The Prime Minister has defended the appointment of Professor Ralston to the Review of the Retirement Income System panel, following calls for the appointment to be reconsidered due to concerns about the Government’s intentions around superannuation.
Professor Deborah Ralston was announced as one of the three panel members for the independent Review of Retirement Income System on Friday. In addition to being a Professor with the Department of Banking and Finance of Monash University, Ralston has also been Chair of the SMSF Association and of the Alliance for a Fairer Retirement System – a group critical of Labor’s franking credit policy ahead of the Federal Election.
Concerns about the appointment of Ralston have focused on a letter and submission sent by the Alliance to Treasurer Frydenberg in July. In the submission the Alliance outlines a range of policy options that should be discussed in the Review, including making superannuation voluntary and if the Super Guarantee rate should be increased.
A number of Coalition backbenchers have been agitating for a pause or freeze to increases in the Super Guarantee rate, and one has called for super to be voluntary for low income earners. So the appointment of Ralston to the panel, in light of the submission, has raised concerns the Review will be used by Government to push for such superannuation policies.
But the Prime Minister is standing by the appointment. In a press conference, Morrison said that Ralston should “absolutely not” be removed from the review panel, as some, including Labor, have called for.
When asked directly if he was open to superannuation being voluntary for some people the PM didn’t answer, instead quickly deflecting to attack “union industry fund bosses”.
Morrison said the Government wasn’t going to be “intimidated” by industry funds and defended Ralston.
“She has great experience in this area and we welcome her participation in the review. I mean you’re not just going to have people that you always agree with doing your reviews, was that how Labor does it? They’d only put people on that they agree with. We’re not going to run the show like that.”
Government should reconsider Review of Retirement Income System appointment
Chair of Industry Super Australia, and former Labor MP, Greg Combet is reported to have said on the weekend that making super voluntary was “a dangerous proposal that will see vulnerable workers slugged more in taxes only to end up with less money in retirement”, and called for the appointment of Professor Ralston to be reconsidered by the Government.
Industry Super Australia Chief Executive Bernie Dean says the review is “not getting off to the best start”, while welcoming it as a “great opportunity”.
“We’ve also seen the appointment of some people with some very fixed and quite coloured views about the system in general,” Dean told ABC News Breakfast.
Dean said it was one thing to discuss making superannuation voluntary for people on lower incomes as part of a review, and “another thing to actually put a person in charge of a review that holds those views”.
“These are quite extreme views, and interestingly they align with some of the noises that we’re hearing out of the Coalition party room, not just about making super voluntary, but also stopping the Super Guarantee rate that is scheduled to increase between now and 2025.”
“What we don’t want to see is the review used as a ‘stalking horse’ to dismantle the system that is delivering for many millions of working Australians now.”
“We are embracing of any sensible, fact-based, evidence-based, reforms that will increase the efficiency of the system. What we don’t want is people put in charge of the review that have hunches and very fixed per-determined views about the way that the system should run.”
Dean said it was “curious” that the Review would not make recommendations, and that it was his “sense” that the Government was sizing the process up as a way to make cuts, and “deliver political outcomes along the way”.
Stop lecturing government: Treasurer
The Treasurer has fired back at criticism of the Government by industry super. Speaking on Sky News, Treasurer Frydenberg defended Professor Ralston, saying she is “deeply experienced in this particular area” and “will bring great expertise to this panel, and she has the strong support of the Government”.
“But what we have seen is a pattern of behaviour from the superannuation industry that any time ideas are raised that goes against their vested interest they seem to complain very loudly about it. They should just make a submission, like everyone else, to this inquiry, and stop lecturing the Government as to who we should appoint on these panels.”
Making super voluntary isn’t the only policy option raised by the Alliance. Its submission asked if the family home should be included in the Age Pension assets test – which is one of the changes already ruled out by the Treasurer.
Frydenberg has previously stuck by the legislated timetable for a 12% SG rate, though the Prime Minister has been less committal.
The Alliance submission wanted the Review to consider if the Super Guarantee rate should be increased to 12%: “Compulsory superannuation means that current wages are withheld for future retirement benefits. As lower-income workers are likely to be mainly dependent on the age pension in the future, is this level of forced savings justified?”
“Compulsory superannuation means that current wages are withheld for future retirement benefits. As lower-income workers are likely to be mainly dependent on the age pension in the future, is this level of forced savings justified?”
Super needs bipartisanship: Labor
Andrew Leigh, Labor Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury, said the Government had “form on trying to cut superannuation”.
“So we’ve got a number of Coalition members arguing that superannuation ought to be voluntary, a position which one of the members of the review panel has held. And we’ve got a number of Coalition members who say that they shouldn’t go ahead with the legislated increases to superannuation. So our concern is that this is about reducing the benefits of superannuation rather than improving them.”
Leigh acknowledged the super system did have issues, but that it needed bipartisan support, not “appointing a panel which includes somebody who’s been a strong critic of the Labor Party, and who has called for superannuation to be voluntary”.
The Alliance for a Fairer Retirement System website says it was formed “in response to Labor’s proposal to disallow refunds of excess franking credits for a range of retirees and shareholders”, and it campaigned against Labor’s policy.
Leigh continued: “My concern at the moment is that it doesn’t appear to be a review which is focused on the big picture, which is aimed at getting bipartisan consensus for the system. Superannuation is too important to be a political plaything, for the Coalition to sit there having playing their little games at attacking the high performing industry fund sector. My fear is that that’s where we are going with this review.”