Originally published in The Guardian on February 23, 2023

Superannuation is too important for retirement to be allowed to be a tax dodge scheme for the wealthy. It is time to review the scheme and stop the abuses

This week the government announced a review to legislate the objective of superannuation. Surprisingly, there is no official objective of superannuation and this has allowed it to be used for purposes that are decidedly not about ensuring a comfortable retirement.

The review has sparked criticism from the opposition who are using it to suggest the government is coming after your money. But as policy director, Greg Jericho, writes in his Guardian Australia column, for the very rich, superannuation has become less about retirement and more about dodging tax.

Because super contributions are taxed at 15% the biggest benefit goes to those who are on the highest marginal income tax rate. As a result, those with the highest incomes contribute much more of their own money to superannuation than do those on lower incomes. Those earning over $150,000 make up 7% of individuals, 27% of total income, but 32% of total personal superannuation contributions. Also because there is no limit on the size of superannuation balances that can access this tax concession it means those with the very largest superannuation balances continue to get the advantage of a tax concession that has long past any sense of assisting a comfortable retirement.

These tax concessions are now extremely costly – costing the government almost as much as the aged pension – and moreover so slanted are the benefits to the wealthy that the richest 20 per cent cost the government more tax concessions than it would pay them the full aged pension.

Clearly, the system is not working as it should. It is not about self-funding retirement but funding retirement by avoiding tax.

The Treasurer has suggested putting a cap on the size of superannuation balances – somewhere around $3m. Such a size would only affect less than 1.5% of all individuals aged 55-69. But clearly needs to be done because those 1.5% hold 14% of all superannuation balances of people in that age.

Superannuation is important and vital for the retirement of many Australians. But it should not be used just to avoid paying tax – the cost of that lost revenue is denying assistance to those who actually need help once they stop work.

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