Public Sector Superannuation Bill 15/8/18

August 15, 2018

DR CHALMERS (Rankin) (09:58): I rise to speak on the Public Sector Superannuation Legislation Amendment Bill 2018. I want to make it clear from the outset that Labor will be supporting this bill, because it makes a number of mostly technical changes, favourable changes, to superannuation arrangements for public servants, judges and Commonwealth parliamentarians. I want to go to the broader aspects first and then more specifically to some issues regarding the superannuation guarantee.

The first part of the bill deals with taxation of judges' pensions. It allows members of the Judges' Pension Scheme to meet their division 293 tax liability requirements through a lump sum payment. Some members currently can't meet their liability, and this change rectifies that. It's consistent with other Commonwealth schemes, and we support it on that basis.

Another aspect of the bill is the reversionary super benefits payable to children. This bill provides some certainty for the children of members of several Commonwealth super schemes, specifically around what happens to members' super balances should they pass away. These schemes will be standardised and modernised when it comes to reversionary super benefits paid to children of deceased members of schemes. The amendment increases the minimum age test for children to be in full-time education from 16 to 18, and it removes the requirement for an eligible child to not be employed. These changes reflect the fact that most kids don't leave formal education until they're at least 18, and that part-time and casual employment is very common.

The next set of issues are around the Commonwealth Super Board. The bill reduces the board's size from 11 to nine directors and modernises the governance arrangements. We support that aspect of the bill as well. We also support the fact that the bill gives the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Trust the flexibility to pass a resolution without a meeting and allows other actuaries, not only the Australian Government Actuary, as it is now, to provide advice to the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Scheme. Again, this is consistent with other Commonwealth schemes, and we support it on that basis.

The main issue I wanted to pick up on, though, is around payments under the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Act 1948 and whether or not they meet the minimum superannuation guarantee requirements. The Australian Government Actuary found there were some limited circumstances where this could be an issue—all hypothetical and unlikely scenarios. Nonetheless, we support this measure to ensure that super guarantee contribution requirements are met.

While supporting the cleaning-up of that part of the bill for those narrow circumstances, we have a broader issue in this country about unpaid super for workers who are not in these Commonwealth schemes that we are discussing today. For many of them, the issue of unpaid super isn't unlikely or hypothetical; it's very real—and it's unacceptable to have so much unpaid super. Unpaid super is effectively wage theft in this country, and it's a big and growing problem. Industry Super Australia estimates that 2.4 million workers are losing $5.6 billion in SG payments each year. So, for the broader Australian workforce, unpaid super is a massive problem. This bill deals with the small sliver of the workforce in Commonwealth schemes, but I would encourage the government to get serious and to get real about unpaid super for the rest of the workforce right around the country. Super is part of a worker's pay and conditions. Every worker deserves to receive the superannuation they're entitled to. It's not voluntary super. It's a superannuation guarantee, and we can't take the 'guarantee' out of super. We can't take the compulsory aspect out of the super guarantee.

We have a Prime Minister and a government that engage in all these other ideological frolics about superannuation and are prepared to quickly fix some of the issues that arise in Commonwealth super, but we need them to show the same dedication to unpaid super in the broader workforce that they're showing to unpaid super in that narrow sliver of the workforce. Unfortunately, the signs are not good. We shouldn't hold our breath waiting for the government to act on unpaid super. They've actually gone in the other direction. They've proposed a 12-month amnesty for employers who haven't made compulsory super payments to their staff since 1992. So dodgy bosses who haven't paid their staff super for a quarter of a century won't be penalised at all by those opposite if they pay it during the amnesty period. What's worse is that the SG charge would be tax deductible for employers, so dodgy bosses would get a tax break for doing the wrong thing. That is absurd and it's unfair. We don't support that aspect of the bill. The government are acting on unpaid super for people in the Commonwealth scheme but, with their inaction and their policies, making the situation much worse elsewhere in the superannuation system where millions of Australian workers are missing out on the SG.

The specifics of the bill that I ran through are mostly technical. They won't affect the vast majority of Australians, as I've said. We support the bill. It is narrow and focused. We support the changes that guarantee that super guarantee payments are made in these instances and we encourage the government to go further for the broader workforce.

We support the bill. We don't support other changes that are being proposed, or have been proposed, by those opposite. We don't support those moves to give bosses a get-out-of-jail-free card if they haven't paid super. We don't support the recent move by those opposite to undermine super by allowing people to access their account for a house deposit. We've never supported the coalition's historical attacks on super, including opposing universal compulsory super in the first place, voting against increasing the super guarantee above three per cent, trying to abolish the low-income superannuation contribution scheme, delaying the super guarantee increase to 12 per cent and trying to weaken penalties for employers who don't pay the right amount of super, before we won that battle here in these houses of parliament. We don't support any of those things. We do support the technical and non-controversial changes which are specific to this bill.