28 June 2019
Transcript - #2019001, 2019

Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC Afternoon Briefing

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Of course next week is another big moment for the Prime Minister. It's his first week since the election result and it's going to be all about tax cuts but there are other issues on the agenda as well. I'm joined now by Senator Jane Hume who's the assistant Minister now for superannuation, financial services and financial technology. Jane Hume, welcome.

SENATOR THE HON JANE HUME:

Thanks very much, Patricia.

KARVELAS:

You've said it would be immoral to ask Australians to put more of their money into superannuation if it's inefficient. What to you mean by that? What's inefficient about it?

HUME:

Let's take a step back. At the moment, we ask Australians to quarantine nearly $1 in 10 of the money that they earn today and they could be spending today, we ask them to quarantine that potentially for up to 40 years in order to save for their retirement. So I think it's beholden on Government to ensure that the money that they put away is invested in as efficient system as possible. Now what do we mean by 'efficient'? We want to make sure that the system has low fees; that balances aren't eaten away by insurance premiums, particularly when the insurance is unnecessary; and, of course, that the funds themselves are performing up to expectation.

KARVELAS:

You've talked about an end to the culture wars in superannuation, but industry funds actually perform better, so when you talk about inefficiencies, are you talking about retail?

HUME:

No, not necessarily. There are underperforming industry funds as well, there are underperforming corporate funds and there's also –

KARVELAS:

And do you accept that industry funds, on balance, perform better?

HUME:

I think some industry funds have performed exceptionally well. I know that. I used to work for one of the industry funds. I also used to work in retail superannuation too and there are some really, good hearts and bright minds that work in this industry. The most important thing now is that we put aside the sector wars, whether it's between industry or retail, whether it's between self-managed super funds and industry and retail super, and say, right, well, what's in the best interest of members? That's what we're all about, the best member outcomes that we can get to.

KARVELAS:

Does the Government still support raising the compulsory super contribution to 9.5%?

HUME:

Well, it's already 9.5%

KARVELAS:

To the other increase.

HUME:

It's legislated now to rise to 10% in 2021 and then up to 12% and that's already legislated.

KARVELAS:

And would you support that increase?

HUME:

Yes, absolutely.

KARVELAS:

Would you seek to delay it under any circumstances?

HUME:

No, the most important thing now is that we reform the system in a way that it becomes as efficient as possible – before those raises, that are already legislated, take place.

KARVELAS:

But you can rule out any delay under any circumstances.

HUME:

I'm not going to rule anything in or out; but what I will say is we, as a government, plan to raise the superannuation contribution as is currently legislated; but it's beholden on us to make sure that the money that Australians put into the retirement saving system is invested as efficiently as possible.

KARVELAS:

But if you feel like you can't meet this criteria of more efficiency, would you consider a delay?

HUME:

I'm going to do everything –

KARVELAS:

I know it's legislated.

HUME:

I'm going to do everything I possibly can to make sure that it is efficient so we don't have to delay it.

KARVELAS:

But is that a possibility on the table?

HUME:

Well, I think that we're getting into hypotheticals. It's already legislated, it will go ahead. I just want to make sure that the system is as efficient as possible so that Australians are getting the most out of their retirement savings.

KARVELAS:

The chair of Industry Super Australia, Greg Combet, who was of course a Labor Minister, has backed your calls and says he's ready to work with you; will having him on board make the process easier?

HUME:

Well, I would like to see everybody in the superannuation industry get on board to the idea of the best possible member outcomes. After all, that's legislated. Superannuation trustees have an obligation to do what's in the best interest of member those I think that we're all on the same page, it's just about how we get there.

KARVELAS:

When Labor proposed the FOFA reforms during the Rudd Government, the Coalition joined forces with the industry to resist that; do you think that was a blunder?

HUME:

Look, I wouldn't go as far as to say it's a blunder.

KARVELAS:

You can use your word but do you think in hindsight that was the wrong strategy?

HUME:

Look, the superannuation system is 27 years old, it's gone through a number of iterations and it's still not mature. I think the important thing now is to focus on making sure that the system is as efficient as possible so that when people put their money – at least nearly one tenth of their hard-earned earnings – away to save for retirement, that they know that they can trust the financial system, that they can trust the superannuation system to invest it on their behalf as efficiently as possible.

KARVELAS:

But I suppose I ask because I think it's an important question in terms of the culture around trust on this; do you acknowledge that you got that call wrong from your side of politics, given clearly there was a need for reform?

HUME:

I think that there's been a need for reform for some time and the reform has been incremental.

KARVELAS:

But did you get the call wrong?

HUME:

No, I wouldn't go as far as to say that we got the call wrong but I do think that there are changes –

KARVELAS:

If you were at that table, was it wrong to resist those changes like happened?

HUME:

No, I'm not going to go there. That's far too hypothetical, Patricia.

KARVELAS:

It's not hypothetical. It happened.

HUME:

I know, but I wasn't at the table, and I wasn't there to make that call. But what I will say is: there's a great opportunity now for the industry to put aside the culture wars, to come together to work in the best interests of members.

KARVELAS:

It's been reported the financial services industry is relieved that they're dealing with you instead of Clare O'Neil, your opposite number, what should we read into them being relieved? Are you going to go easy on them?

HUME:

Well, I'm interested to know what they've got against Claire O'Neil. I actually think that she's a highly professional and capable woman. But, that said, I'm not entirely sure who it is that you're talking about that's specifically more relieved.

KARVELAS:

OK, I think the point I'm trying to make is you've worked in this industry and now you're going to be their minister; what can you tell us about the kind of muscle that we'll see and the kind of, you know, tough way that you'll handle them given you've been embedded and now you'll be their minister.

HUME:

Well, I think there should probably be some sense of comfort in the fact that I understand the industry, and that I understand what they've gone through. That said, if you're implying in any way that –

KARVELAS:

I'm not trying to imply anything.

HUME:

– no, no, that I would look after mates or anything, I think that's entirely inappropriate. What I would say is that this is a Government that I think has been unfairly accused of being on the side of big business way too often. In fact, we're on the side of the little guy. And what I'm trying to tell you, and tell everybody else, is that it's member outcomes that are the most important thing to me – and they're the people that I'm going to be looking after.

KARVELAS:

It's interesting you said that because it was your side of politics that resisted this banking Royal Commission for so long, so how could it be unfair that you've been depicted in this way given you were resistant to the Banking Royal Commission for so long?

HUME:

Look, we were, and I think it was unfair to say that the reason why we were resistant to the banking Royal Commission was because we were on the side of the banks. In fact, the financial services inquiry, the Murray Inquiry, had already taken place, and we were already putting a lot of policy and reform processes underway. And all you have to look at is it things like AFCA, the complaints authority that has been in place now since November. Now, that was established well before the results or recommendations of the Banking Royal Commission came out; but it was, in fact, a recommendation of the Royal Commission – so we felt that we were ahead of the game. Now, that said, when the Banking Royal Commission's hearings went on, I think that there was some level of dismay and shock not just from our side of politics but from all over Australia when we heard some of the most disappointing stories of misconduct. So, look, I think that we'd all say now that the banking Royal Commission was a good idea and has given us a new platform for reform. Our opportunity now, though, is to try and restore trust for Australians in a strong banking sector – because that is so important to a stronger economy.

KARVELAS:

The Victorian CFMEU boss John Setka has been convicted for using a carriage service to harass a woman. That woman has identified herself. It's his wife and she chose to identify herself as a victim and says that she wants him to stay on as the boss, and that they've sought help and clearly, you know, there's a reform process going on here. Given they say that they want to reform, should he be expelled and thrown out of the union movement in your view?

HUME:

That's entirely up to the union movement, the Labor Party –

KARVELAS:

Your side of politics has always been, you know, you use his name more than anyone else, your side of politics.

HUME:

Well, I mean, I hardly think that the man is a role model. But, that said, it's up to the Labor Party to decide whether they're going to expel him, it's up to the union movement to decide whether they're going to expel him, it's up to the CFMEU. I think that the CFMEU has a history of militant action. It has over 60 of its members in court at the moment for poor behaviour and it has been fined tens of millions of dollars. This is a very difficult union to deal with but, this is their guy. They can deal with him as they see fit.

KARVELAS:

The Government is reintroducing a bill, the Ensuring Integrity Bill; is it because of John Setka or because you think it should happen? And why didn't we hear about it during the election?

HUME:

I don't think it was specifically because of John Setka. I'm afraid that's industrial relations policy, and I've been concentrating on superannuation and banking and financial services, so you might have to ask our new Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister, Christian Porter, that.

KARVELAS:

I will ask him, but clearly industrial relations is a big area though, and the Government has now announced an inquiry into industrial relations. Again, we didn't hear about this during the election campaign. Do you have a mandate to change workplace relations laws?

HUME:

Well, I think an inquiry isn't a mandate. An inquiry is exactly that, it's an inquiry, and I don't think anyone has any need to resist an inquiry.

KARVELAS:

So how does that work though? Do you legislate before an election or whatever comes out of that inquiry, do you then form policy that goes to an election?

HUME:

I think Governments for ever and a day have legislated not necessarily on things that they have campaigned on during an election campaign, that's not unusual. Whatever this inquiry turns out is what we will respond to and I think the public would expect that.

KARVELAS:

OK, that's interesting. So you don't think that's a case of having to wait for an election. You think if a case is made for industrial relations reform that you get on and legislate?

HUME:

Well, I think we've already made quite significant industrial relations reform with the introduction of the ABCC –

KARVELAS:

But I mean out of this particular inquiry.

HUME:

– and the Registered Organisations Commission. It's just part of a continuum as opposed to anything new.

KARVELAS:

Would you touch unfair dismissal laws, or do you personally think you should?

HUME:

I don't think that that's probably for me to say. Let's just see how the inquiry plays out.

KARVELAS:

Well, let's talk about another issue. You know this is coming and this is the David Speers series on what happened during that leadership spill. Why did you decide not to speak?

HUME:

To tell you the truth, I think it's part of the Liberal Party's history that we didn't shroud ourselves in glory that week. I don't think anyone behaved particularly well. I would like to see it well behind us, you know, just left as part of our history and we can move on now. I think that Scott Morrison has put together a really solid and united team, with a really optimistic outlook and a great agenda for the Australian people. And we just want to go forward now and not keep looking backwards.

KARVELAS:

So, what do you make of your colleagues who did go on the record to look backwards?

HUME:

Well, that's up to them. I think everybody has a different perspective on how that week played out. But I don't want to really relive it, quite frankly. As I said, we didn't shroud ourselves in glory. Time to move on – because we do have a really positive agenda now.

KARVELAS:

So should your colleagues not have gone on the record to talk about it?

HUME:

No, I'm not going to say that. It's entirely up to them if they felt that they wanted to have a cathartic moment or tell their side of the story, that's entirely up to them. But it wasn't something that I needed to participate in, in order to gain closure or exposure or whatever it might have been. I'd just like to put a lid on that and move forward because I think that there's exciting times ahead.

KARVELAS:

On this key claim that Peter Dutton was offered the deputy leadership, which is quite a claim – and he's standing by it – contested by Malcolm Turnbull; who do you believe?

HUME:

I don't need to believe either of them. It was entirely irrelevant to my decision-making that week.

KARVELAS:

So you're not sure.

HUME:

Not only am I not sure, but I don't really care. I think it's time that we put a lid on that, moved on and looked forward.

KARVELAS:

OK, so you don't care, but isn't it a key thing if Malcolm Turnbull was offering the deputy leadership, given it was Julie Bishop who I know was a trusted colleague of yours?

HUME:

Look, I think everybody has a different interpretation of what that week meant to them and how it played out, and that's probably why some of my colleagues chose to go on the series. I didn't choose to go on the series. I just want to move forward now. I think that we went to the election with a really positive agenda. Scott Morrison's leading a united team and we want to get on with the job.

KARVELAS:

Just finally on the tax bill, because it's going to parliament next week; will the tax bill pass next week?

HUME:

Yes, I think it will pass next week. You know, I think that that is something that we were very clear on – our tax agenda, our lower, simpler and fairer taxes. That was the policy we took to the election. We won the election. I'd like now to see the Labor Party get on board and support the tax bill in its entirety. I think that the cross bench will probably do the same.

KARVELAS:

OK, so, it's been reported that the Government wants the Senate to sit for – you're a senator, this is why I ask, because it's key – sit for as long as it takes until it passes. Of course, the Senate has to vote for that to happen, doesn't it?

HUME:

Well, that's exactly right, and if that's what it takes, that's what it takes. We've sat long hours and days and nights in a row before on very important issues, and this is a very important issue.

KARVELAS:

So, if you can't get anyone to agree, will the Government do anything to make sure that at least phase one goes through so that taxpayers get the tax cut they were promised?

HUME:

At this stage, we're not talking about splitting the bill in any way, shape or form. We want the bill to pass in its entirety and give Australian people the certainty that they are getting lower, simply and fairer taxes – because that's what we promised at the election.

KARVELAS:

And am I right to assume, based on what you just said, that you think you've got the crossbench support, that you actually don't need the Labor Party?

HUME:

Look, I place great faith in the good hearts and wise heads of Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff and Centre Alliance and the One Nation Senators as well. I think that everybody wants to see the little guy win here and I think that's what will happen when we pass these tax cuts.

KARVELAS:

Now, I know you're a new Assistant Minister but I have to ask: Jacqui Lambie's going to be a crucial vote, have you reached out to her?

HUME:

I haven't actually said hello to her yet since she got elected. I must do that. That's a terrible oversight on my behalf. I have been very busy these last few weeks getting all the briefings from Treasury on all the issues that I have to deal with, but I'm looking forward to seeing Jacqui back in the Senate.

KARVELAS:

OK, thank you so much for your time.

HUME:

Great to see you, Patricia.