Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the government had underestimated the risk of fraud despite warnings from Labor and the super industry.
“When the government unwisely chose to allow early access to superannuation withdrawal, Labor warned about the potential for fraud,” Mr Albanese said. “Not only Labor, but the superannuation industry wrote to the minister and on 1 May, on the very day that this fraud was uncovered, the minister wrote back and said ‘nothing to see here’.”
Financial Services Minister Jane Hume, who was not available for comment, had touted the safety of the scheme in a letter to Industry Super the same day the Tax Office alerted the AFP to the theft by “sophisticated” organised or offshore crime cells.
More than $10 billion has been withdrawn from over 1 million superannuation accounts since the scheme opened on April 20. While struggling workers can still apply over the weekend, super funds will not be sent the files for processing, which could result in modest delays in payouts.
Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar on Friday said the scheme had been paused “out of an abundance of caution”.
“There’s been one isolated incident where I think it’s fair to say identity theft has been involved,” Mr Sukkar said. “That’s being investigated by the AFP but I emphasise these are not compromises of the ATO’s system, these are flat out fraud.”
AFP commissioner Reece Kershaw said on Thursday his agency’s cyber team was assisting in the investigation as there had been “an intrusion into a third party” as part of the fraud.
Industry Super Australia chief executive Bernie Dean said he supported the government’s decision to suspend access to the scheme but warned it “may mean members in need who have applications in [progress] or were planning to make applications could face payment delays”.
“The community obviously needs to have confidence in the scheme at all stages in the application process,” Mr Dean said.
Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees chief executive Eva Scheerlinck said funds would process pending applications as soon as possible.
“Super funds are very conscious that their members in need will be wanting their payout quickly but we urge members to be patient as the industry works through these delays,” she said.
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The Australian Council of Trade Unions assistant secretary Scott Connolly cautioned the delays could leave unemployed people who weren’t eligible for other forms of support at risk as they waited for access to their super.
“When this scheme was announced, experts and funds warned that it was a ripe target for fraud and theft, but the government wrongfully dismissed these concerns,” he said.
Max is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Jennifer Duke is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra.