Interview with Alice Workman, Buzzfeed Oz Politics

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ALICE WORKMAN:

Michaelia Cash, the Jobs Minister, has been reissued with a subpoena in the AWU’s case into the raids that happened in October last year. Now I just wanted to get an idea – there’s been a lot of pressure in Estimates for her to answer questions, she’s been refusing to talk about whether or not she’s been interviewed by the AFP – is this causing too much drama for the Government? Is it time that the Minister maybe took a step down from the frontbench?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well, I’m a big supporter of Michaelia’s, and it must have broken on my way running up here to you so I haven’t actually seen that news, but obviously during the Senate Estimates process Michaelia Cash like other Ministers answer questions on behalf of the Government. She’s responsible for answering questions in Question Time…

ALICE WORKMAN:

But I think the issue here is that she isn’t answering questions and she’s been asked, I think I counted 20 times yesterday, as to whether she’s been interviewed by the AFP and what is happening with the investigation and she wouldn’t answer.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I actually don’t know the answer, so if I could answer, you know, I’d answer, but I don’t know the answer so I think, unfortunately Alice, that’s probably a question that you’re going to need to put to her.

ALICE WORKMAN:

That’s all right, I’ll try to stalk her in the corridors later. All right, let’s talk super now. A big issue for young people and I must confess, I did a survey of my friends last night, and I have friends in their 30s who have multiple super accounts with just $50, $100, $150 in them. Now this is a huge issue for young people, I think because you don’t get access to your super until your retire so no one thinks about it.

KELLY O’DWYER:

A lot of people don’t think about it and when they start their very first job, a lot of the time they’re covered by an enterprise bargaining agreement so they’re forced to put their money into a particular fund. They start a new job and they’re again forced to put their money into a different fund and they accumulate multiple funds, multiple sets of fees, multiple insurance premiums. I was chatting to someone last night and I also did the little quiz and he told me that he had seven accounts, that after he heard the news about how much it could cost him in retirement, he consolidated them.

ALICE WORKMAN:

It’s hundreds of thousands of dollars potentially.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well, for somebody who is starting out, it could be around about $400,000 in their ultimate retirement savings which is a really significant amount of money, so it’s absolutely important for people to pay attention. It’s very easy now because people can get online with MyGov, through the ATO, they can see how many accounts they have and they can in fact consolidate them.

But we’re going to make it even easier for them in the Budget. We’re going to say, if you’ve got an inactive account, so if you haven’t been putting money in because you’ve moved on to that next job and it’s a low-balance account so it’s less than $6,000, we are automatically putting your accounts together through the Australian Taxation Office so it can be one account where you’ve got one set of fees, one set of insurance premiums that you pay and it can mean that you then get the benefit of all that compounding interest that you would otherwise not be getting because you’re paying all of those fees.

ALICE WORKMAN:

Now this data matching system will be information from the ATO which I know caused a few hiccups recently with the robo-debt scandal that happened in not your department, in the social services department, human services department, but is it the same technology that is going to be matching up. How much of a guarantee do you have that they’ll be able to find the right accounts to put the money in?

KELLY O’DWYER:

So we know that they’ve got a very good understanding of who you are and they’ve got a very good understanding as to what accounts you might have. Part of the issue has been that people when they form new accounts can give their full name, or one of their names, so there can be a level of confusion. I have heard some really terrible stories about people who have been with the same fund, worked for different employers, but who have been given multiple accounts within the one fund, which again means multiple fees.

ALICE WORKMAN:

Wouldn’t it be all streamlined with a tax file number?

KELLY O’DWYER:

So the ATO are able to use those identifiers to be able to match people up and that’s exactly what they’re going to be doing. That will start as of the 1st of July next year because there needs to be a lead time, a transition time, but we also need to make sure we get the legislation passed and that’s something that we’re calling on the Labor Party to agree to straight away because of the benefit it will deliver to millions of Australians, particularly low income earning Australians and younger Australians who are the ones who areoftenthemost ripped off by the system as it currently stands.

ALICE WORKMAN:

We also had a question from Twitter, putting your Minister for Women hat on about women who have disrupted work. So if they have to take time off or they go on maternity leave, how will these changes affect them? Because I think one of the biggest issues for women is that they get stuck in these holding patterns.

KELLY O’DWYER:

So people will be notified by their fund that they’ve got a low-balance account and that it could be transferred over and so they will have the opportunity to either make a very small payment to keep it active, if that’s what they want to do, or it can just automatically happen. Similar with insurance, that will be the same if they want to keep their insurance. There’s 13 months – and there have been a number of studies done – often people return if they’re going to go back to work within that period of time, so we believe that the number of people who will be impacted will be relatively small but we also believe that funds have in fact got a duty and a responsibility to have these active discussions with their members. They say that they know their members, but they’ve actually got to talk to them, communicate with them and ask them what it is that they want, because so many funds I think forget that this money doesn’t belong to them. It actually belongs to the individual and it should be working for them.

We’re also doing one other thing which I think you’d be interested in, which is to make it easier for women who have time out of the workforce, whether it’s because they’ve had children or because they’re caring for a relative, to be able to make catch-up contributions on their superannuation. This is something that we announced with our tax changes two Budgets ago so that when you have the financial capacity to be able to make additional contributions you can do that by rolling over the concessional contribution cap that you have right now, which is up to $25,000 every year.

ALICE WORKMAN:

So do you think that would make up for a woman being out of the workforce for a year or two, to add in additional money, but that’s assuming that she earns enough to do it though.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Indeed. That will work particularlywell for those women who have got higher incomes or who have come into some money because of an inheritance or something like that, it will actually provide additional flexibility for those people to be able to do it. But we also have protections for women who are not on high incomes. The low income super tax offset, for instance, for those women who would otherwise be paying a higher marginal, sorry a lower marginal tax rate, than the tax that would apply, the 15 per cent tax rate that would apply on their superannuation. We make sure that they are paying the lower amount of tax.

ALICE WORKMAN:

I have another question here from Twitter. Sarah Masting asks ‘Why do business owners who have not paid superannuation to employees get an amnesty yet Centrelink recipients who were possibly overpaid 6 years ago get threatened with criminal proceedings?’

KELLY O’DWYER:

Right, I’m really pleased that I’ve been asked that question. There are a number of Australians out there who have not been paid their entitlements by their employer. Often it’s small and medium sized businesses who are struggling with cash flow and what they do is they use the superannuation guarantee payments that they should have paid to workers to try and keep themselves afloat…

ALICE WORKMAN:

Which is a crime though isn’t it?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Totally a crime, absolutely a crime. And it’s wrong. It shouldn’t happen and the Government’s been absolutely categorical about that. What we want to do is we want to make sure that the ATO not only continue to go after those employers that are doing the wrong thing and hit them with massive penalties, but we’ve also said to those businesses, if you have done the wrong thing, you have a small period of time to come forward, to fess up, to say we’re going to make good on every single payment that we owe our employees, plus interest, so that the worker themselves gets access to the superannuation that they have been denied. And instead of the Government getting an additional penalty payment from the company, we’re going to waive that so we can turbo-charge the right payments being made.

ALICE WORKMAN:

To get the money to the right people, but is there a cap on how much people can, if a business comes forward and says woops I accidentally haven’t paid $5 million worth here, is there some kind of, I guess the question is based about hypocrisy and why businesses should be able to get away with committing a crime.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Those businesses that don’t come forward will be hit with really tough penalties and more than that, we’re the first Government to basically say we’re going to put people in jail for not making their payments to their workers that they should. But it’s a carrot and stick approach. We want to turbo-charge money getting to people, getting in their accounts and we anticipate that through this amnesty there are around 50,000 people who will get up to $230 million that they otherwise might not get as quickly and we think that it is right to do that so that they can get access to that money very quickly. We do sort of similar things in the tax space as well where we’ve said people who have had you know tax issues need to come forward and fess up otherwise they’re going to be hit with higher penalties. Those people who don’t fess up, they’re going to have higher penalties and be hit with those penalties and could in fact face jail.

ALICE WORKMAN:

So if someone comes forward in the amnesty and says I did something wrong, here you go, we’ll fix it all out. I won’t get any kind of punishment and then say, we’ve got 13 months of the amnesty, say six months later come back and say actually I’ve done it again. Will they face a penalty the second time?

KELLY O’DWYER:

They will absolutely face a penalty.

ALICE WORKMAN:

All right, that makes sense. Now we’ve got another question here, another Minister for Women hat, we had a report earlier about Ireland overturning the ban on abortion over the weekend. Most people don’t realise, but it is still a criminal offence in two states in Australia. As the Minister for Women, do you think it’s time that we decriminalised abortion across the country?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I don’t know why it would be a criminal offence in those states. I think, my personal view on this particular issue is that women should have a right to choose and I believe that we shouldn’t have criminal laws on the state books that would actually deny women that choice. So I think for those states, they ought to look very carefully and very closely at the laws that they have and they should perhaps get around to doing something about it.

ALICE WORKMAN:

Do you think, obviously it is a state or territory issue, but as the Federal Minister, can you put a bit of weight on them, saying it’s 2018, maybe it’s time that we update these laws?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well look I have dialogues with my counterparts in the states and territories. I will continue to do that. There are lots of discussions that we have over a whole range of issues. I’ll continue to do that and I think this is one of those issues that will no doubt be a strong focus for many of them.

ALICE WORKMAN:

Now finally I have to ask you about the big news of the day, Barnaby Joyce, he has announced that he is taking some personal leave.

KELLY O’DWYER:

I thought it was going to be something else, I thought it was your birthday or something.

ALICE WORKMAN:

No not this week. You made some very strong statements yesterday, saying that you didn’t agree with the money payment. Is one of the reasons that Barnaby Joyce has gone on leave because he has been copping criticism from his colleagues?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Look I don’t know the reason and I’m not going to sort of go into some hypothesis as to why he’s taken leave. I totally get being someone who has been in the Parliament who has had two children whilst in the Parliament that people of both genders, mums and dads would want to spend time with their new-born children. I get that.

ALICE WORKMAN:

He did call for an end to maternity leave.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well look, he might have a new found view on these sorts of things, who knows. Maybe that’s a question that you can put to him. I wish him all the best. I certainly don’t resile from the comments that I made. I don’t think that politicians should be paid for media interviews. Certainly you’re not paying me Alice!

ALICE WORKMAN:

We don’t have the budget. Look around!

KELLY O’DWYER:

And frankly I think it’s a slippery slope if that happens.

ALICE WORKMAN:

But do you think it’s potentially a sigh of relief to have him out of the picture potentially over killing season as they like to call it the next few months of Parliament.

KELLY O’DWYER:

I take it at face value, that he’s going to spend some time with his family and I wish him the best.

ALICE WORKMAN:

Minister thanks so much for joining us here on BuzzFeedOzPol.