Anika Wells MP on ABC Q+A

SUBJECTS:  Superannuation withdrawals; Virtual parliament; Insecure work.
HAMISH MACDONALD, HOST: Alright, let’s bring in the politicians. I’m going to welcome Andrew Bragg, the Liberal Senator for New South Wales, Anika Wells who is the Labor MP for Lilley and in Perth, Greens Senator for WA, Jordon Steele John. Welcome to you all. Anika Wells what are the impacts for people of this generation if they do take their super out now?
 ANIKA WELLS MP, MEMBER FOR LILLEY: Well I think, first and foremost, this is one of the great acts of intergenerational theft that we have seen from an Australian government. And my question to people like Andrew who are out there beating the drum on this policy and suggesting that it’s going to allow young people like Katie to buy her first home in Western Sydney, is what is the end game here?
MACDONALD: So what do you mean by theft? Who’s stealing the money? I mean these are individuals taking money that is there for them eventually, now.
WELLS: Yeah but superannuation is a covenant of trust between the employer and the industry or retail super funds to provide for dignity in retirement for all people. Our generation needs that money, just as the current generations need that money. And my question to people like Andrew who’ve been saying this will actually solve things like affordable housing, for people like Katie in Western Sydney – is what is the end game, when we all end up in our old age in our overpriced shacks, with no retirement nest eggs left to speak of, and the next generation's government is tasked with providing for a decent aged pension for everybody with no money to do it? I think if you were to actually go away and try to devise a policy that would decimate the budget in the long term, that would drive up the cost of housing even further, and would strategically disadvantage the youngest and most vulnerable people in our community, this is the kind of policy that would do it. It’s a No from me. Zero stars.
MACDONALD: Ok Andrew Bragg, I know you will give it more stars than that. But I want to put some figures to you. Nicky Hutley, from Deloitte Access Economics says that for someone pulling out their super now, that’s at the early stages of their career, that money will be worth $60,000 in 20 years time, or potentially $120,000 because of the value of compound interest. This is not a good deal for young people at all, is it?
ANDREW BRAGG, LIBERAL SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES: Hamish the biggest problem with super for young people is the system doesn’t actually work. So…
MACDONALD: But hold on, that’s not the question. This is about whether it’s a good deal for young people. If they take the money out now, they’re not going to get $60,000 or $120,000 down the track. They’re just going to get that amount now.
BRAGG: Well actually, the majority of people that have taken money out of their super during the pandemic have used it to pay off debts and have used it to pay down their mortgage. So they’ve improved their personal balance sheets.
WELLS: I challenge that.
BRAGG: Well that’s what the ABS data shows. Now the best thing you can do from a financial point of view is to secure your own home. The best way to avoid poverty in retirement is to actually have your own home. So if you’re renting in retirement it’s going to be a pretty difficult retirement for you. And so the essential problem is…
MACDONALD: But I suppose the point is Andrew though, if you have nothing left in your super but you do have a house then aren’t you going to be, aren’t a lot more people going to be reliant on the state pension?
BRAGG: But the problem with that Hamish is that super doesn’t get many people off the pension, I mean it doesn’t get many people off the pension, you’re looking at 70 per cent reliance…
MACDONALD: Perhaps not in full, but significant amounts.
BRAGG: It actually doesn’t. And it costs the budget more than it saves. It damages home ownership prospects, it costs a bomb to the budget and it doesn’t get people off the pension. So it is really a bad deal for young people. Young people and home ownership is really a major problem for our country. I want to live in a country where people can own homes.
MACDONALD: Can you point to any examples of young people taking their super out now and actually achieving home ownership?
BRAGG: There are many people that have taken money out of their super to pay off mortgages, to put together a deposit for a home…
MACDONALD: Yes you said that. I’m just asking if you have a single example of a young Australian taking their money out now and becoming a homeowner because of it?
BRAGG: I’ve had several people write to me and say that if you give up on your agenda to try and allow people access to their super for a first home deposit, I will never have a home, because the only chance I’ve got…
MACDONALD: Come on Senator Bragg, you heard the question, you’re just not answering it. Do you have a specific example?
BRAGG: The answer is yes.
WELLS: The reason Andrew can’t offer…
BRAGG: I can provide three that have written to me in recent months.
WELLS: The reason Andrew can't offer any examples Hamish, is because he's a prophet offering false hope. Like Hamani just said, the average 25-year-old has 16 grand in their super account. Sixteen grand is not affording a 20 per cent deposit in any of the capital cities, so there’s no deposit in that. And the average 25 year old is in insecure work, part-time work, casual work, so no bank is giving them a mortgage anyway. That’s why he hasn’t got any examples to offer us because it’s not going to work.
MCDONALD: Jordon Steele John?
JORDON STEELE-JOHN, GREENS SENATOR FOR WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Well I think that if folks are withdrawing the little we’ve scraped together in our super as young people, it’s because the government’s response to the crisis has been inadequate, or has often times made things worse. I think of a friend of mine here in Freemantle, hi Ange if you’re watching at home, she was planning on becoming a youth worker before the crisis hit. COVID put a stop to that so she went to retrain, well went to study actually in the arts and humanities space, only to be hit by a doubling of the university degree price. And I think what we see here, replicated over and over again, whether it be in super or any other area of the government response, is a clear and urgent need for more young people in parliament, particularly young women, particularly young women of colour, to make these plans and craft these proposals. To be blunt with you Hamish, the male, pale and painfully stale monopoly on power needs to be broken. It is failing our generation.
MACDONALD: You’re getting applause from the audience here Jordan, I’m not sure you can hear that in Perth.
STEELE-JOHN: I can hear a little bit of it, thank you very much
MACDONALD: Speaking of access to parliament, you’re in Perth tonight. Just explain why you’re not travelling to Canberra for this parliamentary sitting. What are the obstacles for you?
STEELE-JOHN: Well as a disabled person, I’ve got cerebral palsy some of you might now. So as a wheelchair user and somebody with CP, I’m at more heightened risk from COVID-19. And so I’ve been advised by my doctors to attend parliament remotely. Which I’ve been able to do today, once we got around a couple of technical issues.
MACDONALD: But I’m just interested in that, because although you can attend remotely, you can’t vote.
MACDONALD: Is this effectively discriminating against you?
STEELE-JOHN: Well I think that there is an issue around how do we integrate these modern forms of technology into the parliamentary system Hamish. I think that we’re seeing the parliament dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century in many ways. And that is, in some ways, a good thing.
MACDONALD: Anika Wells I know you told our producers that a bunch of pregnant MPs got together and basically demanded this remote access. What exactly did you have to do to get this change?
WELLS: Well I think we made the point that if we didn’t evolve and provide flexible options for people to participate in the parliament, the sitting week that we are in this week would actually look like sitting weeks from 20 years ago, before parliament got a little bit more diverse and a little bit mor representative of the communities that we represent out there. I think the….
MACDONALD: What was the situation for you? I mean, would you have been able to attend if circumstances were different?
WELLS: Well I had a couple of different things working against me. I have…third trimester of a twin pregnancy, I’m a caregiver for my three-year-old back home. And then the different state quarantine restrictions – the Queensland ones hadn’t been determined yet. So we were waiting to hear what would happen. And I would note that there are some pregnant women here this week in parliament and some in Victoria who didn’t make it. So we haven’t got there yet. And I think the cold, hard truth that we all need to accept – we being all elected representatives here in Canberra – is that at the moment the people that we most need to hear from are the people who are finding it hardest to get here in the first place. And the answer to that is making it easier for them to get there, be it with more flexible parliament and with making sure that we elect people who come from diverse backgrounds and can offer those experiences to the parliament. So when we make these massive decisions about policy, when we make choices that will have consequences for 50 years to come, the people that will be facing those consequences, the young people that you have in the Sydney studio tonight, actually participated in their own destiny.
MACDONALD: Ok, let’s take our next question. It’s a video from Bella Mitchell-Sears in West Footscray, Victoria.
MITCHELL-SEARS: I’m a year 12 student currently studying in Victoria’s Stage 4 lockdown. My question is for the politicians on the panel – specifically Senator Andrew Bragg. As a young woman with an interest in politics from a young age, I planned on next year studying an Arts degree to pursue a political career as many have before me. However, recent changes by your government has seen the cost of my degree skyrocket, making a political career seem further out of reach. How do you justify drastically increasing the price of my tertiary education especially in already unstable economic times? How do you justify the implementation of policy ensuring that only the wealthy have the opportunity to govern the country?
MACDONALD: I will come to you Andrew Bragg, but I’m going to put that to Jordon Steele John first.
STEELE-JOHN: Thank you, look I think that is a fantastic question. If you are studying the arts and the humanities, these are amazing fields to be pursuing and to be working in. And you should be celebrated and supported to do that. The idea, the reality that we are doubling people’s degrees, we are kicking people off the HECS system for failing a couple of units – this is not only not ok, there is a deep hypocrisy at the heart of this policy. Sixteen members of the Coalition government went to university for free. The Arts Minister proposing this change, enforcing it, has three Arts degrees. I think what we have here is yet another example of one generation denying opportunities to our generation that they themselves enjoyed. What we need to do is make university free again and abolish all student debt. That’s what students need. And that’s what the Greens are pushing for.
MACONALD: Jordan I just want to pick you up on that though. The panel tonight has already talked about the need to make sure the education system is feeding into the what the jobs of the future are going to be.
STEELE-JOHN: Absolutely.
MACDONALD: And it’s pretty clear we need more people in some of these other areas. Why is the Government wrong to incentivise that within the tertiary sector in the way that they’re doing?
STEELE-JOHN: Well there’s a couple of pieces here. One thing Hamish is that we’ve got to recognise that education is a human right and a public good. And that a university degree, a TAFE degree is as important today as a high school exit certificate was, you know, generations ago. Now I sat on the committee that looked into this question, the Senate inquiry into the next 25 years of work. And the message we got back from all the wonderful people including the young people that gave evidence to that inquiry was that the future of employment in Australia is in the caring industries. It is the face-to-face industries, it is the Arts and Humanities. That is the future of employment – in the aged care sector, in the NDIS, in these areas of work that are almost impossible to automate and to get rid of. So it’s actually counter to the evidence of what we know, even in the space of STEM where everybody that is worth their salt will tell you that STEM is only as valuable as it can be if it is included and wrapped around with the Arts and the Humanities.
MACDONALD: Ok, let me let Senator Andrew Bragg answer this. Bella’s situation, her degree will more than double in price, up 113 per cent. How do you justify that?
BRAGG: Well Bella thanks for your question. And good on you for wanting to study a BA. I did a BA. But I have to say I paid more for my business degree than I did for my BA. It wasn’t all that long ago.
MACDONALD: How much did you pay for your Bachelor of Arts?
BRAGG: Well, maybe 20-$25,000. I paid more for the business degree so…
MACDONALD: She’s going to be paying something like fourteen and a half thousand a year for her degree. How do you justify charging her so much more than you had to pay?
BRAGG: Well it will be under the HECs system Hamish, so it’s deferred. Now what we’re doing is actually creating….
MACDONALD: It’s still more expensive.
BRAGG: What we’re doing is creating a system where the needs of the future will be effectively incentivised. And people will be able to mix and match. So if you choose a unit which is one of the more incentivised or more needed skills then that will be a lower price compared to something which isn’t, so you’re free to mix and match. We need to try and make sure that our country has the skill base to compete with other countries in the future because I mean we can have a sort of provincial discussion about you know state border, and things in Australia, but the reality is this country is competing with you know, very significant regional competitors for investment and jobs in the future.
MACDONALD: So your message to Bella is you’ve got to see yourself in that bigger picture?
BRAGG: I think that it’s very important that we as Australians are outward looking, optimistic people and always wanting to make sure, certainly as policy makers, that we’re pushing our parliament to enact laws which enable us to be competitive.
MACDONALD: Ok. One more question for our pollies, this is from Isaac Wade in New South Wales.
WADE: Unions, workers and economists have all raised concerns about increasing rates of workforce casualisation. This has left workers, especially young people, without access to sick leave and in an unstable state of work during this crisis. Given the pandemic and rising rates of unemployment, are you concerned that we will see an increased rate of workforce casualisation?
MACDONALD: Alright I want to bring our main panel back into this conversation with the politicians. Ahmed, how much is this affecting people that you’re meeting in Melbourne?
AHMED HASSAN, YOUTH ACTIVATING YOUTH: Absolutely, it’s affecting a lot of young people who’ve lost their jobs. You know a lot of the communities we work with and a lot of the young people I know were the first people in March that were stood down. And there’s no optimistic future about where we’re going to be, where’s the outlook going to be? A lot of young people are worried. You hear about this talk about jobs of the future but what about those young people who’ve been unemployed for four, five, six, seven years and haven’t had access into the job market? They can’t access it. In Victoria when we had record investment, in terms of record amount of jobs created, young people are still from different migrant communities actually struggling to get into the jobs market. And you know, we’ve tried to make some serious inroads and right now in a pandemic when everyone’s lost their job, they still continue to be pushed back. When do we have an inclusive policy to bring them back in – the long term unemployed, the one that’s just bene unemployed – and make sure we have an agreement and a plan to make sure the recovery phase includes everyone and not leave some people that were already struggling way behind?
MACDONALD: Scott Yung, I’m interested to know your thoughts on this. When you’re coming out of a crisis like this one, what matters? Whether you have a job, or whether it’s full time?

SCOTT YUNG, EDUCATION ENTREPRENEUR: I think you’ve got to get your foot in the door first.
MACDONALD: So it doesn’t matter if it’s casual?
YUNG: Doesn’t matter if it’s casual. Doesn’t matter if it’s part time.  I think you’ve just got to get your foot in the door because I feel like the longer you stay unemployed, the worse your mental health gets. Because you probably have a lower self esteem for yourself. You know I’ve been in those positions before. A lot of my mates have been in those positions so you’ve just got to get your foot in the door.
MACDONALD: Anika Wells, your view on that?
WELLS: I disagree, I think it does matter what kind of job you have. And what’s happened to young workers, to people in insecure work this year should be the smoke alarm that raises this government from its slumber on insecure work. People have been fighting against casualisation for nearly 10 years now and the Productivity Commission just put out a couple of reports last week talking about the scarring that it has on the workforce. And what young people need out of the government by way of COVID response is minimum standards in the gig economy and cracking down on dodgy employers and a genuine say in their own workplaces. And the government’s started signposting that they’re looking at IR reform as a way out of the COVID response. Great! But what they’re saying is they want to deregulate IR even further. Why would you make insecure work even more precarious and insecure?