Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (16:49): I rise to speak on the Superannuation Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. I note that this bill makes a number of changes to provide for significant improvements to the superannuation benefits for Victoria’s emergency services workers. I commend the government for working to protect the rights and retirement of our hardworking emergency workers. We cannot pay them enough or provide enough benefits to compensate them for the work they do. Not everybody can do what they do.
In 1992 the Keating Labor government gave us the compulsory employer superannuation contribution scheme, and it has been a huge success. You will not find a stronger supporter of the scheme than I. Now, 27 years later, the Morrison Liberal-National government is conducting a review of Australia’s compulsory superannuation scheme. It is possibly time; however, I share others’ concerns regarding any delay to increase the planned lifting of contributions or the winding back or reduction of this scheme. It is extremely concerning.
We in this Parliament are in a privileged position in regard to our own superannuation scheme. Twenty-seven years on from the Keating super plan we still have some workers falling through the cracks. Not everyone is lucky enough to have the same scheme as us. Some of our lowest paid and hardest workers have no superannuation.
I supported super benefits for emergency workers, but also took the opportunity to point out how the Andrew’s Government has robbed the taxi industry of its superannuation.
I want to make a comparison for the house with the Victorian taxi and hire car industry, who lost their superannuation—taken from them in the taxi and hire car reforms in 2017. I know the red team understands the importance of superannuation in the taxi industry. I would just like to remind the members on the red team what they had to say about the industry and their superannuation when they were in opposition only a few short years ago.
Minister Mikakos spoke in defence of taxi licences as superannuation investments in June 2013 in relation to the Transport Legislation Amendment (Foundation Taxi and Hire Car Reforms) Bill 2013, and I quote from Hansard:
Many licence owners bought their licences as an investment and, in many cases, to provide for their retirement income as self-funded retirees. They are concerned that the unrestricted access to taxi licences in the market will have a massive downward effect on the value of licences, thereby devastating not only the industry but their families as well. I am talking here about small business owners, many of whom are immigrants and some of whom have worked their entire lives to pay off their licences, only to have them now devalued. This was to be their super and their nest egg for their retirement, and in many cases it is their only source of income.
Minister Mikakos said that many licence owners bought their licences as an investment, and in many cases they provided retirement income for the self-funded retirees.
Mr Melhem acknowledged that taxi licences were superannuation during debates around the ridesharing bill in June 2016. I quote from Hansard:
There could be some sort of levy for a fund to be put in place to compensate these people, because for many of these people that is their pension—that is their retirement nest egg—and we definitely do not want to see them going to the wall.
Well, I can tell you that they have gone to the wall.
Minister Somyurek was quite clear during debate on the foundation reforms in 2013. I quote from Hansard of 25 June 2013:
The threshold question for the members of the government to consider before they vote on this bill—and they should have a think about this—is whether they would like their superannuation to be ripped out of their hands. Would they want the government to step in and take away their houses or their superannuation? Those are the threshold questions. Members opposite should decide which way they vote today by considering those questions.
Minister Somyurek spoke again in 2016 and said that the devaluation of the taxi industry was the equivalent of ‘taking our superannuation off us’. I quote from Hansard of 22 June 2016 during debate on the ridesharing bill:
The bill does not provide a level playing field across all industry participants. If the bill becomes law, thousands of Victorians could face bankruptcy. It would almost wipe out the value of existing taxi licences. It does not provide for any compensation or assistance and would financially ruin many families. A few years ago the taxi industry was deregulated. For a lot of Victorian small businesses—I guess they are microbusinesses; in particular I talk about the family or single licence-holders—the value of their asset was decimated overnight. It would be comparable—for those of us who are fortunate enough to have it—taking our superannuation off us. We have put some financial hardship provisions put in place, but without proper regulation of the ridesharing industry there will not be a level playing field, and the … lack of a level playing field would be further financial hardship placed on taxi owners.
He said it would be comparable to ‘taking our superannuation off us’.
Minister Wynne in the other place was a strong defender of the taxi industry during the foundation reforms:
… we unambiguously support fairness, and that is what government ought to be about. We say that the bill that is currently before this house is fundamentally flawed, and it is not fair. It is not fair to licence-holders and it is not fair to consumers. Indeed it is a flawed bill.
Minister Donnellan was very critical of the coalition government’s foundation reforms. I quote from Hansard of 26 June 2013, when the minister spoke on the foundation reforms:
Comrades, the Cold War is not over because tonight we see that communism is alive and well on the other side of the house. Rent is being set in this legislation, and assets of other people are being appropriated with no compensation. The wood ducks on the opposite side pretend they represent small business, yet they sit in this place and vote to destroy the value of taxi licences of hardworking individuals. What we have is a group of people who pretend on an ongoing basis that they are business friendly, but at the end of the day they sit like wood ducks and help the Minister for Public Transport destroy the value of taxi licences.
People have worked hard to build up their assets, but today the team opposite is about to destroy the value of those assets … You will wear this legislation like a crown of thorns on your heads, because at the end of the day people will remember what you have done.
I say to members on both sides—the red and blue teams—that you share that crown of thorns. We do remember what you have done, and that is why I stand before you today.
I ask those current Labor members: when did these Victorian transport workers and their families become less worthy of their superannuation? At what point did the fairness that Minister Wynne spoke of no longer apply to the taxi industry? Perpetual taxi licences were seen as superannuation—in fact encouraged by Labor governments. They were held as collateral by banks and rolled into superannuation funds, and they served as a source of ongoing retirement income for those retired from the industry but able to lease out their licence for a fair ongoing income. Owning a taxi licence was superannuation.
Two years ago in 2017 the Andrews Labor government stripped the taxi industry of its licences—its superannuation—paying out arbitrary compensation and replacing them with a $50 permit. Banks, with that collateral now worth nothing, called in loans. Retirees, suddenly robbed of an income from their leased licences, were forced to sell their homes and apply for a pension. Self-managed super funds with taxi licences as their nest egg became worthless overnight. Those still working in the industry saw their secure retirement plans dissolve. I say these Victorian transport workers are worthy of having their superannuation and their retirement protected. They need and deserve their superannuation back. My colleague Mr Erdogan’s father was a taxi driver, and he is now a hire car operator. Their family is deserving.
I know that there are those in the red team who are sympathetic and admit that these reforms did not land as they should or could have. They tell me it is too late and we must move on. We cannot move on. They are broken people. It is never too late to do what is right.
I apologise; I have digressed again. Today of course I will support the magnificent work of our emergency service workers, and of course I will support this bill. I commend this bill to the house.