THE media are currently abuzz with stories about the objective of superannuation, giving rise to concerns that ‘the system’ and ‘the rules’ are about to change yet again.
And they are, but the Treasury’s consultation paper on the superannuation objective reassures people who are responsible for, and who run super funds: “As the objective is not intended to guide the regulation of trustees’ conduct, it would not change trustee obligations”.
So, they’re off the hook.
You will not currently find any objective of superannuation in superannuation legislation. Even so, it is pretty clear to anyone who has a super account roughly what the objective is.
It’s money for your retirement.
So, what’s the big hullabaloo about then?
It’s about the exceptions, other than exceptions relating to hardship.
Including an objective of superannuation in legislation is about preventing exceptions being made to it being for retirement funding and nothing else.
There has been one such exception to date.
This happened during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The then Coalition Government allowed people of working age to access their superannuation in order to cope with loss of employment income.
Billions were syphoned out of super funds.
And while it has not yet happened, there are recurrent proposals for superannuation to be made accessible to fund the purchase of a family home.
To make sure super is used in retirement only, the current Government has come up with the following wording for the objective of superannuation:
“The objective of superannuation is to preserve savings to deliver income for a dignified retirement, alongside government support, in an equitable and sustainable way.”
The detail of this definition is negotiable, the rest isn’t.
Whether or not this would be a sufficient bulwark against any future attempts to allow people to access their superannuation early or for purposes other than funding their retirement is debatable, but it would make it more difficult.
In his speech announcing the Australian Government’s intention to include an objective of superannuation in legislation, the Treasurer also made it clear that just enshrining the objective of superannuation into legislation, is not where superannuation reform by his Government stops.
“… we also need to work within the system itself”, the Treasurer said, promising action to address under- and non-payments of the compulsory employer contribution and funding the super guarantee on government paid parental leave.
The Treasurer also made it clear he had excessive superannuation tax concessions in his sights. He noted that superannuation concessions would exceed the cost of the Age Pension by around 2050.
In case that sounds a bit drab and dull, consider this: the Age Pension costs the budget more than $50 billion a year now.
As the Australian Financial Review reported on the basis of ATO documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation, twenty-seven of Australia’s biggest self-managed super funds held more than $100 million each in concessionally taxed savings in the 2019 financial year, including one mega-self managed super fund that had hoarded $544 million.
While the Treasurer didn’t detail which super concessions would be overhauled or how, expect some tough measures in the upcoming May Budget targeting super concessions benefitting the most wealthy.