02 March 2023

Laura Jayes, Host: We didn't talk super with Michelle Rowland, but we're going to do that now with the Trade and Manufacturing Minister Tim Ayres. Tim, great to see you. Thanks for joining us here at the desk.

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing: G’day Laura.

Jayes: Superannuation has got a bit messy over the last couple of days. Is this going to hurt Labor, this New South Wales state election, do you think?

Assistant Minister: I think voters make the distinction between state and federal politics and I don't think this issue hurts the government at all. This is a set of moderate, sensible changes. They affect half a per cent of superannuation account holders.

Jayes: Is that right though? Because it's not indexed.

Assistant Minister: Well, it affects half a per cent of superannuation account holders -

Jayes: Right now.

Assistant Minister: People who have more than $3 million in their accounts. To get a little bit of perspective about this, the average superannuation account has got about $160,000 in it. It is money designed to be set aside every pay cycle, every quarter, by Australian employees and Australian businesses to provide for their retirement. The idea that somebody has more than $400 million in their super account, 17 Australians more than $100 million, about 78,000 Australians with more than $3 million. That is very different to what the purpose of the scheme is for now.

This cohort of people will still have very generous tax concessions available to them. They'll just be slightly less generous than they are before. It sets aside a modest amount, $2 billion into the forwards every year. That's an important, modest, but structural adjustment to the Government's revenue position. It's consistent with what the purpose of superannuation is. I think most Australians see it for what it is.

Jayes: But why now? Because this wasn't considered in the October Budget. It wasn't flagged before the last election. This is not going to make the super system more sustainable. This is going to the budget bottom line. The budget is $40 billion better off than it was nine months ago. So, why?

Assistant Minister: It's a modest change that - that has come before the Government. The Government's made the right call. Previous governments have made similar calls. The Turnbull Government made a decision that affected eight times as many people. Now, what is the difference here? When the Turnbull Government made that call, that impacted a larger group of people, Labor in Opposition considered what was actually in the interests of the budget and the interests of the country, and we voted for the proposition. It might not have been the way that we might have done it, but we voted for the proposition.

What is different today is the character of the Opposition. Peter Dutton has gone back to the old Tony Abbott model of just saying no to everything and not considering what actually is in the national interest here and whether it's superannuation or the National Reconstruction Fund or cheaper childcare or the other budget measures that we'll be dealing with in May, these guys have not learnt the lessons of the last election. They are just committed to saying no and to sort of hyper-partisanship around these issues. And I don't think - people are sick of it.

Jayes: But if we could stick to the issue, if this is about budget repair and making superannuation more sustainable, how has this decision actually done that? Because it's freaked people out.

Assistant Minister: Well, I don't think it's freaked people out.

Jayes: Really?

Assistant Minister: I think there's a lot of hyperventilating in some of our national media -

Jayes: You know that people start to get nervous when you talk about super?

Assistant Minister: But the question here is, every day the government is going to be making the case for what is a small and modest change. Over time, Australians will see that this affects half of 1 per cent, one in 200 people.

Jayes: But you keep on saying that.

Assistant Minister: One in 200 people. One in 200 people.

Jayes: But it's 80,000 now. Do you concede that as we see inflation running as hot as it is, it's going to be way more than that and what about people on undefined benefit schemes? Veterans, public servants.

Assistant Minister: If more people end up with more and more in their super, they will still have the benefit of very generous tax concessions for their superannuation. That's the design of the system.

Jayes: So, should you at least look [at] indexing this?

Assistant Minister: There's no discussion about indexing this. It is a modest change.

Jayes: Should there be?

Assistant Minister: There is, I think, no prospect of that. But - but what has been considered is absolutely right and you couldn't, you couldn't target it to a smaller subset of superannuation account holders than it's been targeted at. It's over $3 million, average Australian account is $150,000. You think about the position of a nurse or a police officer, a cleaner who is in their mid-50s worrying about whether they're going to have enough in their super to get by. This set of modest changes doesn't affect that group. It affects a group who, good luck to them, have done very well and they still have the benefit of very generous tax concessions there. They're just slightly less generous than they were before.

Jayes: Can I ask you one final question? Phil Thompson, on his social media has been talking about a New Zealand company that has been awarded a contract to supply food rations to the Australian Defence Force. Now, you talk about, this government talks about the need for local manufacturing, boosting up Australian businesses, I don't know whether you're aware of this decision, but is this something that you would look into? Are you concerned about that on face value, that it's gone to the New Zealand company, not an Australian one?

Assistant Minister: I'm not aware of this decision. I'll have a look at Phil's social media if I can get someone from the office to dig it up. We have very close economic relations with New Zealand, and we share a lot across the ditch in terms of our agricultural and industrial capability. This doesn't distract one iota from what the government's ambition here is. In food and agriculture, I want to see us moving up the value chain in agriculture, so we are producing more manufactured food products for the world. We sit on the edge of the fastest-growing region of the world in human history as the Prime Minister keeps saying. It is full of challenges, but it's also enormous opportunities and if we get this right with the National Reconstruction Fund in particular - which Peter Dutton and Sussan Ley seem determined to oppose - they are jobs in country towns and in our outer suburbs where good jobs are really going to matter. We are determined to deliver this set of reforms and will deliver them in the Parliament with or without the support of Peter Dutton and the Liberals.

Jayes: All right, Tim Ayres, we're well out of time. Welcome back to the show.