29 May 2018

KIERAN GILBERT: With me now the Shadow Employment Minister Brendan O’Connor. The superannuation industry looks like there’s a massive amount of duplication here, a lot of waste. If people can boost their nest eggs by $400,000 a year according to the Productivity Commission. It’s worth looking at, isn’t it? 

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Look, we should look at it. It’s a comprehensive report. Labor’s always been the authors of compulsory super, and we want retirement savings. We want to remove any unfairness or deficiencies in the system. The focus should be on the members of those schemes, but it also confirms that industry super has been outperforming other super schemes.

GILBERT: Well 9 of the top 10 best performing. The Productivity Commission wants to look at a best on show list for new workers to look at for their fund to start out. Nine of the 10 are industry funds.

O’CONNOR: Yes, and I think that’s a very good affirmation for the schemes. It’s also contrary to what Kelly O’Dwyer and other members of the Government have been saying. They’ve been saying we want the industry schemes to be more like the banks and the retail schemes, which is, quite honestly, astonishing. But we will look at the PC review recommendations and see where we can improve it.

GILBERT: You’re open to it?

O’CONNOR: Look, we will have to look at it.

GILBERT: Because while we spoke about the better performing funds, those larger ones, CBUS and that sort of thing, the smaller funds, they are among some of the worse performing.

O’CONNOR: Yes, so I think there are some very important things and recommendations that we should consider. Our focus should be member focussed, but we are concerned about how the Government, given its recent history, how it might seek to use the recommendations in a way that it wasn’t intended.  
We will look at it closely, and respond once we have done that.

GILBERT: Can I ask you, in relation to where to in terms of employees, and encouraging their capacity to move funds. Because at the moment we seem to see this duplication – entirely avoidable – but how can that be done, and assist people to amalgamate their Super funds?

O’CONNOR: I think there needs to be a better way of dealing with mobility in the labour market, so we need to work out a way. Certainly we hope they are in the best schemes and they get the best advice.
Secondly, we need to deal with the mobility in the labour market, so people are moving in and out of areas where they might have to have multiple schemes. There has got to be a better way of reconciling those things, and being able to – if you do join a second scheme – how to bring together your capital, your savings. So there are a lot of things that we could be doing better.
Workers are more mobile now than they were twenty years ago in terms of moving in and out of industries. So, it is crucial that we get that right. If we can get savings for workers that the recommendations from the review is indicating, then we need to examine it.

GILBERT: This expert panel, this idea of an expert panel that chooses the best 10 – does that make sense?

O’CONNOR: Again, we will look at it. It is in the eye of the beholder who you appoint, and what is the purpose behind that. It would change the way in which the default schemes operate, and the intersection of Fair Work laws and the schemes which have been governed the best, generally speaking - 

GILBERT: So the Fair Work Commission you say?

O'CONNOR: Well the industry schemes have 50/50 employer and worker - 

GILBERT: The Fair Work Commission don't always get it right as you yourself would argue on penalty rates and that sort of thing.

O'CONNOR: Nor may a so called expert panel. I think we have to look at that. It may be a worthy option but I do think we need to get it right and focus on members first and foremost.

GILBERT: The Coalition expanded its numbers by one yesterday, Senator Steven Martin in Tasmania joining the Nats, so that’s a boost for the Turnbull Government then?

O'CONNOR: Apparently he is the Tassie Tiger reincarnated, according to the Deputy Prime Minister. I have to say, just a broader reflection on what is happening on the cross-bench in terms of stability - this is now up to 6 Senators who have started and been elected by constituents in one place and have moved elsewhere, and it does speak to the instability of the cross-bench. 
I get on well with cross-bench Senators, but it is extraordinary that so many now have moved away from where they originally were. So, they have told the electorate one thing, and they have made a decision subsequently to join someone else. In a way that's a sign of betrayal. It's not representing what you said to the electorate when you put yourself on the ticket for either a minor party or as an independent, and then to say you'll join a political party or leave a political party. 
They are big steps, and it is happening with such frequency at the moment, I think people have got a good reason to say "Well what's happening with the cross bench?"

GILBERT: Finally, I should ask you about this story in the Sydney Morning Herald that Kristine Keneally encouraged by Bob Carr to ask questions of Prime Minister in Cabinet at Senate Estimates in relation to a Prime Ministerial staff member who was tasked with looking at Chinese interference within our political system. Is that appropriate, to be getting steers as a Senator from a former Foreign Minister?

O’CONNOR: Well that’s been alleged. Senator Keneally said she of course drafted and wrote her own questions and asked her own questions. The questions, if you look at them are quite straight up and down, and she refutes what’s been alleged, and we should be investigating all manner of things at Senate Estimates - that’s our job. I think there’s nothing to see here.

GILBERT: In relation to staff members and so on, if they’re on the Prime Minister’s staff- that’s fair game, is that right?

O’CONNOR: I think you can ask if there’s people being charged with a serious role, appointed by the Government, spending tax payers’ money. It’s within the remit of Senate Estimates. 

GILBERT: Brendan O’Connor, Labor front bencher, thanks very much for your time. Appreciate it.

O’CONNOR: Thanks Kieran.

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