Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek and Lola Farrell, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Treasury spokesman Chris Bowen with Paul Phillips, as Labor announce policies to benefit women. Alex Ellinghausen
The federal government has indicated it will support superannuation breaks promised by Labor and go further with a package of measures aimed at the economic empowerment of women, as the battle for the working woman's vote gets under way.
Labor promised on Wednesday that, if elected, it would pay the superannuation guarantee for women while they were taking the public paid parental leave scheme that offers 18 weeks' leave at the minimum wage.
Labor will also phase out the current restriction in which people earning under $450 a month are not paid a superannuation guarantee by their employers.
The policies, worth $400 million over the first four years and $2.7 billion over a decade, "deals with a manifest piece of unfairness in Australian society", Labor leader Bill Shorten said.
"Women get paid less than men, they save less over their working lives than men to the point of retirement," he said.
On average, women retire with about $113,000 less than men. Labor forecasts a woman who has three children and is in a low-paid job could be up to $30,650 better off at retirement than she otherwise would.
Labor's Treasury spokesman Chris Bowen said there would be more to come to redress gender inequality in the workforce.
But the government, which is struggling with an image problem caused by its low number of female MPs and an exodus among the few women it has, indicated it would not be caught napping.
It plans to release at the end of this month or early next month a package of measures under a women's economic statement that Minister for Women Kelly O'Dwyer first flagged at the May budget. It is expected to include super measures.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government would "consider all options in this area" when pressed on Labor's proposals but said if the Opposition were serious, it would dump plans to scrap legislation enabling women to make catch-up payments to their super.
Insurance sticking point
In a move aimed at women who have more interrupted work lives, people with a total superannuation balance of less than $500,000 can carry forward their unused concessional cap amounts.
The government also says Labor, if serious about the low paid, should back a bill currently before the Senate called Protecting Your Superannuation Package.
The bill contains a series of measures to stop small super accounts of $6000 and less being eroded by fees. It proposes banning exit fees, capping administration fees at 3 per cent, automatically amalgamating low-value accounts held by the same person and enabling people under 25 to opt in to insurance, rather than the current opt-out.
Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert said there was little point introducing measures such as those promised by Labor if the funds continued to be eroded.
"Before any substantial move, we have to deal with things that are eating away savings," he said.
Mr Bowen has been in talks with the government over supporting the bill and the sticking point is the insurance. Labor is arguing the opt-out provision should remain for those under 25 years doing dangerous jobs.
"We see what the government is trying to achieve. We are sympathetic to the aims that it is trying to achieve," he said.
"We have had some concerns about perhaps unintended consequences for people in high-risk occupations. It is one thing to say that you don't need insurance when you are working in a white-collar occupation, it is another thing if you are 40 floors up on a construction site."
Mr Robert said: "Labor may pretend to be concerned about women's superannuation, but instead they stand with big insurance companies and high fee-charging funds."
By Phillip Coorey
19 September 2018