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ABSTAINED – Matters of Urgency — Superannuation: Taxation

Deborah O'Neill

The Senate will now consider the proposal from Senator Hume:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today I propose to move "That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for Prime Minister Albanese to not break his promise to Australians when he said on 2 May 2022, "we've said we have no intention on making any super changes", by committing to not hitting Australians with more taxes on their super, and to rule out any new taxes on the family home, negatively geared assets, trusts and retirees' incomes."

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

James McGrath

At the request of Senator Hume, I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for Prime Minister Albanese to not break his promise to Australians when he said on 2 May 2022, "we've said we have no intention on making any super changes", by committing to not hitting Australians with more taxes on their super, and to rule out any new taxes on the family home, negatively geared assets, trusts and retirees' incomes.

In the last two weeks, we have seen this Labor government break faith with the Australian people with unprecedented candour and shamelessness. Prime Minister Albanese doesn't take his past promises to the Australian people as rules. He doesn't even take them as guidelines. How else can you characterise a prime minister who looked Australians in the eye and said, 'We've said we have no intention of making any super changes', then skipped, strode, wombled into the Prime Minister's courtyard and announced that super taxes will be doubled.

It's not just the Prime Minister who thinks commitments to the Australian people are simply campaign tactics to be discarded once you make it onto the blue carpet and into the ministerial limo. Labor's Treasurer had the gall to say to the Australian people in April 2022, 'We've made it very clear that we don't have any proposals for tax increases.' There's a pretty obvious reason Labor wasn't upfront about this before the election: because they knew Australians would not vote for it.

The more Australians learn about this super tax, the more we can see how shifty this Labor government has been. First of all, they said it would impact about 80,000 Australians. Now we know—we learnt in question time today—that 10 per cent of Australians are going to be impacted by this super tax, and, unlike the super transfer balance cap, Labor ruled out indexing the $3 million cap.

Here, Labor are making a massive mistake. A lot of people I know don't have $3 million in their super account. Actually, I don't know anyone that has $3 million in their super account, but I know lots of people who do want to have $3 million in their super account. I spent last week driving from Cairns down to Townsville, going along talking to people. People are pretty angry about this. No-one I spoke to has $3 million in their super account, and they probably never will, but they say to the people who do: 'Good on you. You worked hard for it. Good on you, mate. Get out there. I'm pretty happy for you.'

Labor are saying to people out there who've worked hard, 'We're going to tax you.' But the people out there are also concerned that Labor have broken this promise. What other promises are they going to break? They know that Labor will decrease the threshold. If the threshold is set at $3 million, at the next budget it will be $2½ million. Then it will be $2 million and suddenly all of your super accounts will fall into Labor's trap.

This comes to the central tenet of why we are so upset at Labor's breaking of this election promise: because we're on the side of Australians and their money. It is their money. Labor think that people's super accounts are money that Labor can go and raid. Labor can be like one of those little bugs that gets into electronic systems and goes in there and empties our people's super accounts. I say: shame on Labor for what you are going to do to the confidence in Australia's financial services system.

There are so many questions that need to be answered about this proposal. How will it deal with unrealised capital gains? How will real assets be valued? How exactly does this impact defined-benefit schemes? The Prime Minister is on one. How will valuation increases be calculated? Labor is quite happy to mislead the Australian people, willingly break election promises and make false statements prior to the election in pursuit of electoral success and then doesn't even have the decency to be transparent with the Australian people.

We should have expected this from the Treasurer. We know that Dr Chalmers did his PhD on Paul Keating, the guy who said: 'Australia, we have to have a recession. Come on. This is the recession we had to have.' We can see where this government's going, can't we, ladies and gentlemen? We can see where this government is heading. Now Dr Chalmers's new super tax hike is alongside his idol Paul Keating's l-a-w law tax hikes in the pantheon of historic broken promises by Labor treasurers. I'm sure the Treasurer's proud of being in such distinguished company as Paul Keating, who sent so many people bankrupt. So much hardship was caused by him and what he did to the Australian economy, and now we see Labor with their secret taxes that they didn't want to tell the Australian people about before the election. They are coming out and going after people's super accounts. Shame on Labor. (Time expired)

Tony Sheldon

I take a great deal of delight in getting up and speaking on this. In the last few weeks we've heard Dutton—sorry, the opposition leader—saying that he's the campaigner for the middle class and the working class, but actually what he's a campaigner for is the billionaires. We've seen the Liberal Party change. We saw Howard's battlers. Now we have Dutton's battlers, the billionaires. Dutton's billionaires need to be looked after. Those billionaires who have squirrelled away $543 million in superannuation, with concessions, have to be looked after. So Dutton's billionaires can be looked after.

The reason we're in the position where we need to make fair and equitable changes to the concessions that are paid—and there will still be concessions for those billionaires, those millionaires and those people in the community with $100,000 or $50,000, and we'll still have proper incentives to make sure that superannuation continues in this economy—is that what's quite clearly happened is that we have a situation where we have a trillion dollars worth of debt and we have to work out how to balance the books, and the people who can assist in that balancing of the books are the ones who also receive benefit. This is about a progressive approach to tax and properly protecting those people in superannuation, which was set up to make sure that there's a proper amount of money for people to retire on. It's also about making sure that those concessions are for those people that superannuation was initially geared up for.

What we've seen from the Liberal Party is that this isn't just about Dutton's billionaires. This is about an attack on super, because we all know they hate superannuation. They actually hate the whole concept of superannuation. They hate poorer people receiving super. The ones complaining about the billionaires and those people with more than $3 million in their super still getting a tax concession but paying a fairer level of tax are the same people who deferred increases to the superannuation guarantee for struggling working-class and middle-class people in this country. They're the ones who, over the 10 years of the previous government, stood by and saw young people missing out on the multiplier of that minimum increase in superannuation. They're the same people who have made sure that the amount of money that people can take home at the end of the day is not the same amount of money they need to take home to meet the foreshadowed increases as a matter of intergenerational change for both working-class and middle-class people in this country.

We clearly have to make a decision. If we are going to fix the trillion dollars worth of debt and have the money and resources to put into aged care and those areas of our society where we need price relief, including energy, we need to make the right decisions in the right policy areas. We have Dutton's billionaires on one side. Howard's battlers are now deserted, if those opposite were ever actually on their side. We know the reality of that. Those opposite were never really on their side. They were never Howard's battlers. They were people being used, like the Trump battlers. Those opposite were trying to use and abuse people by giving mixed policy directions. But at least Howard pretended he was representing a broad cross-section of the community. At least he had the capacity to pretend he was representing the vast majority of Australians, unlike Dutton, the opposition leader, with the sort of approach he's taken on this question about superannuation.

But what's really striking is the number of economists, academics, and—my goodness: I never thought I'd be agreeing on this aspect—even the CEO of the NAB saying it's a fair thing. But don't worry—person after person after person from the opposite side gets up and says: 'Our billionaires need to be protected! Let's all stand together! Let's make sure those billionaires get the sort of protection they deserve!' (Time expired)

Nick McKim

Won't someone please think of the multimillionaire superannuants! Who is going to go in to bat for these battlers, who are going to go from one high-class grade of champagne down to the next level, from one brand of luxury car down to the next brand of luxury car? Who in this place is going to think of these multimillionaire battlers? That's right: the Liberal-National party. It is emblematic of the malaise in Australian politics that this extremely modest proposal—an extreme fiddling of the margins by the Labor Party—is getting this level of attention from the Liberal-National party. I'll tell you what, Australians are sick and tired of a political system that caters to the interests of the wealthy elite in this country while too many people are struggling to put food on the table.

Even under Labor's minimalistic plan, multimillionaires will be able to pay a lower marginal tax rate on their superannuation earnings than someone who is on the average wage. That just goes to show you how far the Labor Party has fallen from its origins. That's why the Australian Greens have put forward a proposal to tax more people twice as hard as Labor and for it to cut in earlier than Labor's proposal. That will ensure that the wealthiest Australians pay closer to their fair share of tax and help the government fund measures that will genuinely help with the cost-of-living crisis and genuinely help lift people out of poverty. Our plan would raise about $55 billion over the next decade, which could be used to help lift people out of poverty by increasing social security payments or doubling rent assistance. Labor is proposing to fiddle at the margins on superannuation tax concessions while proceeding with the stage 3 tax cuts for the wealthy. That is just a money-go-round scheme for the rich, and it is robbing Peter to pay Peter.

People with $1.9 million or more in their superannuation funds do not need assistance from the taxpaying public. It's time for the government to prioritise the needs of all Australians and invest in measures that will actually benefit the many, not just the few. I urge the Labor Party to accept the Greens's constructive suggestion to remove all tax concessions from super funds that have balances of more than $1.9 million from 1 July this year. That would make Australia a fairer place. (Time expired)

Ralph Babet

Nine months—nine short months in power for this Labor government—is all it took them to start raiding the retirement funds of hardworking Australians. Their official position has seamlessly moved from 'no changes to super' to 'a conversation around super' and now a doubling of your tax rate. Don't worry: it's going to impact only a small percentage of Australians. But for how long? How long is that going to last? Probably not very long. It is typical Labor class warfare—another broken promise. But are you surprised?

I can just imagine retirees grinding their teeth at the very concept of super Jim's proposal. Treasurer Jim Chalmers clearly sees himself as a modern-day Robin Hood, taking from the rich and giving to the—not the poor, no; giving to himself, giving to the federal government. Our nation is trapped in a cycle of debt and deficit for which both sides of government are responsible. It appears to be politically inconvenient for any government to attempt to balance the budget or repay our debt. Do you know what? They are as bad as each other. I guess everyone here loves their political career just a bit too much.

Whatever happened to courage? What happened to the greater good? The Australian people are hurting. Their budgets are being smashed by unchecked inflation, and they're cutting costs wherever they can. Forget eating out, forget family holidays; a mortgage comes first. Our Treasurer must emulate the actions of the Australian people: tighten your fiscal belt and produce a lean budget that is suitable for tough times. Raiding superannuation like a thief in the night is not the answer. It is not.

Long debate text truncated.


Date and time: 5:16 PM on 2023-03-06
Senator Pocock's vote: Abstained
Total number of "aye" votes: 24
Total number of "no" votes: 29
Total number of abstentions: 23

Adapted from information made available by