Speech to Parliament - Superannuation
08 February 2013
Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (16:07): What a load of hypocritical rubbish from the member for Dunkley. Never once have the Liberal Party of Australia ever voted to increase superannuation. It is almost like the tort of passing off. How dare they pretend that they have ever done anything for workers in superannuation? We have never, ever seen it and never, ever will. Look at the crocodile tears the member for Dunkley cries. He is on a defined benefit pension—he will be all right. He is okay no matter what happens. But most Australians do not have the deal that the member for Dunkley has.
He complains, he cries tears, about the co-contribution scheme he said was 'marvellous'. Only one in five eligible people was able to claim the co-contribution, because you have to get up pretty early in the morning to out-crafty the Liberals when it comes to not looking after low-paid workers. Only one in five was able to claim in this Rolls-Royce scheme that the member for Dunkley says was so marvellous and he misses it so much that he holds a requiem mass for it every year. Only one in five low-paid workers could get it. What a scheme! To get the Liberal Party co-contribution, you had to have $1,000, and not a lot of people earning under $37,000 a year have $1,000 just sitting around in the bank. Only Labor stands to look after 3.6 million low-paid Australian workers. Over 25,000 of them live in the member for Dunkley's electorate.
How happy must the people in The Pines be with their member of parliament! Say you are a part-time working mum and you earn less than $37,000. Gee, they must be happy knowing that the member for Dunkley says, 'And I'm going to put a new tax on you.' Shame, shame, shame.
Mr Billson: You're putting a tax on them.
Mr SHORTEN: How dare he interject and say we are putting a tax on them! We are cutting it.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Dunkley will cease interjecting!
Mr SHORTEN: You had your go and it was not a very good go. It was full of crafty doublespeak. You are normally better than that, Dunkley.
Let us go through the attitude of the Liberal Party to superannuation. I love it when they get up and say—actually, I do not love it; it sticks in my throat—'We love superannuation.' Do you, really? Unfortunately, there is a thing called Hansard. Do you know what the member for Warringah, now the Leader of the Opposition, this great white knight of superannuation, said? He said:
Compulsory superannuation is one of the biggest con jobs ever foisted by government on the Australian people.
Do you know what he said in Eureka Street volume 5, No. 3, April 1995? He said:
Compulsory superannuation is possibly the greatest confidence trick of the last decade.
How can we trust the Liberals when they say, 'We love superannuation; don't trust Labor,' when, in fact, whenever we try to increase superannuation they vote against it? The mob opposite have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity on superannuation. The unions and employers and the Hawke government in 1985 agreed that workers would forgo a three per cent wage rise, and that is the only reason Australia has compulsory superannuation. Not a bead of sweat from those conservatives opposite has ever helped working people get retirement savings.
Of course, they had an opportunity in 1992 to say, 'Actually, we've realised we were wrong and we will in fact back superannuation.' Unfortunately, the historical record shows that they did not learn from their mistake in '85—because they are not historians and have never stood up for compulsory superannuation. David Connolly was a former member for Bradfield and opposition spokesperson on superannuation. Do you know what he called compulsory superannuation, which the member for Dunkley would throw himself on barbed wire and wade through boiling mud to protect now? He said it was a 'gross and iniquitous system'. At least Wilson Tuckey MP, former member for O'Connor, knew to speak his mind, even if it was not always right. He said:
I have to say of this superannuation guarantee legislation … it is both stupid and dishonest.
Where was Bruce Wilson when Wilson Tuckey was saying these things? Senator Alston, Liberal Party senator, doyen of the Liberal Party, great elder statesman and one of the thought leaders of the Liberal Party—do you know what he said?
Mr Hunt: Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. With great respect, I believe that the minister has inadvertently defamed the shadow minister by calling him Bruce Wilson.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Mr SHORTEN: What a cheap shot—you are better than that, Greg. Senator Alston, statesman from the Liberal Party, said—
Opposition members interjecting—
Mr SHORTEN: Do you know why the Liberals interrupt? Because they hate the truth of this matter. You have never voted for superannuation. Thank goodness that you are not in charge of this government, because you would not have voted for the increase in superannuation contributions from nine to 12 per cent. In fact, as memory serves me, you did not. Senator Alston said:
… imposing compulsory superannuation on individuals does not increase total savings.
Oh, no! Facts got in the way of a stupid remark. We now have compulsory savings in Australia bigger than our GDP, and none of that is due to you guys. Senator Watson from the Liberal Party said, 'Unemployment is going to rise from superannuation.'
I love Senator Crichton-Browne. He did not give only one wrong reason; he gave six wrong reasons. Let me recount for the newer members of the House what some of your great past champions have said on superannuation. Senator Crichton-Browne said the Keating government's proposed compulsory contribution scheme would reduce economic growth—wrong. Economic growth went up the whole time superannuation was in place. He said it would add to unemployment—wrong again. It fell. He said it would create inflationary pressures—wrong again. He said it would reduce savings. How that flat-earther could get away with that theory I do not know. He said it would reduce living standards—they have gone up. And he said it would lead to lower retirement incomes. Lower retirement incomes? The quotes go on from the Liberal Party.
But what is most disturbing is not that they were wrong in 1985—I can live with that. It is not that they were wrong in 1992—I can live with that. They were wrong last year when they opposed the increase from nine to 12 per cent.
Then came the hypocrisy. The member for Dunkley said, 'It's a bad idea, but we'll keep it.'
Be fair dinkum. If it is a bad idea, repeal it. If you think it is as bad as you say it is, as you carry on about in that mistaken fashion of yours, repeal it. If you have the courage of your convictions, repeal it. But you know in your heart of hearts, all you defined-benefit brigade in particular and you 15 per centers, that superannuation is the best vehicle for our retirement savings. That is why to get a lecture from those people opposite about superannuation does stick in our throat, because they have never backed it. They have never backed it in the system. They have never backed the increases. They have spread fear and they have spread untruths. They have spread mistaken facts and they have passed them off as policy. In fact, they do not have a superannuation policy. For instance, we abolished the age limit allowing people of any age to get superannuation. We could call that the Bronwyn Bishop clause, fair enough. But do you know what those opposite did? They voted against it. They did not vote to support people over the age of 70 getting superannuation. The parliamentary record reflects that uncomfortable truth.
What we have also tried to do is improve the standard, the quality and the confidence of financial planning advice in this country. I tell you what, if Australia was ever invaded by enemies and those enemies were intent on reforming financial services, I want the best battalion of the opposition to defend. The enemy would never get off the beach. I have never seen so many conservatives fight so hard for so much vested interest as we saw in their disgusting performance on financial planning, and in the way they want to protect rotten commissions. It was an outrageous performance. Furthermore, we were the ones who introduced MySuper, which will make the cost of superannuation cheaper. Again, those opposite opposed it.
So what do we have in the debate about superannuation in this country at the moment? We have a Labor Party that has backed compulsory super and has increased compulsory super. We have a Labor Party that says if you earn less than $37,000 a year, why should you pay tax on your contributions? After all, the marginal rate of tax if you earn between $18,000 and $37,000 is the equivalent of the concessional rate that you pay on superannuation tax. I believe that if you are going to put a portion of your money into compulsory savings, some of that should be a tax concession. That is fair otherwise there is no arbitrage advantage and there is no concessional advantage in being forced to save for your retirement. This is logic.
What we see instead from those opposite is that they want to reinstate a tax we have abolished. There are thinking members of the opposition and they need to think carefully about this. What is the point in putting a tax back on low-paid people's superannuation contributions? What is the point in putting back a 15 per cent tax on 3.6 million people's contributions to superannuation? What is the point in taxing 3.6 million people who earn less than $37,000? What is the point in making them pay several hundred dollars more in concessional superannuation tax? What is the argument? The only argument we have heard—and points to the member for Dunkley for trying to run the unarguable argument. I do not doubt his courage—is a cocontribution scheme. That was a ripper. That was the Rolls-Royce, the whole car. And they do not like what we are doing. But what we say is the facts unfortunately contradict that. For the benefit of the member for Dunkley, who is quickly texting up facts, is this fact: one in five people who are eligible to claim the cocontribution could. There is a reason for that. They do not have a spare lazy k hanging around to put into super. So what you were saying is if your dad or your mum is rich enough to give the part-time worker 1,000 bucks, that is good. Fair enough, good luck.
Mr Billson: That is class warfare.
Mr SHORTEN: No, it is not class warfare. It is just a recognition that not everyone has 1,000 bucks in their bank account if they earn less than $37,000. Get out and doorknock in the pines and I will tell you there are a lot of people out there who do not have $1,000. So we improved upon their penny farthing bicycle of a scheme and have given something much better, which goes a lot faster and goes a lot better.
Opposition members interjecting—
Mr SHORTEN: I have already spoken about our support for older people. We are proposing a scheme where if you earn less than $37,000 you do not pay tax. You get the money put into your super. That is what it is.
But I do like the consistency of the opposition. Only two nights ago they had a look at one million people who were on allowances such as Newstart, Abstudy and other allowances such as the farm household help allowance, and they said: should we give those single people $210 or couples $350? Should we? No, sorry, thumbs down. There are one million people that the coalition could give a hand to. No, sorry, they are not going to do that but they will give money back to mining companies because geez they like mining companies. We on this side like mining companies too but we also happen to like the one million people on allowances.
We keep giving those opposite the chance to not go ahead with reintroducing a tax on the superannuation concessions of people earning less than $37,000. We are waiting for the light bulb to go off but it is not happening. What we on this side stand for is making sure that people have superannuation. We on this side stand for making sure it is universal. We on this side stand for lifting it from nine to 12 per cent.
Mr Van Manen interjecting—
Mr SHORTEN: I would not go there, Bert. Think wisely. In this group of 3.6 million beneficiaries who will not pay tax there are 2.1 million women. We recognise that women have broken periods of service. We recognise that sometimes women are not paid what men are paid. We recognise that in fact it is harder for them to save money for their retirement. That is why we are looking after 2.1 million women.
When you think about it, what have we seen from the coalition this week when they say they love superannuation? They have never seen a multimillionaire they will not go into bat for. So far this week, they have not met anyone who earns less than $37,000 that they will even make a fist for. What we need to do is have superannuation certainty.
It is not going to win you the election, which is all you care about, by slapping a tax on 3.6 million people. It is just not worth it, $1 billion in tax concessions to 3.2 million of Australia's low-paid working people. That is a group of people you should get behind. We understand that superannuation requires fairness and sustainability. We understand people are living longer—we only have to look at those opposite to see that. We understand the need to have a good system but we want to start looking after the punters at the bottom, not just the punters at the top.
Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (14:48): It is great to have in this chamber today former Prime Minister Hawke, because he knows, just like everyone on the Labor side, that the only time superannuation ever gets lifted in this country is when Labor is in government. He knows how hard it was for the unions and the government to go to an accord to lift super from zero to three per cent. We saw Prime Minister Keating lift super from three to nine per cent across the following years, and he has also seen, under Prime Minister Gillard, superannuation lifted from nine to 12 per cent. We are the champions of superannuation in this House. We invented compulsory universal superannuation so that people do not retire poor. It is Labor DNA, and those opposite know it. And, whenever we try and improve superannuation, there is one thing you can always count on, as surely as night follows day: those representatives of vested interest, those opposite, always vote against it. Shame on them.
What we are also doing and have already done from 1 July last year is that, for 3.6 million Australians who earn less than $37,000 a year, we abolished the 15 per cent tax on superannuation that they paid. We abolished it—a tax cut for 3.6 million people who earn less than $37,000, the people who work part time, the working mums. So you can imagine my surprise at the National Press Club last week, when the opposition had a chance to rescue themselves from their fiscal stupidity of proposing to introduce a new tax on 3.6 million working Australians. Given the right choice or the wrong choice, that mob opposite never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity in superannuation.
On Q&A on Monday night, I thought they might bring in super rescue agent Christopher Pyne, the member for Sturt, to rescue them. David Bradbury skewered him. David Bradbury said, 'The policy that Tony Abbott confirmed at the National Press Club, the low-income tax you want to bring back.' Christopher Pyne, in an act of confusion so consistent with Christopher Pyne, said, 'We haven't announced that.'
The SPEAKER: The minister will refer to members correctly.
Mr SHORTEN: Well, the opposition has announced it. Why don't you take a leaf out of Christopher Pyne's book and drop a tax on 3.6 million people? Take some advice from Christopher for once.
The SPEAKER: The minister should refer to individuals by their correct titles.