Defending Superannuation

07 December 2020

I rise to speak in opposition to the motion moved by the member for Goldstein. I'm deeply disappointed but not at all surprised by the premise of the motion. As Paul Keating said recently, 'You can't eat your home, nor when you get to retirement should you have to sell it to live.' Superannuation was an agreement of the accord process between workers, employers and the government during the early years of the Hawke and Keating governments. Workers understood then that putting their wage rise into super would help them have a better retirement and not be beholden to governments for pensions or support. Ultimately, governments knew at the time that it would assist the budget if most people had sources of income in retirement and didn't have to rely on pensions.

Compulsory superannuation is one of the nation's greatest reforms. Like the NDIS, Medicare and successive higher education reforms, super is a compact between the government and Australians. Despite your circumstances, despite your disadvantage, the government will provide the backing and support for you to fulfil your potential and achieve a decent standard of living. In return the nation is better able to harness its best and brightest. It's a new social contract. Like the majority of this nation's great reforms, it of course came from a Labor government, and, as with most great Labor reforms, it's the Liberals who are hell-bent on tearing it down—probably because they didn't think of it first.

This motion isn't fooling anyone. Compulsory superannuation, particularly through industry funds, benefits workers, so the Liberals attack it. It's part of a decades-long ideological war by the party against compulsory super. They opposed it when it was introduced. John Howard said one thing before the 1996 election and another after it, freezing increases to super. Tony Abbott froze it again when he came to power, and once again this government is floating a freeze to super while backbenchers seek to attack it and undermine it in other ways.

There have been numerous attempts by this government to undermine and destroy compulsory superannuation and industry funds, but what have the numerous commissions, inquiries and reports into superannuation found?

The Australian retirement income system is effective, sound and its costs are broadly sustainable.

That's from the recently released Retirement income review: final report. What did the Productivity Commission report in 2018 say about industry funds and retail funds? On performance:

Not-for-profit funds, as a group, have systematically outperformed retail funds.

On governance:

… some retail fund directors, although considered 'independent', are on a number of related-party boards, which raises questions about their independence and fuels perceptions of (and sometimes actual) conflicts of interest.

And then there's the scathing Hayne royal commission. It's recommended strengthening regulation and banning what it called 'the hawking of superannuation'.

What each of those inquiries and reports understands is a simple concept on how best to regulate, govern and manage superannuation. That is to act in the best interests of the fund and in the best interests of the members. The member's motion seeks to equate homeownership and superannuation as a mutually exclusive trade-off. The reason young people can't afford a home or find it difficult to qualify for a home is far more complex than having to put money into super. We need to look at the continued casualisation of the workforce, with labour hire companies that pay the lowest possible wage with no guarantee of any leave or a job at the end of the contract. We have, unfortunately, seen the consequences of that in this pandemic, when the choice to go to work when sick has dire outcomes.

Furthermore, in Sydney, you require an average of $80,000 for a house deposit. A 26-year-old is likely to have less than a third of that in super. The best way to get Australians into the housing market and to provide safe, secure housing is not to smash their retirement savings. It's by constructing more and repairing existing social housing, expanding the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme and offering grants to first home buyers who will build their first home. As Paul Keating, the architect of compulsory superannuation, said in 2007, 'When you hear conservatives these days speak of superannuation as a tax on employers they are either ill-informed or they are lying.' It seems not much has changed in 13 years.