Bills Digest No. 51 2001-02
Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Amendment Bill 2001
This Digest was prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as
introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments. This Digest
does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be
consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the
Contact Officer & Copyright Details
Superannuation Amendment Bill 2001
Date Introduced: 27 June 2001
House: House of Representatives
Portfolio: Finance and Administration
Commencement: Royal Assent
To amend the
Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Act 1948 to:
- defer the payment of parliamentary pensions for new Members and
Senators that join the Parliament at or after the next general
election until they reach the age of 55, become invalid or die,
- provide for the payment of the deferred benefit in
circumstances where the retired Member or Senator finds themselves
in financial hardship.
Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Act 1948 (the
Act) provides a contributory superannuation scheme under which
benefits are paid to former members of Parliament, their spouses,
and orphan children.
Contributory Superannuation Scheme (PCSS) is administered under the
direction of the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Trust (the
Trust) which consists of five trustees: the Minister for Finance
and Administration, plus two Senators and two Members of the House
of Representatives. The PCSS is administered by the Department
of Finance and Administration.
Membership of the PCSS is compulsory for all
Senators and Members.
Contributions are a fixed percentage of the
parliamentary allowance (ie. backbench salary) and any additional
salary payable for service as an office holder of the parliament.
These rates are:
- 111/2 per cent of parliamentary allowance until the completion
of 18 years service, and
- 53/4 per cent of parliamentary allowance after the completion
of 18 years service.
These rates also apply to any additional
If retirement is voluntary, a Senator
or Member is entitled to a retiring allowance (ie. parliamentary
pension) after completing 12 or more years service or if he or she
has ceased to be a member on 4 occasions. (An "occasion" occurs on
the dissolution or expiration of the relevant House or the
expiration of a Senator's or Member's term of office.) If
retirement is involuntary (eg due to the loss of
preselection or loss at an election), a Senator or Member is
entitled to a retiring allowance if he or she has 8 or more years'
service or if he or she has ceased to be a member on 3 occasions.
(Senators who have 6 year terms achieve an "occasion" after the
completion of 3 years of that term, as well as when the term
Senators and Members who do not qualify for a
retiring allowance under these conditions may be entitled to a
retiring allowance if the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Trust
(the Trust) is satisfied that the retirement is due to
Where a Senator or Member does not become
entitled to a retiring allowance he or she is entitled to a lump
sum comprising the higher of:
- a refund of contributions plus a supplement;
- for voluntary retirement the supplement is 1 1/6 times the
contributions, and where it is involuntary, the supplement is 2 1/3
times the contributions: or;
- a lump sum representing the Superannuation Guarantee
Benefits are reduced to take account of the
superannuation contributions surcharge.
Rates of Retiring Allowance
The rate of retiring allowance is a function of
years of service, as shown in the following table.
|Years of Service
||Percentage of Parliamentary
|18 or more
Between the completion of 8 and 18 years service
each additional day's service attracts an additional retiring
allowance of 0.00685 per cent of the parliamentary allowance.
Additional retiring allowance in respect of
office holder service accrues at the rate of 6.25 per cent of
the additional salary for each year the office is held, up to a
maximum of 75 per cent for the highest paying office held, ie
each day as an office holder attracts a benefit of 0.0171 per
cent of additional salary.
Retiring allowances are increased in line with
increases in parliamentary salaries.
Former Senators and Members who become entitled
to a retiring allowance, except by reason of ill health, may
commute up to 50 percent of the retiring allowance to a lump sum.
The lump sum is equal to the annual amount of retiring allowance
commuted multiplied by the commutation factor. The commutation
factor for ages up to and including 65 years is 10. The commutation
factor reduces by 0.5 per year and reduces to zero at age 85.
Examples of the commutation factor applicable at various ages are
set in the following table.
65 or less
85 or over
An annuity is payable to the spouse of a Senator
or Member who dies in service irrespective of length of service.
Spouse benefits are not payable to the surviving partner in a same
sex couple. An annuity is payable to the spouse of a former Senator
or Member if the marital relationship commenced before retirement
from the Parliament. An annuity is also payable where the marital
relationship commenced after retirement from the Parliament
provided that it commenced before the former member was aged 60 or
at least 5 years before his or her death. A spouse's annuity is 5/6
of a former member's retiring allowance. Where the annuity becomes
payable to the spouse of a serving Member or Senator who died with
less than 8 years service, the spouse's annuity is based on the
benefit which would have been payable had 8 years service been
Where former Senators and Members who are
entitled to a retiring allowance or their spouses who receive an
annuity hold an office of profit under the crown, their benefit may
be reduced. The retiring allowance or annuity is reduced above a
threshold of 20 per cent of backbench salary at the rate of 50
cents in the dollar. A maximum reduction of 50 per cent of the
retiring allowance before commutation applies.
Special provisions also apply to former Senators
and Members who are re-elected to the Commonwealth Parliament or
are elected to State or Territory legislatures, and to current
Senators and Members who have received, or are entitled to receive,
lump sum benefits under other superannuation schemes (including
State or Territory parliamentary schemes).
PCSS Compared With Other
The level of superannuation contributions made
for members of Parliament by the Commonwealth is set under the
Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Act 1948. The
above summary of the scheme only mentioned the member's
contribution, which is equivalent to 11.5 per cent of the member's
Parliamentary Allowances for the first 18 years of membership.
The PCSS is an unfunded defined benefit scheme.
'Unfunded' means that the scheme funds its benefit payments from
annual appropriations as part of the Commonwealth Budget. 'Defined
Benefit' means that the member's entitlement is, in general, a
multiple of years of service and a percentage of salary.
The Australian Government Actuary provided
details of the cost to the Commonwealth of funding the
Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Scheme. In such a defined
benefit scheme, the employer is responsible for providing the
difference between the benefit actually paid and what the member
has contributed toward the benefit. The certainty comes from the
fact that the employer is prepared to accept uncertain cost.
The Australian Government Actuary reported to
the Department of Finance on the long-term cost of benefits
provided under the PCSS in February 1997, based on data as at 30
June 1996. This advice is normally provided every three years,
which is in accordance with common practice. The Department of
Finance has provided no later figures to the Parliament.
At each of these reviews, the notional employer
contribution rate is reported. This rate illustrates the effective
cost of the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Scheme
benefits as a percentage of the total salaries of scheme members,
and was 69.1 per cent calculated as at 30 June 1996.
The significance of this figure should not be
underestimated. In essence, this means that in order to fund a
politician's superannuation benefit, the Commonwealth contributes
the equivalent of 69.1 per cent of politician's total salary. In
comparative terms, this level of employer funding of a
superannuation benefit is very generous. The generosity of the
scheme is demonstrated by comparing it with other superannuation
schemes operated by the Commonwealth for its public servants.
||Notional employer contribution
(percentage of total salary)
Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Scheme
Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme (CSS), a scheme for
Commonwealth public servants
Public Sector Superannuation Scheme (PSS), a scheme for
Commonwealth public servants
This table shows how the
level of employer assistance for the PCSS is 3 times the level of
support for the CSS and 5.3 times the level of support of the PSS.
This discrepancy is more apparent when compared with the level of
compulsory superannuation paid by most employers under the
Superannuation Guarantee scheme and industrial awards. The
level of superannuation support an employer is required to provide
to employees is prescribed under Federal and State industrial
awards and the Commonwealth's superannuation guarantee (SG) scheme.
Under award superannuation, the parties (generally unions and
employers) are bound by an industrial agreement (or award) to make
superannuation contributions to a superannuation fund nominated in
the agreement. The level of support is normally not greater than
3 per cent of ordinary time earnings (although this
varies between awards). The SG scheme requires all employers to
provide a minimum level of superannuation support in each financial
year for employees (with limited exceptions). The SG scheme
operates in conjunction with award superannuation so that
contributions made by an employer in conjunction with an industrial
award may be counted towards the employer's superannuation
The table below shows the minimum level of
||Per cent of ordinary time
2002-03 and subsequently
PCSS Contribution Rate Excessive?
It is not the purpose of this paper to comment
on the merit of the level of Commonwealth support for members of
the PCSS, or on the more general issue of the adequacy or otherwise
of the remuneration for elected federal officials. Others have made
these arguments elsewhere.(1)
There are arguments both for and against the
current level of Commonwealth support. Some of these are discussed
in this section. Although this is not a comprehensive summary of
all of the arguments, in the interest of being balanced and fair,
it does attempt to provide a response to the often-made criticism
that the benefits provided in the PCSS are excessive.
It could be argued that, when compared with the SG, the level of
support for politicians appears very generous. The following chart
shows the rate of Commonwealth support for the PCSS, CSS and PSS
compared with the statutory minimum level of support that must be
provided to employees.
A direct comparison
shows that the level of support to PCSS members greatly exceeds the
level of employer for members of the two Commonwealth civilian
superannuation schemes (PSS and CSS), as well as the statutory
minimum level of support that must be provided to employees under
A contrary view is that the level of support is
not excessive since many of the tax concessions available to
members of the public are not available to members of the PCSS. For
- Salary sacrificing up to 50 per cent of salary into
superannuation is possible in both the public and private sectors,
but not to Members and Senators. Salary sacrifice is a very
effective way to maximise retirement income, but is not available
to members of the PCSS.
- A contrary view is that membership of the PCSS is a de
facto compulsory form of salary sacrifice.
- Members of the PCSS can not make unlimited un-deducted
contributions to the scheme.
In addition, if it is inappropriate for elected
officials to receive superannuation support in excess of the
statutory SG minimum, it should also be inappropriate for anyone to
have employer support in excess of this minimum. Few would argue
that the statutory SG minimum is an adequate contribution rate
Access to Superannuation Prior to the Age of 55
In 1994, the PCSS was amended to make it subject
to the same preservation rules applying to all members of
Section 26B of the Parliamentary
Contributory Superannuation Act 1948 makes members of the
scheme subject to the preservation rules that apply to the public
in general (under the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act
1993). Section 26B is included below.
Preservation of benefits and disclosure of information to
Regulations to which section applies
(1) This section applies to the Superannuation Industry
(Supervision) Regulations in so far as they deal with:
(a) the preservation of benefits; or
(b) the disclosure of information to members of regulated
Regulations apply to the parliamentary contributory
(2) Those regulations apply, with any necessary modifications,
(a) the Trust; and
(b) the scheme constituted by the provisions of this Act;
as if that scheme were a regulated superannuation fund.
Regulations to prevail over inconsistent provisions of this
(3) If those regulations are inconsistent with a provision of
this Act, the regulations prevail and that provision, to the extent
of the inconsistency, is of no effect.
The section was inserted by the
Superannuation Laws Amendment Act 1994, which received
Royal Assent on 29 June 1994.
This section means that the superannuation
benefits paid to members of the PCSS are subject to the same
preservation laws that apply to the rest of the population. The
Explanatory Memorandum to the Superannuation Laws Amendment
Bill 1994, circulated by the then Minister for Finance, the
Hon. Kim Beazley, MP stated:
The pensions paid under the Scheme meet the
preservation requirements of the Superannuation Industry
(Supervision) Act 1993 (SIS). The Bill proposes amendments to the
Act to require the preservation of lump-sum benefits in line with
the SIS legislation.
If the PCSS is subject to the same preservation
rules as applies generally, how is it possible for members to gain
access to their superannuation prior to the age of 55 years? The
answer is provided in the preservation rules, which are summarised
Preservation refers to the prudential regulatory
requirement under the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act
1993 and the Superannuation Industry (Supervision)
Regulations that certain superannuation benefits be maintained
either in a superannuation or roll-over fund until permanent
retirement or after the member reaches preservation age.
New preservation rules took effect from
1 July 1999 where all superannuation contributions
(including member contributions) and superannuation fund investment
earnings, from that date forward, are to be preserved till the
member's preservation age. Pre-1 July 1999 non-preserved
components of a member's superannuation entitlement generally
retain their non-preserved status.
Preservation age is the age at which a fund
member can gain access to benefits that have accumulated in a
superannuation fund or Retirement Savings Account, provided the
member has permanently retired from the workforce. The Government
announced in the 1997 Budget that the preservation age would be
increased from 55 to 60 years on a phased-in basis. By 2025, the
preservation age will be 60 years for anyone born after June 1964,
with the age 60 years preservation age being reduced by one year
for each year that the person's birthday is before 1 July
1964. This means that persons born before 1 July 1960
will continue to have a preservation age of 55. The following table
summarises the phase-in schedule:
|For a person born
||Preservation age (years)
Before 1 July 1960
1 July 1960 - 30 June 1961
1 July 1961 - 30 June 1962
1 July 1962 - 30 June 1963
1 July 1963 - 30 June 1964
1 July 1964 - 30 June 1965
Under the new preservation rules, a person will
continue to be allowed to have early access to preserved benefits
where the benefits are taken in the form of a non-commutable
lifetime pension or lifetime annuity on termination of gainful
employment, subject to the governing rules of the fund or
Retirement Savings Account. Preserved superannuation benefits can
be accessed on compassionate grounds and severe financial
This is the key: a person will continue to be
allowed to have early access to preserved benefits where the
benefits are taken in the form of a non-commutable lifetime pension
or lifetime annuity on termination of gainful employment.
Despite making the PCSS subject to the generally
applicable preservation rules, members can get access to their
superannuation before reaching the age of 55 years. The level of
funding of the scheme provides a substantial benefit (compared with
a benefit comprised of only the SG minimum).
The PCSS enables members to commute the benefit
(ie. convert the benefit from a pension to a lump sum). Although
the preservation rules only apply to non-commutable pensions,
through a legal technicality, PCSS members are able to commute.
This legal technicality relates to the rules of statutory
interpretation that provide that a specific provision (in relation
to politicians pension) overrides a more general provision (in
relation to the preservation rules that apply generally).
Recent Public Debate on Parliamentary
This section details recent developments in the
public debate on parliamentary superannuation.
In 1997, the 25th Report of the
Senate Select Committee on Superannuation examined the PCSS. The
report is titled The Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation
Scheme & The Judges' Pension Scheme. No changes were made
to the PCSS following the release of that report.
On 5 March 2001, the Independent Member for
Calare, Mr Peter Andren, MP introduced a private members bill to
reform the PCSS. His Bill, the Parliamentary (Choice of
Superannuation) Bill 2001 was introduced into the House of
Representatives on 5 March 2001. On 27 March 2001 the Senate
referred Mr Andren's Bill to the Senate Select Committee on
Superannuation and Financial Services for examination and report.
Mr Andren's Bill intends to amend the Parliamentary
Contributory Superannuation Act 1948 to give Senators and
Members of the House of Representatives the freedom to opt out of
Mr Andren's Bill received considerable media
coverage. For example, on 17 May 2001, the Channel 9 TV program "A
Current Affair" canvassed community views on the parliamentary
superannuation. The Senate Select Committee on Superannuation and
Financial Services subsequently received more than 2,500
submissions, 35 petitions with nearly 1500 signatures, as well as
nearly 700 e-mails and other items of correspondence in relation to
Mr Andren's Bill.
On 9 August 2001, the Senate Select Committee on
Superannuation and Financial Services tabled Report on the
Provisions of the Parliamentary (Choice of Superannuation) Bill
2001. The Committee recommended that "the issue of
parliamentary superannuation be considered by the Remuneration
Tribunal as part of a consolidated package comprising salaries,
superannuation and allowances."(2)
Mr Andren's Bill has not been debated.
Basis of Policy Commitment
On 3 June 2001, the Minister for Finance and
Administration, the Hon. John Fahey, MP announced that the
Government was considering the future of the
In the face of considerable public and press
editorial criticism of the PCSS, the Prime Minister announced that
he would support amending the PCSS to prevent access to benefits
prior to the age of 55 years.(4)
On 26 June 2001, the Minister for Finance and
Administration, the Hon. John Fahey, MP announced that the
Government would be amending the PCSS in the manner outlined
The proposed amendments will bring the
Parliamentary Superannuation Scheme into line with community
standards and will ensure that Members and Senators who join the
Parliament after the next election will not be entitled to receive
their parliamentary pension before the age of 55.
In doing this, the Bill imposes a higher
standard of preservation on Members and Senators than applies to
other Australians who receive pensions and it will closely align
their superannuation with the majority of Australians who receive
lump sum benefits, which must be preserved until at least age 55 in
most circumstances. It does this while recognising community
standards in regard to early access as set out in the
Superannuation Industry Supervision (SIS) legislation.
The Remuneration Tribunal will be requested to
consider the provision of a redundancy-type benefit limited to new
Members or Senators who may require assistance to re-establish
themselves in the workforce.(5)
When asked about the ability of Members and
Senators to access their superannuation prior to the age of 55, the
Leader of the Opposition responded as follows:
Well, I don't think it's a bad thing at all for
us to be put in the same situation as the community on accessing
superannuation payments. I notice the Prime Minister has made his
quarterly statement - that he's giving these matters due
consideration - and we'll be interested to see anything he comes up
with. But, frankly, I think this is a matter that should go to the
Remuneration Tribunal. At the moment now, most of the
parliamentarians' entitlements are considered by them but not
superannuation. This is an expert body with an understanding of how
these things work and a thorough appreciation of how the community
operates and they are an appropriate body, to my mind, to give this
matter consideration. It shouldn't be in the hands of Members of
The Australian Democrats criticised the
Government's proposals as being "too little, too
late."(7) Senator Lyn Allison stated:
- the Howard Government fails to tackle the enormous generosity
of taxpayers' contributions which are still far higher than they
- The Government Bill does not address the high contribution made
by taxpayers and does not apply to current parliamentarians.
- It is an outrageous double standard to suggest that this group
of Members and Senators can deny new parliamentarians, who come in
at the next election, the generous benefits that they themselves
are not prepared to forego.
The Australian Democrats have proposed an
alternative to the Government's approach in the form of amendments
to the Superannuation Legislation Amendment (Post-Retirement
Commutations) Bill 2000, that would:
- give MPs the choice of 'opting out' of the PCSS and into an
accumulation scheme, recommended by the Democrats in the report of
the 1997 Senate Inquiry into Parliamentary Superannuation and more
recently by Mr Peter Andren's Private Member's Bill;
- reduce benefits to match public service pension rates. While
the highest level of a parliamentary pension is currently 75 per
cent of final salary, the Democrats would cut it to a maximum of
52.5 per cent which matches the highest public service pension rate
reached after 40 years service. Other rates would be cut
- preserve benefits until age 55;
- apply to current Members and Senators; and
- remove discrimination against same sex partners of
The Australian Greens criticised the
Government's proposal as a "feeble attempt to reform
superannuation" and "hugely controversial."(8)
The Australian Greens support amending the
Government's proposal to:
- ensure present politicians are subject to the provisions
requiring politicians to reach the age of 55 before they can claim
their superannuation, and
- give politicians the choice to opt out of the generous politics
scheme and opt for a regular scheme of their choice.
They also propose that the Government's Bill be
referred to the Select Committee on Superannuation and Financial
The Bill is quite short amounting to a total of
8 pages. All of the amendments are in Schedule 1.
Item 3 inserts a new Part VA
into the Act. The new rules are designed to ensure that the payment
of a retiring allowance to an elected representative on cessation
of membership of the PCSS will be deferred until the person has
reached the age of 55. There are some exceptions to this deferral.
The new rules apply to persons who become members of the PCSS after
the first general election after the Bill commences or subsequent
to that election. The new rules do not generally apply to existing
Members and Senators when they cease being members of the PCSS, but
could apply in certain circumstances if they are subsequently
re-elected. For example, the new rules will apply to a person who
is currently in receipt of retiring allowance or who has received a
lump sum benefit from the PCSS and who again becomes a Member or
Senator at the next general election or subsequent to that
The following amendments to the
Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Act 1948 are
inserted by item 3.
Proposed section 22DA inserts
definitions of new terms that are needed for introducing deferred
retiring allowances. The new definitions include deferral
day, deferral period,
deferring member, and transitional
Proposed new section 22DB
describes when a person is a deferring member and subject
to the deferral of the payment of retiring allowance. With certain
exceptions the section describes a person who is elected to
Parliament at the transitional general election or who becomes a
Senator or Member by any means after that time.
The section also clarifies the persons who are
subject to deferral by stating circumstances where a person is not
a deferring member, namely, persons entitled to a
parliamentary allowance immediately before the "transitional
general election," who are re-elected at that election and are
Senators or Members continuously until they were no longer an
elected representative. That continuity is not broken where a
person resigns from, or otherwise ceases to be a member of, one
House and is elected to the other House within a period of 3
Proposed Section 22DC states
that a retiring allowance (other than an invalidity benefit)
becomes payable from the PCSS member's 55th birthday.
The person will also not be entitled to make an election for
commutation of their retiring allowance until age 55. A surviving
eligible spouse or eligible children will, however, be able to
receive an annuity following the death in service of a Senator or
Member or where a Senator or Member dies prior to their
Proposed Section 22DD states
that where a Senator or Member covered by the deferral provisions
can receive their retirement allowance prior to the age of 55 when
they become invalid (ie, meet the invalidity provisions for members
under the Act). An invalidity determination of the Trust under this
section is subject to a review by the Trust at least every 2 years
that may result in the revocation of the determination and the
further deferral of the payment of the retiring allowance.
Proposed sections 22DF,
22DG and 22DH mirror other
provisions of the Act in relation to the procedures for invalidity
retirement of a person who is still a member and related
Proposed Section 22DI states
that the PCSS Trust may authorise the early payment of a portion of
the retirement benefit on the grounds of "severe financial
hardship" and "compassionate grounds." This decision will be in the
form of a determination that also reduces the deferred benefit to
become payable at age 55 as a consequence of the early release of
part of the benefit.
The proposed section also provides a regulation
making power to prescribe grounds for the payment of part of the
retiring allowance that has been deferred. Before the regulations
are made, the Minister must be satisfied that the grounds for
payment are substantially similar to the conditions of release
provided for under the Superannuation Industry (Supervision)
Regulations 1994 in relation to "severe financial hardship" and
The provisions of this Bill significantly
tighten the ability of a future member of Parliament to receive a
parliamentary pension. Once a new member of the PCSS serves the
required number of years in the Parliament, they will have to wait
until the age of 55 years until they are eligible to receive their
parliamentary pension. Existing Members of Parliament are
quarantined from the effects of this Bill, thereby enabling them to
continue to be eligible to receive a parliamentary pension before
the age of 55 if they qualify for a pension.
It should be noted that this Bill imposes a
higher standard of preservation on members of Parliament than
applies to other Australians who receive superannuation pensions or
annuities. With the passage of this Bill, future Members and
Senators that are members of the PCSS will be the only
superannuation fund members in the country that re not eligible to
receive a non-commutable lifetime pension or lifetime annuity on
termination of gainful employment.
Some members of the public may be tempted to
indulge in a little scepticism about the application of this Bill,
in particular, the decision not to apply the provisions to existing
Members and Senators. Sceptics tend to paraphrase the concupiscent
St. Augustine in The Confessions (where he prays "give me
chastity, but not now") by claiming that the Bill requires future
Members and Senators to be more moderate, but not existing
- See The Australian, "No respect for MPs without super
reform," 7 June 2001; Australian Financial Review, "Super
stains salary strike," 5 June 2001; The Courier Mail,
'Hypocrisy on MP super," 9 March 2001.
- Senate Select Committee on Superannuation and Financial
Services, Report on the Provisions of the Parliamentary (Choice
of Superannuation) Bill 2001, Canberra, 9 August 2001, p. 21.
- The Sydney Morning Herald, "Fahey signals review for
MPs' super benefits,' 4 June 2001.
- The Hon John Howard, MP, Media Interviews, "Transcript
of he Prime Minister The Hon. John Howard, MP: Television interview
with Mike Munro, 'A Current Affair' Channel 9," 4 June 2001.
- The Hon. John Fahey, MP, Minister for Finance and
Administration, Parliamentary Superannuation Amendments,
Media Statement 31/01, 26 June 2001.
- The Hon. Kim Beazley, MP, Doorstop Interview,
Parliament House, Canberra 5 June 2001.
- Senator Lyn Allison, Last Ditch MP Super Bill
Inadequate, Press Release Number: 01/377, 27 June 2001.
- Senator Bob Brown, Government Ambush on Politicians'
Superannuation, Media Release 28 June 2001.
12 September 2001
Bills Digest Service
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