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Monday, 4 December 2017
Page: 9440

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (11:12): Before I commence my formal remarks, I have to explain why Labor is opposing this legislation, which Senator Paterson has tried, in what I would describe as Orwellian fashion, to portray as improving the superannuation situation. It is absolutely not the case. What we're seeing here is an attack on the vital role of superannuation in this country. It's been made crystal clear that Labor opposes both of the bills that are before us this morning, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Improving Accountability and Member Outcomes in Superannuation Measures No. 1) Bill 2017 and the Superannuation Laws Amendment (Strengthening Trustee Arrangements) Bill 2017. And the reason is simple: it's the viability of the compulsory superannuation system that was first instituted under the Hawke-Keating Labor government. This lot over here are now standing up saying that they now want to support the superannuation industry—they will look after it; they are all into transparency—but let's not forget the history of where this started. They said the Australian economy would tank if we dared to create a superannuation system. They said that it was going to fail the country and that small businesses would never cope. And now, as we've got a fantastic body of wealth in our country to provide for superannuation and the benefit of Australians, they think they should own it because it's got something to do with money. They continue to misrepresent to the Australian people that they can actually even manage money. Certainly, they are not managing the economy very well; certainly, they are not managing the budget very well. God help them if they get their hands into the super of people who are working very well for this country, who have a right to a dignified retirement and who have a right to the benefit of the funds that are going into their superannuation plans, particularly those who are in Industry Super. This is nothing but a countervailed attack on the rights of decent workers who are getting good service from the superannuation companies that look after them.

Labor is the party of compulsory universal superannuation and will always ensure Australia's retirement income is strong and sustainable—giving older Australians the financial support and the security that they deserve. The only reason that the Turnbull government is trying to make these changes is to attack union trustees and industry super. And by extension, if they are successful in this shameful bid to attack union trustees—and the employers who are on those boards—the only person who will suffer is the Australian who has worked hard their entire life and who relies on proper management of their funds. They tried this game on in 2015, and here they are trying it again.

The 50-50 representational model has been the foundational structure of occupational super—50 per cent union representatives standing up for the employees in that industry, 50 per cent employers—but we never hear them talk about that. This is the model where the employers and the workers have actually got it together and done a great job, and are outperforming the retail sector that's associated with the big banks that these guys are in cahoots with. The model is working. It's not only working, it's working much better than what they are proposing should be copied in this legislation. And the title of the bill—who do this government continue to think that they're going to fool? We all know that this bill from the Turnbull government is not improving accountability or member outcomes in super, and it is not strengthening trustee arrangements. It's doing the exact opposite. Do you know why, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle? Because they just can't stand the thought of good outcomes for hardworking Australians. Just this morning in this place, we've had this government attack the penalty rates again: the penalty rates of ordinary working Australians. Anytime they see a hardworking Australian getting ahead, they want to get in the way of that. That's what this legislation is attempting to do.

Superannuation, as we know, is absolutely fundamental to retirement. There are three pillars of retirement: the age pension, compulsory superannuation and voluntary savings. Compulsory superannuation has a fundamental role in ensuring that older Australians who have worked all their lives do not retire in poverty. It has a fundamental role in ensuring that older Australians retire with financial security. Compulsory superannuation—perhaps its most important role—has a fundamental role in ensuring that older Australians can retire with dignity. As our population ages, compulsory superannuation is only going to increase in importance. It's of increasing importance to our federal budget, and it's also increasing in importance to that large group of older Australians. The structure of superannuation tax concessions means that it has a fundamental role to play in the budget bottom line.

Offering incentives through the tax system is an important way to encourage Australians to save for their retirement, and that's what's been going on. That's particularly important in a system where contributions are compulsory. But the fact of the matter is that this government simply doesn't seem to have ever understood the purpose of superannuation, particularly for hardworking, average earners in this country. The flat and generous taxation structure of the superannuation system has meant that those on the highest incomes, by definition, received the greatest tax incentive to put money into their superannuation funds. This suggests that self-funded retirees are not necessarily entirely well-described as self-funded. They have actually benefited from generous tax concessions, which come at the expense of the budget bottom line. But that is part of the structure that we've instituted, and it is part of the way in which older Australians live in a dignified retirement. The reality is that those on the lowest incomes do not have the advantage of this incentive.

The Labor Party has continually argued for tax concessions to be targeted where they are needed most: to low-to-middle income earners and, particularly, to women. Those opposite have struggled with this concept. If they get this bill through, they will add further disadvantage to those who I've just described. Without the pressure of the Labor Party and the unions—yes, the unions; so maligned in this place by those opposite—those opposite would have made sure that individuals earning up to $37,000 would continue to be penalised for contributing to their superannuation fund. So Australians who might be listening to this need to understand that, if you earned under $37,000, this government was trying to have a go at you. Only the unions and Labor standing up together has prevented that attack. We're fighting here today because only Labor and the unions together will stand up for ordinary working people.

The government didn't want to keep the low-income superannuation contribution, the LISC. They wanted to make sure that low-income earners paid more tax on their superannuation contributions than they even pay on their take-home pay, and, having had a go at that, they are here chasing penalty rates as well. Every single chance they get they try to put their hands in the pockets of hardworking Australians, the ordinary families out there. They put their hands in to try and take money away from them, while at the other end of town, the big end of town, anything goes—make all you like, and we'll leave you alone.

We know that those who would be most penalised by not retaining the LISC are women. Without the advocacy of unions and the Labor Party we would have had a situation where individuals earning less than $37,000 would have been taxed for putting money into their superannuation fund. This is an example of the blind ideological attack that is the signature of this government. Given the fundamental role of superannuation in retirement, why would the government want to abolish a model that benefits working Australians?

Analysis of APRA data informs us that, on average, industry funds have outperformed retail—which stands for bank owned—and corporate superannuation funds. That's just the fact of it. Together these union representatives and employers have done a better job of managing people's superannuation than the banks. That's it. It's very, very simple. It doesn't stop those guys opposite, the government, attacking the model that's actually working the best.

A former research head of APRA stated that industry funds have averaged two to three per cent better than retail funds over a period of 20 years. I'd prefer to see that two to three per cent in the hands of retiring Australians who are part of industry super rather than allow a model that has not worked for the retail sector to be imposed on a sector which has a model that is working better. It simply doesn't make sense, except if you think that the banks should have their own way pretty well all the time and if you believe it's okay to fleece ordinary working Australians, which is clearly what this government believes.

Unlike industry super funds, banks and insurance companies use their super funds to generate corporate profits, which are returned as dividends to shareholders—but not to shareholder policy owners. Retail funds are set up to make profits. Industry funds are set up to benefit consumers. There's a vast difference. So, again, I have to ask the question: why does this government want to abolish a model that benefits working Australians?

Senator Polley: They don't care!

Senator O'NEILL: They don't care, as Senator Polley says. They don't care—or, perhaps, they don't understand. It's pretty dangerous when a government doesn't understand. When you put not understanding and not caring together, you've got a big problem, and that's what we're seeing from this government.

It's clear to everyone that there's only one reason this government is running this piece of legislation. It's an ideological agenda. It's all about attacking the unions. We see it time and time again. We've seen it through Senator Cash and her involvement in the attacks on the AWU, a union that has, 100 per cent of the time, provided documents that have been requested of it, both by the royal commission into the unions and by the ROC. But that wasn't good enough. They had to overreach, they had to stretch out and they had to go and have a raid. It was a bit of entertainment for those opposite—another attack on the unions.

It's just plain wrong, and it's a massive abuse of the power of government—and we're still left with the question: what did Minister Cash actually know? She is refusing to answer questions. She was hauled back to the Senate to answer questions last Friday by a vote of this Senate. That was the only way we could get her there. She's running. She can run, but she can't hide. She can't hide the fact that she represents a government whose No. 1 priority is to attack working people and the unions that support them and to attack the Labor Party that stands up for fairness for all Australians.

I want to speak briefly about a particular union, the SDA, which the government has continued to blindly attack throughout this year. The SDA is one of the largest trade unions in the country. Its membership exists right across this country in every community—in retail, in fast food, in warehousing, in hairdressing, in pharmacy and even in modelling. The SDA's continued and consistent advocacy has helped ensure that Australian retail and fast-food workers are among the most highly paid in the world. That's what a union does for you. It stands up for you collectively.

When a boss says, 'Sorry, there's not quite enough cash in the till this week and I'm going to drop your wages'—that's the way it is when you haven't got a union to represent you—unions say: 'No, there are standards. You should expect a reasonable rate of pay. These are conditions that you should expect in a safe workplace. They're the things that unions have been fighting for.' Thanks to the action led by the SDA, 27 expired Domino's enterprise bargaining agreements were finally terminated. Thanks to the leading advocacy of the SDA, more than 20,000 Domino's workers will get a pay rise.

The SDA is launching a very important campaign to stop customer abuse of retail workers, particularly at this time over Christmas. Sometimes Christmas is the season of joy, but sometimes there is a lot of pressure. People who are standing and waiting to be served perhaps forget their manners sometimes. This is the work of the unions, which is far different to the way in which it's characterised by those opposite: the SDA union is running a campaign to encourage better behaviour in the shops to provide a safe working place for their outward-facing retail employees.

It seems, sadly, that every other day there's another story of sexual harassment of women in the workplace. The coverage has been focused most recently on the media industry, both here and overseas. But it's not limited to the media industry. The latest ABS personal safety survey indicated that more than one in two women had experienced sexual harassment, and, following the #MeToo campaign, no-one can be surprised by that statistic. On the weekend the New South Wales branch president of the SDA, Bernie Smith, stated that one in eight SDA members experiences sexual harassment from customers. So what is this union doing? It is responding to the challenge of that reality and taking on a social advocacy role to change the systematic abuse that is, overwhelmingly, faced by retail and food workers. That's what unions do.

The leaders of those unions and the people representing those unions are standing up in the boardrooms discussing future investments to make sure that the people that they have worked with on the floor get a fair return on their investment. In an article in The Sydney Morning Herald over the weekend Jenna Price described some of the experiences that are going on that the union is rallying and fighting against to make sure those experiences are more acknowledged in the Australian community and to drive the change that's needed. This is a description of a few:

Try working in your local bakery where a customer paws the girl behind the counter (for girl she is, in Year 10 in her first job, and she's being told she has luscious lips). Or a customer waits to rape the woman locking up the shop at night. Try stacking shelves while some arsehole rubs his unzipped pants across your buttocks. Or dealing with a customer whose only request of you is to have "quick sexual intercourse", or with a customer who is buying a Bluetooth speaker for the shower and suggests you have a shower with him. Or the young retail worker approached by two twenty-something guys who said they were doing a bet.

"They needed me to give them a kiss. I felt very awkward and confused as my training instructs me to be polite and acquiesce to customers, but I felt violated. After a few minutes of awkwardness a colleague saw I was distressed and when they spoke to her she awkwardly told them I had other work to do, so they left."

These are the real lived experiences of people who are being represented by unions.

After a lifetime of working in an industry, facing the public where that sort of behaviour has happened, the least people can expect is that the people who have been working to get them the advantage of their superannuation savings have been getting them the best amount that they possibly can. But unions do these things at the same time—advocating for the financial health and wellbeing but also the social health and wellbeing of workers of this country.

I would also like to refer to the Health Services Union, who helped ensure thousands of New South Wales health workers, including former employees who've worked as casuals, won the right to include time as casual workers towards their long service leave entitlements for the first time. I would like to acknowledge the very hard work of all the members of that union who worked to achieve that outcome. I would particularly like to acknowledge Gerard Hayes for his fantastic leadership in that union.

Does the Turnbull government believe in decent wages for workers? Do they believe in the social advocacy of unions? Clearly not. Let's have a look at who the Turnbull government are listening to and working for. The Turnbull government are focused in their efforts not on the support of workers but on tax cuts to millionaires and multinationals—those that don't even pay tax in the first place. And, of course, they continue to attack unions and protect the banks.

This bill also indicates that the government wants to turn the super industry into the banking industry, and you have to ask why. After all we've seen about the toxic culture of banks, why on earth would this government, at this point of time, want to force a model that replicates the banks' practices rather than allow industry super, which is doing two to three per cent better on average over 20 years? Why do they want to meddle in this space? It's clearly just an ideological attack. It seems that every single day we read a new article about a scandal in the banks—scandals that hurt families and particularly hurt small businesses, who are the employers in the regions across this country.

Labor have been calling for a royal commission into the banks for years, and, instead, we've had delay after delay from the Turnbull government—until Malcolm Turnbull was attacked by his own backbench and had to face a discussion with the banks, where they've written their own terms for a royal commission. In closing, this piece of legislation is opposed by Labor for all of the reasons that I put forward in my comments here today. I urge those on the crossbench to support us in rejecting this attack on workers' wages and futures.