Shadow minister for financial services Stephen Jones has blasted the Liberal government’s actions around the early superannuation release scheme, calling moves by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and senator Andrew Bragg “sneaky” attacks on the super sector and “irresponsible” for consumers.
Mr Jones has positioned himself in opposition to the early release measure, which will see eligible Australians in financial distress able to withdraw $10,000 tax-free from their super before July, and another $10,000 in the months after.
His opinion is that the super industry will be “critical” to the nation’s post-COVID-19 recovery, with its “pool of funds key to investing in infrastructure and business, providing much-needed stimulus for the Australian economy”.
The Treasurer has been reported to ask ASIC to monitor and ensure changes were made to funds’ communication informing members of the cost of reducing their balances.
Mr Jones has scrutinised the move, calling it a “sneaky attack on superannuation”. The “Morrison government shouldn’t be trying to silence warranted criticism of its flawed and dangerous plan,” he said.
“With all the serious challenges confronting the economy right now it begs belief that the Treasurer is focused on interfering overtly, and politically, with the administration of funds by trustees and with the provision of information to members,” Mr Jones said.
“Has he ever asked the corporate regulator to monitor banks’ advertising in this same way, or tried to curtail them expressing a view on policy and impacts on customers?
“The Morrison government shouldn’t be using this crisis as an excuse to escalate its decades-long ideological war against super in general and industry super in particular. The nation would be better served if Josh Frydenberg spent his time addressing the gaps in the JobKeeper scheme and saving thousands of jobs at Virgin, not looking for a tickle on the tummy from the extreme elements in his party who want to diminish, or destroy, super.”
Mr Jones has also criticised Mr Bragg for giving “irresponsible advice to access super early”.
Speaking to Sky News, he said Mr Bragg had circulated letters promoting early withdrawal of super.
The comments have followed Mr Bragg sending a letter to APRA via the standing economics committee earlier this week, which asked questions on notice around super funds’ liquidity and stress testing. The senator stated he was looking for reassurance that the funds “have their houses in order”.
Mr Bragg had previously blasted super funds for overextending into illiquid assets ahead of the crisis, calling it a “sign of bad management and poor investment schemes”.
“He’s now running a one-man campaign against the industry,” Mr Jones said to Sky News.
“I have seen documents circulating under his letterhead encouraging Australians to access the scheme, irrespective and without any information about the eligibility criteria. Frankly, this is irresponsible.
“It borders on illegal, because there are… legal requirements on people giving financial advice. We call on the senator, we call on all others who are acting irresponsibly and putting out this advice to… check themselves.”
Mr Bragg hit back at the criticisms, tweeting: “We all know Mr Jones would rather save the super funds than save Australia.”
In response, Mr Jones said: “I wasn’t aware we had to make a choice. Most serious people understand that superannuation is critical to our economic recovery.”
“The only thing I’m invested in is protecting the integrity of our world-class super system from wreckers on the Liberal Party backbench who would like to see it dismantled,” he tweeted.
“I have never received a dime from the superannuation industry. I don’t know if Andrew Bragg can say the same. If Mr Bragg is looking to accuse anyone of using this crisis as an opportunity to peddle out of touch ideological agendas, Mr Bragg should grab a mirror.”
Liberal MP Jason Falinski and senator James Paterson also criticised Mr Jones, with Mr Paterson tweeting: “The real question is why is Stephen Jones so desperate to deny the Australian people access to their own money?”
Mr Frydenberg revealed on Thursday morning almost half a million Australians (456,000) were approved to gain early access to their super three days into the scheme commencing, totalling more than $3.8 billion in claims.
The average withdrawal was $8,000.
Under a limit set by APRA, the super funds will have five working days to pay out the claims.
As at Thursday, 572,000 applications for early release had been approved, totalling $4.4 billion.
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