26 May 2021


SUBJECTS: Hung Parliament; Scott Morrison’s dodgy superannuation plans.

STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Thanks everybody. Well, it's quite clear that Australian retirees are sick and tired of the Government's constantly changing the superannuation laws in this country. Workers are very suspicious about any Government changes. It really raises the bar on any Bill the Government brings before the Parliament. 

It's now quite clear that the Government’s radical change to overhaul our superannuation laws isn't going to get through Parliament in its current form. The Government should withdraw the bill and sit down and have sensible discussions with Labor and the crossbenchers so that we can reach the objective that we share of ensuring our superannuation funds are well managed and high-performing. But we've got to get rid of these crazy proposals; the directions power and this plan that a Bill that’s supposed to improve superannuation performance is going to staple members to a dud fund. These are changes that have just got to happen if the Government wants to get this Bill before the house. We're willing to work with Government on sensible proposals. But two of the proposals that are in the current Bill just simply aren't sensible. 

I mean, you know you're in a pretty desperate situation when the conservative Government is getting a lecture on Liberal values from Craig Kelly, and he's really belled the cat. He can't understand why a conservative Government is introducing a Bill which gives the Treasurer the power to cancel a private sector investment. That's exactly what this Bill does. The directions power is an investment delete kill switch. This should not exist. You can imagine if Labor introduced a Bill like this into the house. Would be laughed off the hill. But that's exactly what Josh Frydenberg is trying to do, introduce a power which gives him the right to cancel a private sector investment if he doesn't like it. It has no place in a Commonwealth law and it should be removed. 

I congratulate the crossbench for highlighting these issues and sending a pretty clear message to the Government that they don't like them. We can get a Bill through the Parliament if it's a sensible bill which focuses on the performance of superannuation funds. But we don't need these ideological frolics that the Government is currently on.  

I mean, the Government has to understand this. We're in a whole new world. This is a hung Parliament and that raises the standard on any Bill that comes before Parliament. And this bill doesn't meet that standard. A bill that supposed to be about improving the performance of superannuation is a bill that includes an investment kill switch and staples members to underperforming funds that the government itself acknowledges are so poor that no employee should be allowed to join them. And yet, they're proposing to staple people to these funds. It's just not going to wash.

So, I congratulate the crossbenchers for focusing on this issue and sending a clear message to the Government that they don't like what they're seeing. Our message to the Government is withdraw the bill, sit down and have some sensible discussions. This is a hung Parliament, not a dictatorship. And if you want to get a law through the Parliament, it's got to be in the public interest, and it's got to be a Bill that says what it does. And this is not the Bill that the Government has before the house. If the Government wants to get a Bill before this house, if the Government wants to get a law through this house, there's got to be a law that actually does what it says and this bill doesn't do that. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Jane Hume this morning said that the directions power had been backed by the Productivity Commission. What’s your response to that?

JONES: Well Jane Hume is just making it up as she goes along. The Productivity Commission in its report on the performance of superannuation funds said absolutely nothing about giving the power to the Treasurer to direct a fund to cancel an investment. Absolutely nothing about it. The Productivity Commission didn't recommend it. The Royal Commission didn't recommend it. Jane Hume is just making it up.

JOURNALIST: How confident are you this would be defeated in the House of Reps? And is there an advantage to putting it in the house and testing the numbers and maybe embarrassing the Government? 

JONES: We’re not on about embarrassing the Government. We're on about getting good laws which improve the performance of superannuation funds and stopping bad laws which set dangerous precedents. This is extraordinary that you've got a Treasurer who wants to give himself the power to cancel the investment of a private corporation. If this precedent is set, it could be extended to any other corporation in the country. I can't understand why the business community aren't losing their head over this issue. Some business groups have come out, but it's absolutely extraordinary. So we're not on about playing Parliamentary games. We want to ensure that any Bill that goes through the Parliament meets the test of doing what it says it's going to do and is not going to send superannuation funds backwards and is not going to damage workers’ retirement income. And we're deeply concerned it sets a bad precedent, damages retirement outcomes and a Bill that doesn't do what it says it's going to do.

JOURNALIST: The Government currently has the power to influence foreign investment into Australia to ensure it’s in the national interest. Why shouldn’t the Government have the power to influence Australian capital going overseas as being in our national interest?

JONES: Ron, that’s an argument for saying the Government has all the power it needs under current legislation. It doesn't need to pile a whole heap of new dangerous laws into superannuation legislation, and that's exactly what they are. There was no mention, and let's be fair dinkum about this, there has been absolutely no mention of national security or national interest or national defence in this Bill until the last 24 hours. And all of a sudden, the Government worked out they’re in deep shtum over this issue. No mention of it. They're basically making it up as they go along. They realise they've made a very big mistake. They've been called out on it by Labor and the crossbench. And they’re now grasping around for an answer. So let’s not have a bar of this national security stuff. It's complete and utter garbage.

JOURNALIST: Do you have proposed amendments you’re going to be discussing with the Government, that would allow this Bill to run through? And how many are there?

JONES: Labor has eight sensible amendments. The two most important are removing the direction to power because this is a bad power and a dangerous precedent. So removing the directions power and ensuring that a Bill that’s supposed to be about improving members’ superannuation and getting them a better superannuation outcome doesn't staple people to a dud fund. I mean it's crazy that are Bill that’s supposed to be about improving member outcomes is going to staple people to a fund which the Government itself is saying, this fund is so bad that no new members should be able to join it. That's just nuts. It's crazy that they are proposing such a proposition. We won't support it and neither should they. So if they want to get a Bill through which actually does what it says it's going to do, improves performance, focuses on that issue they can get that through the Parliament in the next fortnight. If they want to continue on their crazy ideological frolics and frankly poorly drafted laws, they're in for a long hard fight.

JOURNALIST: And are you saying if you get those two amendments, you’ll let those other six slide?

JONES: There are eight amendments. They're all important, but there is not a Member of this House that could possibly vote for in, good faith, a Bill which enables the Treasurer to cancel a private sector investment for whatever reason he likes. And a Bill which staples and member to a fund which the Government itself has said is so bad that no new members should be enabled to join it. Who on earth could vote for a Bill which contains those provisions? For the life of me I can't understand how this Bill got through the Coalition partyroom. They obviously didn't read the details of the Bill that was put before them.

JOURNALIST: Minister Hume also said this morning that the veto powers aren’t that important and that they are in other laws. Are you aware of other instances where something like that exists?

JONES: Outside of national security or a wartime setting it is completely unprecedented for the Treasurer to give himself a power to cancel an investment. Let's be quite clear about this. This is a power which would enable; last week we saw Keith Pitt cancel an investment by the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund into wind farms because he doesn't like wind farms. What’s to say another Treasurer couldn't cancel an investment into a coal mine because they decided they didn't like coal mines. Or another Treasurer in the middle of an industrial dispute says, well I'm going to put pressure on that superannuation fund which has got investments in that company over there until they reach an agreement with their workers on a wages outcome. I mean, these are not fanciful examples. Nobody thought when they voted on the Biosecurity Act a few years ago that we would be cancelling people's passport rights. Bills passed in one context can be used in a very different context by another Government or another Treasurer in another environment. This is incredibly dangerous, it cannot be allowed to stand

JOURNALIST: How closely have you been speaking with the crossbenchers?

JONES: I've had lots of discussions with the crossbench. I don't speak for them. They speak very well for themselves. Yesterday we had Craig Kelly out, I think articulating some pretty sensible concerns. Bob Katter out yesterday, articulating some pretty sensible concerns. One Nation’s Pauline Hanson making quite a lot of sense on the fact that Australians are sick of the constant change. So if there is going to be a change to superannuation, it's going to be a change that does what it says it's going to do, and it's got to leave people better off, not worse off and don't set a dangerous precedent. And I think these Bills don't pass the test set by One Nation, set by independents like Bob Katter and Craig Kelly who are very capable of speaking for themselves. I want to make it quite clear I don't speak for them. But I do note also that Zali Steggall has got amendments that she has circulated that she's going to be putting up in relation to this Bill as well. Very thoughtful amendments to go to the directions power as well. So this is not Labor saying, come on we want to play games with a Bill. This is a Parliament united saying to the Government, you have got this wrong. Withdraw. Come back with something that passes muster

JOURNALIST: Are you confident that if the Government comes to the table on those two outstanding main issues that this Bill could be passed and in place at a 1 July start? 

JONES: Well, it's a message to Government if they get their act together, remove the objectionable, dangerous, reckless provisions, and let's focus on the issue that we all agree on, benchmarking funds to ensure that they perform well, and we can get a bill through. And we can do all the things that the Government says it wants to do and leave the ideological claptrap out of it.

JOURNALIST: Do you find it unusual that Labor is aligned with Craig Kelly and Pauline Hanson and characters like that?

JONES: I don't find it unusual that people of good will can focus on a Bill and despite the fact they might come from different political backgrounds, can look at something and say, oh my God, that's just crazy it's not in the national interest. I don't find that remarkable at all. You'd hope that that's what democracy provides to this Parliament.