Government's Crocodile Tears on women in super

26 October 2015



SUBJECT/S: Government’s cuts to super for women and low income earners

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES AND SUPERANNUATION: Thanks very much for coming out to Logan City today to talk about superannuation.  Australia’s superannuation system is the envy of the world but it is far from perfect.  Two imperfections in particular: the first is the substantial gap that exists between the retirement balances of women and men in the system.  Women on average retire with $85,000 less than men.  The second imperfection is the way that the tax concessions are unfairly directed towards, and focused on, the people with the most money in the system at the expense of the people with the least money in the system.  We have a situation where 38 per cent of the tax concessions go to the top 10 percent of the superannuation system and that situation is unfair.

Labor under Bill Shorten has been working on both of those issues.  When it comes to the gender gap in superannuation, we have got Senator Jenny McAllister leading a Senate Inquiry into women in the superannuation system which will collect ideas on how best we address that problem.  When it comes to the tax concessions, we have already got a carefully considered and costed policy on the table which deals with the tax concessions at the very top end to make the superannuation system fairer.

The Government wants you to believe that they care about women in the superannuation system at the same time as they attack the retirement incomes of Australian women.  We have a situation where they are cutting the low income superannuation contribution and freezing the superannuation guarantee at 9.5 percent.  And like a lot of things when it comes to the Turnbull Government, it is really important that you look at what they do and not what they say.  They do want us to believe that they care about an issue that they are making worse. 

When it comes to women in the superannuation system, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison are part of the problem, not part of the solution.  They are cutting the Low Income Super Contribution for three and a half million Australians of which 2.2 million are Australian women. They are also freezing the superannuation guarantee which costs the average retirement balance something like $20,000.  So they are when it comes to superannuation and women part of the problem, not part of the solution.  They should spare us the crocodile tears, the spin and the propaganda.  They should give Australian women a fair go in the superannuation system by reversing the cuts that they are making to their retirement balances.  Over to you.

JOURNALIST: Would a Labor Government definitely commit to [inaudible]?

CHALMERS:  We fought very hard to maintain the Low Income Super Contribution in the Australian Parliament.  We said all along it was a priority for us to give a fairer go for people on low and middle incomes in the superannuation system.  We will have more to say on the best way to go about that as we approach the election but I think our bona fides and our record is clear that we think that the superannuation system is unfair on lower and middle income earners and it is up to the Government to help make that better, not make it worse like the Turnbull Government is.

JOURNALIST: Will Labor promise to force employers to pay the minimum maternity leave and then on paternity leave?

CHALMERS: There are a whole range of very interesting issues when it comes to trying to close the gender gap in the Australian superannuation system.  One of them, of course, as you mentioned, is to pay superannuation in paid parental leave.  There are other issues like the one that the Treasurer floated around a different kind on concessional cap for contributions for women so that women can catch up. 

Our problem is not with the ideas, the alternative ideas that are being floated, whether it be by the Government or others.  Our problem is with the Government’s record.  Our problem is with the fact that the Government is making it harder in the super system, not easier.  We are taking all of these ideas on board as I have said.  My friend Senator McAllister has got a Senate Inquiry which is getting all of the best ideas from around the country about how we act on such an important challenge that we have in the super system.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

CHALMERS: Well the Turnbull Government has failed to adequately explain why they think they can talk about justice for women in the super system at the same time as they cut the retirement incomes and the retirement balances of Australian women.  They are yet to adequately explain why they think that 38 per cent of the tax concessions should flow to the top 10 per cent of earners in the system.  They want to let this situation continue where the superannuation system is very generous to the people at the top and very unfair to the people at the bottom.  They haven't adequately explained why they think that is the case.  We have been saying for some time, and we have got concrete policy proposals on the table to try and fix this unfairness at the heart of the super system.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

CHALMERS: Well the Senate Inquiry reports early next year.  It is led by Senator McAllister.  It is going around the country talking with people who have ideas about how we close the gender gap in superannuation.  What we want out of that process is a series of options that could be considered by us, the Labor Opposition, or even by the Government, so that we can help to rectify this problem that exists.  Already, Senator McAllister and others have put on the table some ideas including some of those that were mentioned a moment ago so that by early next year, we will have some really good ideas on the table for either the Government or the Opposition to pick up.

JOURNALIST:  [inaudible]

CHALMERS: Bridging the gap between men and women’s pay is such an important part, not just for fixing the unfairness at a core of the superannuation system, but also in terms of the broader workforce and the broader economy.  On the Labor side, we have been, throughout our history, campaigners and advocates for equal pay for equal work.  Fixing that would go a long way to fixing some of the issues in the superannuation system.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there needs to be a change in the attitude of employers as well?

CHALMERS: There does need to be a change in the attitude of employers as well.  At the moment, we have a situation where up to 20 per cent of employers aren't meeting their obligations in the superannuation system.  We have a bizarre situation where the Turnbull Government is actually decreasing the penalties for non-payment in the system but I do think more broadly when it comes to equal pay for equal work, when it comes to wage justice for Australian women, we do need our employers, our businesses to take the lead to make sure that we eliminate the unfairness wherever it exists.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

CHALMERS: Well it is a combination always of legislation, community leadership, changing the culture of our workplaces, making them friendlier to people who come in and out of workforce for a range of reasons whether it be starting a family or other reasons.  We do need to ensure to get the very best out of the Australian workforce that we have got the best set of arrangements across the laws, across the culture, community leadership, cultural leadership, business leadership, it all matters.  Thanks very much.