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Domestic violence super reforms stall

Representatives from industry super and a legal body have called on the Federal Government to deliver on a promised scheme that would have stopped domestic violence perpetrators from hiding their super assets from their spouses.

Women's Legal Service Victoria (WLSV), Women in Super (WIS), the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST) and HESTA have called on the ATO, Treasury and ministerial staff to implement the $3.3 million scheme, which was due to begin on July 1 but has not yet been delivered.

The scheme, announced as part of the Women's Economic Security Statement, aimed to give women a better chance of accessing their share of superannuation assets after a separation.

Two-thirds of women experience problems with superannuation non-disclosure by the other party during a separation. In 21% of these cases, superannuation was the only significant asset held by the couple.

WLSV manager of policy and campaigns Tania Clarke said the government's failure to implement the scheme had significantly disadvantaged women going through separation - especially survivors of domestic violence.

"Many of our clients have been in abusive relationships and their partners are hiding their superannuation assets and getting away with it because family law judgements can only be made on visible assets," she said.

"This is a real issue because superannuation is often the biggest - or only - asset of these relationships."

The government's scheme would have bypassed violent perpetrators and allowed family courts to get information on superannuation assets directly from the ATO, she said, saving their victim's time, money and heartache.

"Deliberate non-disclosure of financial assets is a form of emotional and economic abuse and it can lead to women walking away from their entitlements or to protracted and costly legal battles," Clarke said.

AIST chief executive Eva Scheerlinck agreed, arguing the government urgently needed to improve the visibility of super assets in family law disputes.

"The current process of uncovering non-disclosed super in a family law dispute needs an overhaul," she said.

"In many cases, enquiries need to be made to a multitude of funds leading to many women simply giving up the search.

"Allowing the courts to access ATO data is a simple measure that will make the process far more efficient, fair and cost-effective both for the individuals concerned and the super industry."

WIS chief executive Sandra Buckley said the implementation of the scheme would create more equitable and just outcomes for those involved in relationship breakdowns.

"The scheme will reduce the complexity, cost and time it takes to have full oversight of superannuation balances and prevent the deliberate stalling of court proceedings and non-disclosure of assets by former partners," she said.

Industry super fund HESTA partnered with WLSV late last year, with chief executive Debby Blakey arguing the current family law system is unnecessarily complex and expensive.

"This results in many women, especially those from low-income households or who are most vulnerable, simply walking away from their rightful share of super assets," Blakey said.

"If they can't claim their share of super, for many women this means losing their only income in retirement beyond the age pension."

At the time, Blakey said HESTA was working with WLSV to develop a streamlined and consistent process that all superannuation funds would be able to use to make the splitting of superannuation assets "easier, faster and fairer".

Read more: ATOHESTAFederal GovernmentDebby BlakeyTania ClarkeAustralian Institute of Superannuation TrusteesEva ScheerlinckWomen's Legal Service VictoriaSandra Buckley
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