Thirty years ago, the Keating Government delivered a victory for workers and an asset for the nation.
Progressive. Enduring. Successful.
The Superannuation Guarantee has helped millions of Australians enjoy a secure and dignified retirement.
Superannuation has been nothing short of transformational in Australia.
Since 1992, superannuation has grown from around $148 billion to over $3.3 trillion held by approximately 16 million Australians.
It’s the world’s third-largest pension pool.
What was once an incentive for well-paid office jobs and government positions is now a right for every worker.
It is an Australian story that we can and should be proud of.
This does not mean that there is nothing to do.
There is work to be done. There is a conversation needed.
No public policy can or should be ‘set and forget’.
I want to start with a promise.
The Albanese Government will deliver a stronger superannuation system that provides the best outcomes for members.
We will ensure that superannuation works for all Australians.
To do this, we need to know what we are working towards.
No other foundational public policy has existed for thirty years without a clear and shared understanding of its objective.
Medicare’s objective is to provide universal healthcare.
The HECS-HELP system provides equal access to tertiary education.
ANZUS lays the foundation for our defence alliance.
There are many opinions on how the super system should be improved. Many of these opinions are well-meaning.
But how can we have a conversation about the directions if we don’t know the destination?
This is why we have announced that we will legislate an objective of super.
With a clear objective, we can begin a focussed, meaningful conversation.
With an agreed destination, enshrined by Parliament, we can embark on the journey to a more prosperous retirement for working families.
Two weeks ago, the Treasurer stood in Parliament and outlined the economic challenges confronting the global economy.
War. An energy crisis. Inflation. Increasing risks of recession in Europe and the United States.
At home, there are increasing demands on government.
Health. Disability. Aged Care. Defence.
And we have inherited a structural deficit and a trillion dollars of debt.
These are uncertain times.
It makes it all the more important that Australians know that their savings will be looked after.
On average, the two biggest assets that Australians have is their home and their superannuation.
In the Budget, the Government laid out a bold housing agenda.
A housing accord with an aspiration to build one million new, well-located homes over five years from 2024.
This morning, I want to make our superannuation agenda clear.
A stronger system.
Delivering the best possible outcome for members
Leveraging opportunities where member interests align with the national interest.
These outcomes will give Australians confidence in their future in uncertain times.
The objective of super
So where do we begin?
The success of superannuation has not always been certain.
Over thirty years, our system has been subject to many changes – some minor, some major.
The disastrous decision to allow billions to be withdrawn from super through the pandemic will be felt in the decades to come.
The proposals that have been rejected are just as consequential.
Using it to pay off HECs.
The policy ideas have too often been confused at best or damaging at worst.
But like a Mariah Carey single at Christmas, these ideas keep coming back.
And they will keep coming back if there is no clear and shared objective of super.
Take housing, for example.
We know that there is a housing affordability problem.
The Australian Dream of home ownership has become increasingly out of reach. As a father, I want my children to be able to afford their own home.
We also know that there is a supply problem. We need to build more homes. This is why our Housing Accord is so important.
Some have suggested that superannuation should be raided to buy a home.
This is a cure in name only.
Any economist, and several former Liberal Prime Ministers, will tell you that if you increase demand, without addressing supply, it will simply throw petrol on the fire.
Prices will go up. And it will leave Australians worse off in their retirement.
Superannuation can be a help on the supply side to drive investment.
This will never be at the expense of members’ returns.
As the Treasurer said in his Budget Speech, superannuation funds have endorsed our Housing Accord and will work with us to leverage more investment that delivers for their investors’ and members’ interests, and for the national interest.
There are other important discussions that I know are being had. Some of these will be discussed today.
It is important to make a distinction. Superannuation can and does bring many benefits.
However, we cannot have these conversations unless we are being guided by an objective.
We’re proud that today superannuation works for millions of Australians.
But we know that at the extremes, there are questions to be asked. Some of the answers to these questions lie outside super
There is a superannuation gender gap with many low-income women being left behind in retirement.
This is a symptom of the gender pay gap in the broader economy. We won’t address the first without addressing the latter.
This is why we supported a pay rise for about 2.7 million workers on the minimum and award wages, the majority of them women.
This is why we are supporting a pay rise for aged care workers, again mostly women.
Taxation of super
Other answers do lie inside the super system.
One of the most important conversations we must have is around the taxation of superannuation.
In the lead-up to the Budget, tax was a topic of many public conversations.
It always is.
The concessional taxation of superannuation is a lightning rod for discussion.
When I see the size of some funds, I’m not surprised.
For example, we have 32 self-managed super funds with more than $100 million in assets.
The largest self-managed super fund has over $400 million in assets.
If the objective of super is to provide a tax-preferred means for estate‑planning, you could say it is doing its job.
I celebrate success, but the concessional taxation of funds like these has a real cost to the Budget which needs to considered.
Mercer estimates that the tax concessions on a single $10m self-managed super fund could support 3.1 full age pensions.
The conversation has already begun.
Some voices don’t surprise.
Mike Callaghan, who’s on the next panel, was quoted over the weekend as saying superannuation tax concessions have to be in the national conversation about fiscal sustainability.
The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia has also identified the cost of high balance superannuation funds.
Other voices emerging in this debate are more unexpected.
For example, the Self-Managed Super Funds Association acknowledges the need to examine this issue.
We need this conversation to continue.
But we cannot put the cart before the horse.
We will consult widely to inform a common, agreed objective for super.
Australians need to have their say.
With an objective that is settled, we can talk sensibly about tax.
Those who support the status quo will need to demonstrate how concessional tax arrangements for high balance super funds meet the common objective.
Those who argue for change will need to show how that approach meets the objective.
And the millions of fund members watching and participating in the debate will know it is framed around their interests and their dignity in retirement.
By having this national conversation, governments now, and into the future, will be held accountable for the stewardship of our system for the next 30 years and beyond.
A stronger system, supporting members and the national interest
We have already begun work on making our super system stronger.
I have tasked Treasury with reviewing the Your Future, Your Super laws to remove unintended consequences and keep the focus on high performance.
Legislating an objective of super will complement this review by setting a goal for the entire system to work towards to deliver the best outcomes for members.
The name of that package is apt. It is about ‘Your Future’.
The performance tests, conducted by APRA, must and will continue. Trustees need to be held to account because it is about ‘Your Future’.
We also need to ensure members have meaningful information so that they can hold their funds to account and make informed decisions about their retirement.
This will deliver a secure future for all.
Australia is also facing big challenges that need investment.
Having an objective of super will enable us to identify opportunities where the national interest and member interests align.
It will also provide the talisman to assess the vicious cycle of plans to raid super.
This will deliver the best outcomes for members while unlocking a pool of capital that will be a gamechanger for the nation.
Investing in Australia and for Australia.
Addressing the challenges of today.
Improving the nation of tomorrow.
Delivering fair, sustainable and dignified retirement incomes for the future.
Super working for all Australians.
Australians know they can trust the Labor Party with superannuation. It is in our DNA.
It was a triumph of the union movement and continues to deliver a dividend to workers.
However, we know that some want superannuation to be an answer to everything.
If super is an answer to everything, it becomes an answer to nothing.
The summit today asks how we transform super. My answer to you is that we must have a national conversation and then legislate an objective of super.
In thirty years, I hope people look back on this time as a transformational moment for superannuation.
A time when we implemented a guiding light. A true north for superannuation.
An objective that delivers for all Australians. And ensures all Australians can retire with dignity.
This is why we need to have an objective of super.