26 March 2018
Transcript - #2018015, 2018

In the role of: Minister for Revenue and Financial Services [19 July 2016 - 28 August 2018]

Doorstop interview, Parliament House, Canberra

SUBJECTS: Access to superannuation for victims of serious crime, Labor’s retiree tax

KELLY O’DWYER:

My name is Kelly O’Dwyer, I am the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, and I am joined here today by Hetty Johnston of Bravehearts and Howard Brown who is a victims advocate in New South Wales. Both Hetty and Howard know the very deep impact that the trauma of child exploitation and abuse can have on so many victims. Not only those who are directly impacted but also their families and their communities.

For too long those people who have perpetrated these horrific crimes have been able to hide behind a shield whereby they would not give access to their superannuation assets to their victims because of the laws that are currently in place. This denies those victims access to compensation that they in ordinary circumstances would be able to have. And we don’t think it’s right.

Now Hetty and Howard have been working particularly with those people in the Bega community who have been deeply impacted by a very prolific case that is well known where I understand there is a convicted paedophile who has very significant assets in his superannuation account. That paedophile has taunted those victims and said to them that they would be denied access to his assets on the basis that it sits in his superannuation account. There has been a huge petition that has been brought together and I want to thank those people who are directly affected for bringing this issue out in to the light and making sure that Government is aware that this has been going on. And as a Government we have responded. We initiated a review into these provisions late last year to see what changes needed to be made in order to provide those victims with compensation.

I can announce that the Government will make changes to legislation to ensure that serious crimes, where there are victims of those serious crimes, will now be able to access the superannuation of those perpetrators.

Before I say more I would like to invite both Howard and Hetty just to say a few words about why it is that this change is actually needed.

HETTY JOHNSTON:

Well first of all, of course, I would like to congratulate the Minister and the Government on acknowledging and recognising this gap in the legislation that has been there for so long, but also the father of the victims that was involved in this matter in Bega who is the most amazing Australian. And despite his own pain and suffering and despite the fact that this legislation will not change anything for him, has fought tooth and nail to make sure that victims of crime have access to compensation as it is due and that offenders cannot hide their wealth in their privately managed superannuation funds or any other fund. It’s a really great thing, I’m so excited about this because it changes the shift and gives the power back to the victims, it takes some of this power that the offenders just love so much away from them and provides victims with access to the kind of compensation that they deserve. So congratulations Minister and heartfelt thanks to the family and particularly the father of this beautiful, beautiful family.

HOWARD BROWN:

Howard Brown, I am a victims advocate based in Sydney. I have been supporting through the court process a number of the victims of the perpetrator to whom we are referring. During our negotiations in relation to a settlement, in relation to compensation, for those victims the perpetrator made it perfectly clear that he had squirreled away in to a superannuation fund knowing full well that we would not be able to access it and in fact goaded us in such a way that it was just an appalling abuse of process. So we went to the Minister, Hetty and myself and a number of other people, we were very impressed with how quickly the Minister responded. We have some working plans in place now and hopefully we can now adjust that particular process so that we can see some of this disparity that has been around now being rectified. It is also really important for you to understand that the case that has brought this to highlight is one which has finished. We have no prospects whatsoever of obtaining any further compensation in relation to this perpetrator’s multiple victims. We’re not doing this for any personal gain, we’re trying to ensure that other victims, and there are hundreds and thousands of other victims who are affected by this legislation as it currently stands, we want to ensure that they don’t have the secondary abuse that our current victims have. So I really applaud the Minister for taking this on board and I hope that the politicians in this place will deal with this on a bipartisan matter and approve it as soon as we have a working piece of legislation. Thank you.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Thank you.

You have heard directly from those people who are impacted by this and the Government is very very conscious that these changes are critical, they are needed and we will expedite these changes as soon as possible. I also just want to make mention of the fact that the Prime Minister and the Home Affairs Minister today made an announcement about a new centre, a new Australian national centre for child exploitation to make sure that we can go after those perpetrators who are committing horrific crimes against our children. It is a disgrace, it should never be tolerated which is why our Government’s full efforts are behind making sure that perpetrators are held to account and we provide the sort of compensation that victims, quite rightly, demand and expect because we need them to be able to heal.

If there are any particular questions I am happy to take those questions on this subject first and if there are questions about something else I will ask Hetty and Howard just to stand to one side.

JOURNALIST:

How long until you expect legislation to be ready?

KELLY O’DWYER:

We will work hard now to get legislation drafted so that we can release it for consultation certainty well before the end of the year. My plan would be to introduce the legislation before the end of the year so that we can see these changes in Parliament as soon as possible.

JOURNALIST:

Are you working on any other changes to superannuation around early access and things like that?

KELLY O’DWYER:

The Government has also been looking at whether there are other avenues for individuals to get early access to their superannuation. And a separate part of what the Government was looking at was whether we needed to make any changes to consideration for financial hardship and also around special compassionate circumstances for individuals. We have received feedback from a number of groups, in fact we have received over sixty submissions, to that particular review paper, we have had 10 roundtable meetings, we’ve had bilateral meetings and the work on that is ongoing at the moment and we expect to have a further consultation round as we refine our proposals there.

JOURNALIST:

Do you expect to have any opposition to the changes?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I think most fair minded people would see these changes as long overdue and a recognition that individuals who have been impacted by these horrific sorts of crimes should be able to get proper access to compensation and that just because assets are held in a superannuation account should not mean that those victims should not gain access to it. I can’t imagine that there would be anyone in this place who would oppose such a change but I suppose that’s a question that you would need to put to them.

JOURNALIST:

If I could ask about the company tax cuts – it appeared last week that the Government had locked in more or less the support of One Nation is that still the case?

KELLY O’DWYER:

My colleague Mathias Cormann, who is the chief negotiator in the Senate, is talking with all crossbenches about the importance of a company tax cut. Not because we want to benefit companies per se, but let’s not forget the people who actually invest in those companies and are employed by those companies. If we can achieve a company tax cut we are going to be benefiting millions of Australians: employees, shareholders and all of the economic benefits that will actually flow from a company tax cut, it will help boost our economy and help contribute to jobs growth.

JOURNALIST:

So is One Nation’s support still uncertain?

KELLY O’DWYER:

You will need to ask those questions of Mathias Cormann. I have been, this morning, sitting down with victims of serious crimes to talk about these very serious issues around access to superannuation – he will be much more up to date with the discussions that are going on in the senate.

JOURNALIST:

On franking credits, it looks like the Labor Party is going to come up with some kind of carve outs for pensioners from their plan to abolish franking credit refunds. Does this undermine the Government’s arguments that this is a hit on low income retirees?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well it’s extraordinary to think that Bill Shorten announced this policy and said it was a hit on millionaires. Then he needed to concede that there were 1.1 million Australians who would be directly impacted by Labor’s tax grab. These people included self-funded retirees, pensioners, part-pensioners and war-windows. The Labor Party said they would not make one change to their policy, and only today we are hearing that they in fact might make a change. It’s a recognition that the Government was absolutely right to say the people who would bear the brunt of Labor’s changes would be those people who could least afford it. We are talking around about 1 million Australians who have got a taxable income of less than $37,000. We’ve recently looked at the figures again, and we’ve looked at the impact of 230,000 pensioners and part-petitioners and recognised that particularly the people who will be hit here will be those grandmas who have scrimped and saved over a lifetime, who paid their taxes, who have wanted to live in retirement, not lavishly, but in comfort, and for whom the money that they have put aside and the income that they have relied upon will be taken away from them by Mr Shorten. They’re the people who are going to be impacted. I’ll believe it when I see it – the truth is that Labor refuses to release their costings from the PBO, they refuse to release the assumptions on what their modelling is based. We don’t even know if in fact the modelling has been done. And the very fact that they are scrambling to try reshape their hit on pensioners, part pensioners, war widows and self-funded retirees tells you that Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen cannot be trusted with the retirement savings of millions of Australians.

JOURNALIST:

The latest Newpoll shows that 50% of people don’t like Labor’s tax reform yet they’re still going to vote for them – isn’t that a huge worry for the Government, even if they have a tax plan that people don’t like they are still going to win the next election?

KELLY O’DWYER:

The election is not won until the day of the election and certainly the Government is very focussed on ensuring that people understand the very key differences between what the Labor Party will do if they are given the treasury benches and obviously what the Government will do. We will protect the retirement incomes of millions of Australians. We know how hard people work to save for their retirement and we know the sacrifices that they make. They are entitled to bear the fruits of their labours. Unfortunately, under a Shorten Government those people will be directly attacked, their money will be taken off them and their comfort in retirement will be jeopardised. This is not something that I am saying, this is something that we are hearing from those self-funded retirees, those pensioners, those part pensioners all of whom are impacted by Bill Shorten’s latest $60 billion tax grab and this comes off the back of the fact that the Labor Party have got a tax grab now that amounts to around about $200 billion and counting.

Thanks very much.