Minister Shorten Interview on Sky Newsday with Peter Stefanovic


SUBJECTS: Superannuation; Australia Institute report

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Let's go back to Canberra now. Joining us live is the NDIS and Government Services Minister Bill Shorten. Bill, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So, the front page of The Australian today we've got the super chief, Greg Combet. He wants money raised from super tax hikes to be reinvested to help those with lower balances. It's that Robin Hood approach. Do you support him or support this?

BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NDIS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES: I always listen very carefully to what Greg Combet says, he’s a distinguished Australian. But to the best of my knowledge there's been no decision made about what happens at the very top end of superannuation tax concessions. I think it's a challenge because at the moment we've inherited $1 trillion worth of debt and we've got to make hard decisions. But to the best of my knowledge there's no final decision made.

STEFANOVIC: But there is a bubble, a thought bubble, a balloon, if you like, a kite flying. It's all up in the air at the moment. The debate is being had. The question I have, I suppose, is that isn't it the job of super funds to work in the best interests of its members first?

SHORTEN: It always is. I was very fortunate to be a trustee of a super fund before entering Parliament for ten years, AustralianSuper, and the obligation on the trustees is always clear. It's the best interests of the members first and foremost.

STEFANOVIC: So you'd want to -

SHORTEN: And that’s not going to change.

STEFANOVIC: Right, okay - but if we're talking about reinvesting, then then that's not prioritizing the investment funds, is it not?

SHORTEN: Listen, what I think is that trustees will weigh up the merits of an investment. If the deal doesn't stack up, they won't back it in. No, none of that's going to change. I think what we're seeing here is that we've got a debate not about superannuation, in fact, Labor wants to clarify the objective of superannuation, the idea that trustees would operate under any other principle other than the best interests of their members is not one that Labor's countenancing at all. No, the issue here is that can we afford to keep providing tax concessions to people who already have several million dollars in their superannuation? I mean it's a good thing if you've got that in your account. But do you need - a tax concession means that we say that you pay less tax than anyone else. If you've got several million dollars in your superannuation, why should nurses or the camera techs at your studio or teachers go to work every day, they pay their taxes and then that's to offset the tax concession we're giving it to the very, very, very top end. But anyway, as I say, I'm not aware of any decision being made. I think there's an important principle and it wouldn't be responsible of a government not to weigh up all of the issues because there's - you know, it's an inconvenient truth, but our predecessors, the coalition, left $1 trillion worth of debt.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. But I mean, I know no decision has been made, but the discussion is there. So on to Greg's point about, you know, redistributing the wealth from the tax raised from those highest earners when it comes to super, do you support that that principle of farming it out, so to speak, to those with lower income balance?

SHORTEN: No, whilst I think Greg Combet is a very worthwhile contributor to the debate, I'll take my cue from what the Treasurer does on budget night. In terms of superannuation, we need to encourage people to save for their retirement. It's concessionally taxed because if you can't access the income now you get the concessional tax rate. That's the sort of reward for keeping it till retirement. There is a legitimate question about how much tax concession do you give to mega accounts and I think today the Treasurer's putting out the annual tax expenditure and insight statement and I think the amount which we give in superannuation tax concessions annually, I think the number today will be something like $50 Billion and that's a big amount. So, I think it is an issue when you've got $1 trillion worth of debt. The challenge here for the people of Australia and the Government and Prime Minister Albanese are very seized of this, is that we've got cost of living pressure caused by factors outside of the Government's control, the war in Ukraine, China, supply chain issues - you know the story, is that we've got to provide support for people on modest incomes doing it tough. We've got the Reserve Bank lifting interest rates. We've also got all the big corporations, a lot of them Woolworths, the big banks, Ampol, making some pretty eye watering profits at the moment whilst inflation is going up. So, there's a lot to balance here in this debate.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. But just one more on super. I mean, is it worth breaking an election promise to create an alternative revenue stream to pay down that debt, like you said?

SHORTEN: Well, first of all, I don't believe any decision has been made. I think to be very truthful, that the government has got a challenge, which is very difficult at the moment. Our predecessors spent a lot of money. They got us straight into a -

STEFANOVIC: Much of it, which was supported by Labour, mind you.

SHORTEN: Yeah, but some of the money they spent was pretty irresponsible. And we're seeing that now, their rorts and their pork. So no, I don't think the waste was supported by Labor as a matter of record. The issue, though, is that our predecessors spent like a drunken sailor, there's $1 trillion in debt. The cost of servicing that debt affects every man, woman and child in Australia. That's what the Treasurer is working on and it's not responsible to ignore that problem.

STEFANOVIC: Was JobKeeper good policy?

SHORTEN: I think by and large it was, but I think some companies got it who didn't need it. I think - and you know, life's not all black and white. I think for many people it was crucial policy and Labor supported it. But there were some companies who kept the JobKeeper and deepened their profits too. And I'm not sure that was what people expected.

STEFANOVIC: You just referred to -

SHORTEN: JobKeeper was to help keep people in work. It wasn't to make a few a few very lucky people even richer.

STEFANOVIC: Just a final one here. I mean, you mentioned, you know, the big companies making excess profits. I mean, this is also part of some stats that the Australia Institute has dived into today. It's said that some of these companies are the main driver, in fact, for inflation, not wages. So, they've kind of flipped the argument. But I mean, it's highly debatable. Aren't businesses just increasing prices because everything at a lower end is becoming more expensive and then passed on?

SHORTEN: Yes, there are increasing prices, but wages are moving on average, 3.3%. Inflation in the December quarter was something like 7.8%. But the point is the companies are making bigger profits. There's no problem with making a profit. Absolutely not. But don't we need to call out some of the things we see? Woolies is 25% profit. Westpac, I think it's $5.7 billion. Commonwealth, $5.1 billion. The point is when everyone's doing it tough, no one wants the companies to do it any tougher than anyone else. But for the people who are doing the shopping, trying to, you know, fill up the family trolley, the people trying to service their mortgages, it is galling. It is frustrating to know that you're not just paying for the inflationary pressures, but the companies might be opportunistically making a profit out of everyone's misery. And that's - I think we've got to have that discussion and we’ve got to call it out. It's not right that some companies are doing well above inflation while everyone else is struggling.

STEFANOVIC: All right, Bill Shorten, we'll leave it there. Thanks for your time, though. We'll talk to you soon.