In Scott Morrison’s Australia, the only certainty in superannuation is uncertainty.
It’s time for him to end the games and give working Australians something they can hold onto.
Before the 2019 election he committed to the legislated super guarantee going to 12 per cent.
Then he said he would repeal his legislation and cut super if the economy remained weak.
As the Australian Financial Review’s Philip Coorey observed last week, this was dumb politics from the start.
It breaks an election promise while cutting workers’ retirement incomes. It holds the workforce at 9.5 per cent super while politicians pocket 15.4 per cent.
The question must be asked, then, why Scott Morrison has been unable to resist leaving well enough alone?
Why would this Prime Minister, who began the political year by saying he wouldn’t do anything brave, countenance this policy circus?
I believe the answer lies in his querulous backbench.
Cabinet held hostage
As with the besieged climate wars, a small, conservative rump in the Coalition party room have held sensible policy hostage for more than a decade.
Now the backbench intifada on super threatens years of uncertainty.
There’s a small clutch of conservatives who fancy themselves as the Liberals’ big swinging dicks of superannuation.
Yes, they are all men.
They all see superannuation only through a prism of entitled, male privilege.
Last week, through cupped hand, they accused Scott Morrison of lacking “courage” on superannuation (presumably a reference to his election promise to leave super alone).
They have pledged to continue their campaign of insurrection against their own government.
And they undermine the Superannuation Minister Jane Hume, who has conspicuously refused to back their crazy plans.
As the crucial 2021 budget approaches, these failures will come home to roost.
Women left behind
The average retirement balance for women today is $118,000. For men, it’s over $180,000.
But while the gap is growing, so is the chorus of women’s voices who are saying enough is enough.
The government is desperate to show it is listening; it is asking Australian women to forget everything they have said over the past few months.
After decades of pretending the gender super gap didn’t exist, the Liberals will now have us believe they are going to do something about it next month.
This will take a feat of political amnesia unequalled in our times.
Scott Morrison, who fought against Labor’s plan to pay super on top of paid parental leave income at the last election, should now embrace it.
He should also remove the law which says an employee must earn $450 per month with a single employer before they receive any super.
His own Retirement Income Review found this measure affected 197,000 women (compared to 114,000 men), because women are more likely to have fragmented, lower-paid jobs.
The Prime Minister should also do some of the things he has announced but not delivered – like the announcements in the last budget to improve performance and reduce fees.
Flawed legislation must be withdrawn
The Your Super, Your Future Bill, currently before the Parliament, will do the opposite. It gives a green light to higher administration fees.
Investment performance for high-performing funds will fall.
In addition, the Coalition wants to grant the Treasurer an extraordinary power, to become the de facto Trustee-in-Chief, able to cancel investments made by super funds.
This prospect should strike fear into the hearts of every fund member.
If the big swinging boys in the Coalition party room were actually on their game, these extraordinary proposals would not have sailed through their party room, and the Parliamentary Committees they chair, unchallenged.
Sadly for Australia, they have.
The Coalition has expended their political oxygen campaigning against their election promise and missed the stuff that really matters.
But it is not too late.
Given the mounting evidence the Senate Committee convened to examine, the bill cannot be expected to give it three green lights. The Prime Minister has an opportunity to pull back.
And so, I call on Scott Morrison to withdraw his flawed bill and work with Labor and the crossbench to deliver what it promised at the last budget – lower fees, better performance, certainty for all, and a better deal for women.
Australians expect no less, and they expect us to work together to achieve those goals.
Stephen Jones is Labor’s shadow minister for superannuation
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