“HESTA has strongly advocated to extend compassionate access to super for victims and survivors of family violence," our CEO Debby Blakey says. "We welcome this step as it will provide a vital financial lifeline to those seeking safety from violence and abuse.
"On average at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner. Given the prevalence of family violence in Australia, it’s entirely appropriate early access to super has been extended to victims and survivors.”
Debby says it's encouraging the Government has also listened to ongoing advice from specialist legal and family violence service providers to improve the visibility of super assets in property settlements.
“Women often escape a violent situation with limited assets and serious debt, as financial abuse is almost always present where there is family violence.
“Super is often the only remaining shared asset in a relationship breakdown and it can be very difficult for people to locate their partner’s funds, especially without legal assistance, which can be costly.
“These changes will help women more fairly split super assets, as well as support themselves as they seek a fair property split.”
More work to do
While the Government’s proposal to streamline the property settlement process would give women faster access to much needed income, it's just the start of the conversation.
“Women already experience much lower super balances than men, and greater vulnerability to poverty as they age, and they should not be further financially penalised in situations of family violence," Debby notes. “It’s vitally important that any discussion of early access to super for victims and survivors of family violence is also coupled with consideration of how they could then access the perpetrator’s super as part of victims of crime compensation.”
In February 2018, HESTA called for further exploration of victim compensation related to family violence as part of a review of the early release of super being conducted by Treasury. We believe it's important that super accessed early by victims and survivors of family violence is not considered income by Centrelink and that it is not taxed.
Money released from the system early in the cases of genuine need not carry an extra tax burden as tax has already been paid on super contributions. These payments are currently assessed as income, which can impact someone’s ability to access social security. Super released as part of terminal illness payments is currently not taxed and this should apply across all early release grounds.
Debby says the Government needs to consult broadly with the community sector before implementing these proposed changes.
“It’s vital that the Government seeks the views of expert service providers regarding implementation, as this money needs to be provided in the context of family violence victims and survivors receiving appropriate, specialist financial counselling and support,” she says. "The Government needs to also adequately fund already stretched frontline family violence service providers so they are appropriately resourced to deal with this package of changes."
Debby also welcoms changes to paid parental leave, to provide greater flexibility and extension of access to the self-employed.
“While these changes will provide more choices to women returning to work, it’s still a glaring omission that paid parental leave is the only type of leave that does not attract superannuation contributions.
"This is perpetuating the persistent gender super gap and is a crucial step towards making our super system fairer for women.”