Australians should know by the end of the year when the government will introduce a scheme to add superannuation onto government paid parental leave, once an audit of the Coalition’s spending and budget promises has been completed.
Newly appointed assistant treasurer and Minister for Financial Services, Stephen Jones said he was excited about the job ahead. And there is a lot to do across his portfolios – whether it’s looking at superannuation regulation, improving the financial advice sector, or looking at payment systems including tap and go and mobile wallets.
“There’s plenty of stuff to get cracking on,” Jones said in an interview.
Portrait of Assistant Treasurer Minister for Financial Services Stephen Jones at Parliament House in Canberra on Friday 3 June 2022.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
Adding superannuation to the government’s paid parental leave scheme was a pledge Labor took to the 2019 election.
When asked about the scheme in May, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the party couldn’t commit to everything it promised during the last campaign, but Labor left the door open to introducing the policy after the election. Jones said the party wants to make it happen.
“There would not be a person in our government that doesn’t want to see super on paid parental leave. We want to do it. It’s just a matter of how we find headwind to do it,” he said.
The assistant treasurer said the government needs to get a good handle on the books first, to find out what the long-term structural deficit looks like and also where Labor can find potential savings that could fund other programs. Once that audit is completed, Jones said there should be a more concrete timeline for the scheme.
“Whether we’re able to do it in the first term or not, should become pretty clear by the end of the year,” he said. “I want to see it happen, I do, that’s not a promise that we will. It’s all contingent on us being able to get the budget numbers right.”
One concrete promise on superannuation is that Labor will make collecting unpaid superannuation a higher priority for the Australian Taxation Office.
A scathing Australian National Audit Office report from April found the tax office has failed to collect billions in unpaid superannuation each year, using a “low-touch nudge” approach rather than proactively chasing down employers that were breaking the law.
Jones said at a “bare minimum” Labor will lift the tax office’s game, and boosting transparency around the tax office’s unpaid super collection would be an important first step.
“We need to increase the priority that the ATO attaches to collecting unpaid super, which is a debt to the Commonwealth, but it’s also a debt of $6 billion to some of Australia’s lowest-paid workers. We want to ensure that every cent of that goes to the people it’s owed to,” he said.
Another area of superannuation Jones is keen to adjust is the benchmarks for faith-based funds.
Under the Your Future, Your Super reforms enacted by the Coalition government last year, all funds must pass an annual performance test. Jones said those benchmarks require funds to prove they can perform better than a passive investment in an index like the ASX 50.
Those benchmarks don’t necessarily work for faith-based funds, Jones said. Crescent Super invests on Islamic principles, which means it doesn’t invest in things like gambling, tobacco or alcohol.
“That basically removes the ASX 50,” Jones said. “So if you’ve got a performance measurement which is, ‘would you have done better if you just invested in the ASX 50’, then they’re going to fail.”
People have the right to express their religion and join a fund that invests in accordance with their faith, Jones said.
“Their superannuation funds should be measured on a basis which doesn’t discriminate against them,” he said.
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