‘Bring it on’: Labor vows to fight next federal election on superannuation

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen. Photo: Andrew Meares Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen. Photo: Andrew Meares
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Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen. Photo: Andrew Meares

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen. Photo: Andrew Meares

The Labor Party plans to fight next year’s federal election on superannuation, saying the Abbott government’s second budget shows tax concessions on super earnings have become the fastest growing tax concessions and they need to be wound back.

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen will say at the National Press Club on Wednesday that only Labor has the courage to deal with the problem and “to do it before an election and seek a mandate to deal with it”.

Mr Bowen – who spoke at the Press Club less than a month ago – will say superannuation assets are projected to reach more than 160 per cent of gross domestic product in Australia, up from around 120 per cent today.

Tax-free superannuation assets in the retirement phase will account for roughly 44 per cent of total super assets in 30 years, up from just 30 per cent today, he will say.

“This is exactly why the earnings concession on superannuation is the fastest growing tax concession in the federal budget,” Mr Bowen will say.

“That rate of growth dwarfs the increase in the scale of age pension costs. [Treasurer] Joe Hockey’s own budget papers show the cost of the concession doubling over just the next four years to more than $30 billion.”

Mr Bowen is relying on the 2014 Tax Expenditure Statement to show that super tax concessions are estimated to grow to $50.6 billion in 2018-19, up from $29.7 billion in 2014-15, at an an average annual growth rate of 14.3 per cent.

But the government’s recent budget papers show the cost of the aged pension will be $50.4 billion in 2018-19, up from $41.6 billion in 2014-15, at an average annual growth rate of 4.9 per cent.

“The budget papers show the cost of total superannuation tax concessions [earnings and contributions] actually outstripping the cost of the age pension by the end of the forward estimates period,” Mr Bowen says.

Mr Bowen will say that this is a challenge for budget sustainability that must be met right now, and that Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Mr Hockey “expect us to believe that super tax concessions are affordable” when they know they are not.

“They’ve decided to promise to keep the current tax free status of superannuation post-60 because they think there are votes in it,” Mr Bowen will say.

“I read that Tony Abbott wants to make superannuation an election issue. Bring it on. Labor is always delighted to fight an election on superannuation, one of our proudest creations.”

In the lead-up to last week’s budget, Mr Abbott upgraded the Coalition’s promise to make “no adverse changes” to superannuation in this term of government to making no changes in the future.

It formed part of the government’s plan to differentiate itself from Labor, which it wants to brand as the party of high taxes.

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Same-sex marriage a handful of votes away from passing Parliament: analysis

Wayne Swan has changed his position on same-sex marriage. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Wayne Swan has changed his position on same-sex marriage. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Wayne Swan has changed his position on same-sex marriage. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Wayne Swan has changed his position on same-sex marriage. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Ireland may vote for same-sex marriage

Former deputy prime minister Wayne Swan has switched his position on same-sex marriage, conceding he was “wrong” to oppose it, as new figures put Federal Parliament less than a handful of votes away from backing the landmark reform.

Australian Marriage Equality figures show that Parliament is on the brink of having enough support to legislate same-sex marriage, needing just four more votes to pass a bill in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, it is calculated a bill could pass with a majority of one.

In a sign of the growing momentum in Canberra, Mr Swan has announced he now supports same-sex marriage. The member for Lilley in Brisbane opposed same-sex marriage during the Labor years in government, voting against the reform when it came before Parliament in 2012.

Mr Swan told Fairfax Media he had found it “increasingly difficult” to reconcile his views about same-sex marriage with his support for economic and social equality.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that, basically, I was wrong,” he said.

In the wake of a raft of Labor MPs recently declaring their support for same-sex marriage, including Chris Bowen, Ed Husic and Bernie Ripoll, AME has done a fresh calculation of support for the reform in Federal Parliament. It also says 13 unnamed Coalition MPs have switched their position to supporting same-sex marriage since the start of the year.

AME is confident there are now at least 72 lower house MPs who would vote for same-sex marriage, which is just four votes shy of the 76 required to pass a bill.

In the Senate, AME estimates same-sex marriage has 39 supporters and so would pass with a majority of one.

This is based on the assumption that Liberal MPs were allowed a free vote and includes MPs who have privately indicated they back same-sex marriage.

Australian Marriage Equality national director Rodney Croome said the small number of Coalition members publicly in favour of same-sex marriage was the “tip of an iceberg of support”.

“Given a cross-party free vote, the reform has a good chance of passing,” Mr Croome said.

Some Liberal MPs have been hesitant to speak out in support of same-sex marriage because the party does not have a free vote, and due to sensitivity about preselections for the next federal election.

In the lower house, AME says there are 20 supporters – from different parties – who have not declared their position publicly. In the Senate, it has identified eight private supporters, also from different parties.

Mr Croome said a lot of credit for the shift in numbers goes to “everyday Australians” who have lobbied their local MPs with personal stories.

Previous estimates from advocates and same-sex marriage backers in Canberra have played down the likelihood of the reform passing before the next election. One recent estimate had same-sex marriage as much as 20 votes away from a majority in the lower house.

There continues to be a question mark over the Liberal Party’s exact position on same-sex marriage. While the party and Prime Minister Tony Abbott do not support same-sex marriage, Mr Abbott has said that the issue of a free vote would be a matter for the post-election party room.

Liberal MPs have so far passed up opportunities to discuss it in party room meetings – despite Libertarian senator David Leyonhjelm​ introducing a “freedom to marry” bill in the Senate last year.

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Child offenders of domestic violence remain in the shadows, ABC’s 7.30 reports

Shane Broadby’s mother says she and other members of the family have been assaulted by him. Shane Broadby’s mother says she and other members of the family have been assaulted by him.
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One of the most insidious qualities of domestic violence is the combination of fear, shame and love that too often stops victims reporting their partner.

What if the perpetrator was your child?

As Australia’s current focus on domestic violence, particularly violence against women, has begun to a shine a light on the long-overlooked “national crisis”, the prevalence of child offenders has remained in the shadows.

Children are the offenders in 4000 to 5000 reported domestic violence cases in Victoria every year, the state’s assistant police commissioner Dean McWhirter said.

Assistant Commissioner McWhirter revealed the staggering statistic on ABC’s 7.30 on Tuesday night.

The program visited the homes of two families trying to cope with abusive teenagers.

Tina Broadby, her husband and her daughters had been physically assaulted by her older son Shane.

Tina told 7.30 she was scared that “he will hurt one of the girls and maybe kill one, because that’s how bad the temper I think is. Yep. It’s very scary.”

Shane seemed just as scared of what we was capable of if he didn’t control his anger.

Like many violent children and teenagers Shane was diagnosed with ADHD.

With few resources available to families dealing with violent children, police are often the first people outside the family to know of the abuse.

And parents rarely press charges, fearing the consequences for their child, and the shame of being blamed for their violent behaviour, according to 7.30.

“The parents that we speak with … often say they feel an incredible sense of shame. They feel embarrassed that this is happening to them in their family,” said social worker Jo Howard at Kildonan UnitingCare.

“They feel concerned that if they speak about it they will be blamed – which frequently they are – for not taking control of the situation, for not having control over their child,” she said.

Brooke Gowan has had to call the police on eight separate occasions in response to violent incidents involving her 15-year-old daughter Ebony.

“And you sit there and they’re wanting you to press charges. And as a Mum you sit there and go, ‘I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to ruin her future,’ ” Ms Gowan said.

For Ebony, the temporary solution was for the teenager to move out of home and into a specialised program called Time for Youth.

But with the limited services already strained, and the issue believed to be widely under-reported, many families and children are yet to receive help.

NSW Domestic Violence Line 1800 656 463

Victoria’s 24/7 Family Violence Response 1800 015 188

National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732)

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Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs: ‘I’m not going anywhere’ message for government

“Not going anywhere”: Australian Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs. Photo: Andrew MearesAustralian Human Rights Commissioner Professor Gillian Triggs has sent a defiant message to her critics in the Abbott government: she is not going anywhere.
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Professor Triggs told a conference in Canberra on Tuesday she was determined to see out her five-year appointment, despite the “horrifying” experience of her clash with the government over asylum-seeker children.

She said the political backlash against her inquiry into children in detention was the lowest point of her 47-year legal career but she was determined to see her five-year term as commissioner through.

But speaking at the “She Leads” conference for female leaders organised by the YWCA of Canberra, Professor Triggs warned women in public sector leadership roles of the dangers of failing to consider politics when making big decisions.

The commissioner was at the centre of a political storm early in 2015 when Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis accused her of orchestrating a stitch-up over children in detention and said she had lost the confidence of the Australian people over some of her other decisions.

The row intensified when Professor Triggs said the secretary of Senator Brandis’ department offered her an inducement to resign and the commissioner was targeted for personal attacks by the right wing press.

Although she conceded to some naivety in stepping into such a politically charged arena, Professor Triggs insisted she was doing her job when she launched the inquiry.

“My job does include the right to inquire into acts and practices, including those of the Commonwealth government,” she said.

“Now, no human rights commission in the world could have turned its back on the number of children held in prolonged and indefinite and mandatory detention as asylum seekers.

“So as far as I was concerned I was simply doing my job according to the law.

“But what I didn’t realise was that I forgot about the politics.”

The commissioner said she had found herself in a horrifying position in the wake of the report but that she had no intention of resigning her position.

“It was horrifying for someone who has been a practising barrister and solicitor for 47 years to suddenly find they were in this kind of environment where allegations are made, attempts are made persuade for an alternative position and I’m unable because of my position to defend myself in any public way and was subject to eight hours of unremitting question by the Senate,” she said.

“So it was an extraordinary experience and one which I think was the lowest point of my professional career.

“But it’s one that I’m absolutely determined to manage my way through,

“Mercifully I’m protected by my position as a statutory officer by five-year provisions that guarantee [I] cannot be deposed for political reasons unless I’m bankrupt or commit a criminal offence.”

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Fair Work Commission battles its own public servants

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Industrial umpire the Fair Work Commission is being asked to rule on its own conduct amid allegations it is trying to force some of its public servants to work for free.

But the commission insists it is acting reasonably in rejecting union demands for overtime pay for workers who show up to voluntary weekend training sessions funded by their employer.

The Community and Public Sector Union sees things differently and wants the commission to rule against itself for allegedly breaching its enterprise agreement by asking its employees to work for free.

Commission general manager Bernadette O’Neill said she and her colleagues thought they were doing a good thing when they offered staff the chance to upskill as relief conciliators of workplace disputes, who could then step into the role when full-time conciliators were stretched in busy periods.

Forty staff, who are Commonwealth public servants, applied to undertake the course and 20 were accepted.

But the plan ran into union trouble when managers suggested the training, most of which would occur during work time, would continue throughout the last weekend in May, on the employees’ own time, with travel expenses covered for those coming from interstate.

Union official Susan Tonks says it is “unreasonable” for public servants to be asked to front-up for work over the weekend without being paid and then return to their desks on Monday morning.

She says the Australian Public Service norm is for workers to be paid for training and wants overtime for rank-and-file officials attending the training and time off in lieu for executive level staffers.

“We consider it unreasonable that employees are expected to work beyond their week, through the weekend and attend work the following week without regard to employee entitlements to rest or compensate under the EA,” Ms Tonks wrote to Ms O’Neill.

But the commission is not budging, with Ms O’Neill saying it was already spending money providing the workers with the chance to upskill and it could always go and recruit the conciliators externally without offering to train up its own staff for the jobs.

“Whilst there are benefits to the commission, we can alternatively simply recruit conciliators externally,” the general manager said.

“Where we have done this in the past, the fields have been exceptionally strong and very few, if any staff, would otherwise be competitive for these roles.

“However, we are strongly committed to offering staff the opportunity to develop new skills and give you access to career progression opportunities not otherwise available.”

An exchange of letters between Ms O’Neill and Ms Tonks have failed to settle their differences and the union has lodged an official dispute with the Fair Work Commission, against the Fair Work Commission.

The dispute will go to a hearing behind closed doors on Friday in Melbourne.

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