 per cent annual interest rate. It says it all, doesn't it! That's the kind of commercial arrangement he likes. But he's unhappy with a commercial arrangement where a legitimate news website with respected journalists pays the ABC to use their content, just because he doesn't like their coverage. Well, presumably, he'll now go after the BBC and MamaMia—two of the many news outlets that have legitimate commercial arrangements with the ABC for non-exclusive use of their news content. Nothing has changed—different workplaces, same agenda.

He's not the only one. Bragg is joined in Canberra by the member for Goldstein, Tim Wilson, who is running an inquiry into the banking royal commission that isn't looking at the banks! Together, these stooges of junk retail superannuation are working hard to damage super, to trash the legislated superannuation guarantee—to cause as much damage as they can to Australians' retirement by opposing it rising. Their agenda is not in the public interest. Their agenda is partisan and designed to damage industry super funds, the best performing parts of the finance industry. They are on a wrecking mission, sent to this place by the banks to pursue their agenda—that's why they were sent here. But also the clutching at straws from the likes of Senator Bragg reveals how the stooges' war on super is really a culture war, based on ideological fantasies. It's absolutely not about workers and housing affordability, as they would have you believe; it's about vested interests. The stooges and the shonky end of finance are inseparable; they were inseparable before the Hayne royal commission and they are inseparable now. It begs the question: Who is running super policy in this government? Is it Senator Hume? Or, of course, is it Senator Bragg? Or is it the member for Goldstein? Are they running the show over there? It does look like the government is being dragged into lunacy by the stooges. It does look like a serious attempt to tear down superannuation, piece by piece. It does look like Minister Hume, the minister for ambivalence, has lost control of her own portfolio. With Bragg and Wilson's hands on the steering wheel, the minister for ambivalence has lost control.

Because of the compounding nature of capital growth and every day a delay, an increase to the superannuation guarantee is money our country loses when it comes to funding our nation's retirement, our community. But there is more to be done than just pass the increase. We must look to end the inequalities in superannuation, extending superannuation to contractors and gig workers, and bridging the gap in retirement incomes for men and women to take carer breaks to support their families. This is what Labor is about. We believe in building power of working people. We believe in building power in the voice of working people. We believe in dignity in retirement for everyone, regardless of their income, not just for the Prime Minister.