Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

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SABRA LANE:

Kelly O’Dwyer is the financial services minister who is responsible for those bills and she joins us now. Good morning and welcome to AM.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Good morning Sabra.

SABRA LANE:

Are the bills dead or on the backburner for now until a Royal Commission, which will also examine this sector, reports back?

KELLY O’DWYER:

They’re certainly not dead. The Government remains absolutely committed to making sure that members know exactly how their superannuation money is being spent. The crossbench was subject to a really ferocious campaign that wanted to hide exactly how these payments are being made and, under sustained pressure, we decided that it would make more sense for the Government to debate these issues early in the new year. But unfortunately, I mean we could have dealt with it this year if Labor and the Greens had put aside their own vested interests and instead put the everyday Australian front and centre and said, yep, you have a right to know how your money is being spent. You have a right to have your money protected. It shouldn’t be used as part of a slush fund, whether it’s for a union or an employer group or anyone else. It is your money, it should be protected, and that was all that the Government was doing with its changes.

SABRA LANE:

Alright Xenophon team Senators were the ones you were talking with and at the end they backed out yesterday. They said look, they support the transparency measures that you were proposing to put in place, but they don’t support the changes to the board makeup given that they believe that the transparency measures alone might be enough. And they’re saying too that they’re worried that changes don’t include the higher fee, non-union backed funds. What do you say to all of that?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well all of the changes that the Government was proposing actually apply across the industry. It wasn’t targeting industry funds, it applied to industry funds but it also equally applied to retail funds, so bank-owned superannuation funds, corporate funds as well. There was no specific target…

SABRA LANE:

The Xenophon team doesn’t see it that way.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I’m not going to be critical of any of the crossbench. What I would say is that the one third minimum independent directors on these boards, having non-conflicted directors on these boards, was a recommendation not of the Government but of Jeremy Cooper, who was handpicked by Labor, when Bill Shorten was the minister, to actually conduct a review. This was confirmed by David Murray in the Murray Financial System Inquiry most recently, who said we needed an absolute majority of independent directors. The Government believes that having non-conflicted directors, as well as transparency measures, means that the right questions are going to be asked on these boards about how money is spent. And money then can’t be misused for vested interests.

SABRA LANE:

Wilson Sy, a leading authority on superannuation, told this program yesterday that the bank-run super funds were losing the savings of Australian workers and that for-profit funds, he says that your changes just don’t make sense, that they’re bizarre.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I understand that he was also involved in actually writing the Cooper Review recommendations, which recommended one third independent directors. So I find it quite perplexing that he would make those statements. I mean the fact is, it’s very hard to argue against increased transparency measures, it’s very hard to argue that members’ money ought to protected for their best interests and yet that is exactly what Labor and the Greens have done.

SABRA LANE:

And the other crossbenchers.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well it shouldn’t actually have to come down to the crossbench. I mean the Labor Party and the Greens should act in the national interest. They should be standing up for millions of Australians and their retirement savings, and yet you have to ask yourself, why? Why is it that they are not prepared to do this? Is it because there are kickbacks going to the Labor party through the union? Is it because they have too much invested in this to actually ensure that millions of Australians and their retirement savings are protected?

SABRA LANE:

Perceptions are everything in politics and it seems that this Government does have something against industry super funds. There’s this legislation, the Productivity Commission is also examining super and now it’s also part of the Royal Commission into the financial sector. How do you respond to, it looks like you’re out to get them?

KELLY O’DWYER:

It is absolutely incorrect, Sabra, to say that. We have terms in the Royal Commission that apply to the superannuation industry as a whole. That includes bank owned superannuation funds. It applies to the retail sector, the corporate sector as well as the industry sector. The fact that the people who are bleating loudest are the industry sector, the fact that they are the ones who have mounted such a ferocious campaign, begs the question – what is it that they have go to hide? Why is it that they are not prepared to have sunlight on their affairs? Why do they not want the regulator to have increased powers to follow the money trail?

SABRA LANE:

They regularly outperform the retail sector, they’re now bigger than the retail sector, they’re low cost, not-for-profit. These are what the critics are saying and it means that they’re outperforming the retail sector.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well some of them do and that’s a good thing and those measures will simply help those really good performing funds to perform even better, but it’s not correct to say that all of them do and it’s not correct to say that there aren’t dodgy deals being done within superannuation and all we are saying is that we’re going to stand up for all those mums and dads who have been forced to defer their wages and put it into superannuation for their retirement. We will make sure that their money is protected and we ask the Labor party and the Greens to do the same.

SABRA LANE:

Alright, you’re a long-time campaigner in trying to get more women pre-selected into safe seats and into boards. How frustrating is it that right across the sector, no one seems to be making good progress and in some areas we’ve gone backwards?

KELLY O’DWYER:

I was actually catching up with my Coalition colleagues only last night. Julie Bishop actually put on some drinks for Coalition women and we do discuss these issues. We would like to see more women in the Parliament. We obviously want to see more women in high profile roles right across the country and, as you say, good progress has been made. I mean, Julie Bishop herself I think is a fantastic example of Australia’s first female foreign minister. We’ve got Marise Payne who is the first female defence minister. These are incredible firsts. I mean we in the Liberal Party actually…

SABRA LANE:

They are successes but…

KELLY O’DWYER:

Yes that’s right and we want to build on that incredibly strong foundation to see more talented women in the Parliament and we have to ask ourselves what are some of the barriers as to why it is some people don’t put their hand up or if they do, what are some of the hurdles that they need to overcome in order to get here?

SABRA LANE:

Just quickly, one commentator says this morning that the pay gap is a myth and she’s specifically named you and said that you should axe the workplace gender equality agency saying it’s doing nothing. How would you respond to that?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well I haven’t actually read the article that you refer to but what I would say is that there are lots of challenges out there for women. One of them specifically relates to my portfolio area of superannuation and it is exactly why the Government has levelled the playing field and has ensured that women can catch-up on their concessional contributions if they have time out of the work force to raise their children. It’s something unfortunately that the Labor party oppose. It’s something that we will go to the next election fighting on because we believe it’s important and it’s important for women all around Australia.

SABRA LANE:

Excellent. Kelly O’Dwyer, that’s good to hear. I’m sure that many women will be happy with that – and many won’t. Financial services minister Kelly O’Dwyer thanks for joining AM this morning.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Great pleasure, thanks Sabra.