02 December 2019

Superannuation - Adjournment Speech

I rise in support of fairness in our superannuation system—fairness for workers and fairness for women especially. Today in my office here in Parliament House I met with members of my union, the SDA; the Australian Services Union; and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation. These are some of the largest unions in the country and they are doing incredibly important work. Together, they represent over 600,000 workers, mostly middle- and low-income women, who work tirelessly in industries like nursing, aged care, social work, fast food and retail. They came to Parliament House today with one very clear message for MPs and senators: stand up for their super.

They shared their stories with me of the devastating effects of being overworked and, at times, underpaid; stories of being forced into living in substandard accommodation, because week to week their hours were so insecure that they couldn't budget for anything different; stories of their lost superannuation and the direct impact the government's superannuation policies have had on their retirement; and stories of domestic violence, of rebuilding lives and of their fears of poverty in retirement, and, in this context, just how important their superannuation is to them. For these women, like so many other working Australians, superannuation is a safety net in retirement. It can be the difference between homelessness and no home at all.

It should not have to be said, but when we have a Liberal-Nationals government going after hardworking Australians it must be said that all Australians deserve to have a decent retirement. Australia's universal superannuation system provides a safety net for so many low- and middle-income Australians in their retirement. For so many Australians, our universal superannuation system is the difference between poverty and a decent retirement. That is why we must always fight to protect for universality of superannuation. Indeed, any attempt to introduce legislation that would allow low-income workers, or anyone even, to opt out of compulsory superannuation must be thoroughly rejected by senators in this place. Let's be honest about what this type of legislation would do. It would disproportionately affect women, to the detriment of their superannuation balances. We know this because 58 per cent of the more than six million workers earning under $52,000 dollars a year are women and a far greater proportion of part-time workers are also women We know that fewer hours and lower pay are some of the greatest contributors to the gender super gap in retirement, which remains pervasive in Australia. Combined with the gender pay gap, the gender super gap has contributed to older women forming the fastest-growing cohort of homeless people in Australia.

Women retire with significantly lower superannuation balances than men—on average, over 40 per cent lower than men's. In 2015-16, the average balance at retirement was $270,710 for men and $150,050 for women, a difference of over $113,000. This disparity in superannuation outcomes for women contributes to older women being more dependent on the age pension than men. Women's superannuation savings are affected by lower earnings, due in part to the pay gap and women being overly represented in lower-paid sectors, as well as time out of the workforce taken for caring responsibilities.

I'm proud that leading up to the last election Labor brought a specific plan to improve women's superannuation security. Labor knows that closing the gender gap on superannuation is absolutely critical if Australian women are to have dignity and certainty in their retirement. We have always been the party that has stood up for superannuation and stood up for working Australians.

Our approach stands in stark contrast to that of the other side, who use every opportunity they can to go after working Australians. Let's go back just a few years. In their horror 2014 budget, the Liberals abolished the low-income superannuation contribution. This had a devastating impact on Australian women, who make up about two-thirds of those who received the contribution. It was just the type of cruel measure that was commonplace in that budget. In 2014, we also saw the freeze of the legislated super guarantee increase, resulting in Australian workers losing money they were promised now and in their retirement, and they cannot afford to lose any more.

Per Capita research shows us that a worker on the median wage has already lost over $7,000 in super since the super guarantee freeze was introduced. Over the same period, that worker's annual salary's gone down by over $100 when adjusted for inflation. If we are to see the freeze continue at its current rate, the impact on Australian workers will be terrible. It's estimated that over 8.7 million people will lose more than $14 billion combined in superannuation contributions in 2021-22, which equates to an average loss of $1,630 per person. In my home state of South Australia alone, over 600,000 people will be affected and stand to lose some $930 million. For a 30-year-old woman earning $85,000 a year who takes time out of the workforce to have children, that could mean up to $93,000 lost from her super by the time she retires. For a young family, it could be up to $240,000 in retirement savings lost. Just imagine what this would mean for these women and for these families. The policies that we create here should help the Australians who we represent, and we should always strive to put fairness at the heart of government. When it comes to superannuation, that means policies should help lower- and middle-income earners, particularly women, save enough for a comfortable, safe and secure retirement.

But that's not what we're getting from this Prime Minister and his government, who are too out of touch and too consumed by chaos to stand up for Australian workers. They don't care about working people, because, if they did, they wouldn't be attacking the superannuation balances of hardworking Australians. Let's be honest: that is precisely what some government senators want to achieve. There are senators in this place, who sit on the other side of the chamber, who have called for the complete scrapping of our universal superannuation scheme. Senator Bragg from New South Wales used his first speech to talk about what he believes is the so-called failure of the superannuation scheme and stated, 'I would be inclined to make the whole scheme voluntary.' Another Liberal senator, Senator Rennick, stood in this place and attacked his own party for failing to stop 'the cancer of superannuation' when Labor created the retirement savings scheme. A failure and a cancer—that's how the Liberals have described Australia's universal superannuation scheme. But I'll tell you something: that's not how working Australians see it; that's not how retail workers see it; that's not how fast-food workers see it; that's not how nurses see it, or our aged-care workers see it or social workers see it. They see their superannuation balances as vital to their security and safety in old age.

This government and those on the other side of this chamber are so out of touch with what these working Australians see in their superannuation. This is the same government that believes hardworking Australians should continue to work well beyond retirement age, because the government can't do its job right in keeping our economy going. It was only several weeks ago that the government released the consultation paper for their review of the retirement income system. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer created this review as a stalking horse for more cuts to the pension and further delays to the legislated increase in the super guarantee to 12 per cent. But if they knew anything about the ageing of the population, they'd know that you don't boost retirement incomes by thieving the super people need for a decent retirement.

Should we be surprised? We know the Liberals and the Nationals have a dismal record on super. In four terms, they've attempted time and time again to gut the incomes of retirees by trying to increase the pension age to 70 and delaying the increase to the super guarantee. A tax on superannuation is in their DNA, just like a tax on Australian workers. This government has failed hardworking Australians on so many levels. Last week we saw it with their attempted ensuring integrity bill, and it's a slippery slope from that to going after the superannuation balances of Australian workers—superannuation that workers rely on in their retirement. But they didn't succeed last week and we won't let them succeed now, because Australian workers and Australian women deserve to be treated fairly. Standing up for fairness is Labor's defining mission, and it's a defining mission which extends to our superannuation scheme. Labor created and introduced superannuation under Hawke and Keating. We will always fight to protect and improve it and the promise that it offers working Australians, and we will always stand up for working women against a government that simply doesn't care.