In a speech to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) Chris Bowen expressed support for the Low Income Superannuation Contribution (LISC) and said more direct action was needed to improve the superannuation gender gap.
“This government has shamefully abolished the LISC, in one of its most retrograde steps,” said Mr Bowen. However, he did not commit to reinstating the LISC should the ALP win the next election.
The Opposition is also considering “targeted measures which deal with women in particular.”
Announcing the ALPs superannuation policy earlier in the year, taxing pension phase income and reducing the Division 293 threshold, Mr Bowen said they were the only changes Labor would make to the tax treatment of super, but also said “we want to see what more we can do to close the gender gap in retirement savings.”
“I said at the time that we would make further announcements about our superannuation policy for lower income Australians, with a particular focus on the gender gap in retirement incomes,” Mr Bowen told CEDA.
“We’ve continued that work and consultation and we will have more to say.”
“Until we make genuine progress in giving women improved retirement incomes, our system will be failing in that key objective in providing as many Australians as possible a dignified retirement.”
“Now of course, the gap in retirement incomes is, in large measure, a result of the gender gap in incomes more generally.”
“But it is not good enough to shrug our shoulders and say because there is a gender gap in incomes we should also accept an iniquitous gap in retirement incomes and stand by as we condemn millions of women to a less than adequate income to see them through retirement.”
Mr Bowen has seemingly drawn heavily from the recommendations of superannuation research firm Rice Warner, which has called for exemptions from the Sex Discrimination Act to make is easier for employers to pay higher superannuation contributions to female employees, and for joint superannuation accounts.
In his speech Mr Bowen congratulated ANZ and Rice Warner for their actions in improving the superannuation gender gap by paying additional super contributions for female staff.
“Imagine how much more powerful their actions would be, however if they were matched by interest and activity by the Federal Government,” he said.
“At the moment, getting permission to this involves a bureaucratic process of approval which could sensibly be done away with.”
“My understanding is that every employer who has applied to the Human Rights Commission for permission to discriminate in favour of female employees in this regard has received it, so it would appear sensible to remove the red tape which goes with obliging employers and to simply make the process easier.”
The Greens submitted a bill to Parliament to create an exemption from the Sex Discrimination Act to allow employers to make such additional super contributions, however it is not supported by the Government and unlikely to get to a vote.
“Another idea that is worthy of further consideration would be the introduction of joint superannuation accounts,” said Mr Bowen.
“I can see some advantages to allowing voluntary joint superannuation accounts.”
“There will be other views about the pros and cons of introducing joint accounts. I am open minded about the proposition.”
However Mr Bowen rejected the recommendation of a CEDA report that first home buyers be allowed to use their superannuation to buy real estate.
“Allowing access to superannuation savings for first home buyers would drive up prices at the same time as eating away at retirement incomes,” he said.
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