The Federal Government has showed its hand in terms of potential future changes to the Australian superannuation system. The Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services, Stephen Jones, recently outlined two main areas the government will be focusing on. This includes legislating an objective for super (earmarking it specifically for use in retirement), which will then enable conversations around the taxation of super – in particular tax concessions given to high-asset self managed superannuation funds (SMSFs). The second area the government will seek to tackle is performance tests, on which work has already commenced.
From its beginnings in 1992, superannuation collectively has become a juggernaut and has grown to encompass over $3.3 trillion in assets held by an estimated 16 million Australians. That figure makes Australian superannuation the world’s third largest pension pool.
A Bill was previously introduced in 2016 that proposed to enshrine\ the primary objective of the super system in legislation: to provide income in retirement to substitute or supplement the age pension. It would have also required all new Bills relating to super to be accompanied by a statement of compatibility with the objective of the super system. This Bill lapsed ahead of the 2019 election and was never reintroduced.
Having a clear legal objective of super, the government says, will break the vicious cycle of plans to raid super such as drawing on super to pay for housing, HECS or living expenses, which have all been proposed at various stages in the past few years.
The government estimates that there are 32 SMSFs with more than $100 million in assets, with the largest SMSF having over $400 million in assets. Industry estimates also indicate that the tax concessions on a single $10 million SMSF could support 3.1 full age pensions. With this in mind, the government is looking to have a conversation around the concessional taxation of these high-asset SMSFs.
The other change the government is looking to make will stem from the results of the review into the Your Future, Your Super (YFYS) laws. The YFYS measures were initiated to ostensibly remove “unintended consequences” and keep the focus on “high performance”. A consultation paper has been released and the government has established a technical working group in addition to public submissions and stakeholder consultations.
In order to conduct the review to keep the focus on high performance, the government paused the extension of the existing Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) performance test to Choice super products for 12 months. The performance test therefore currently only applies to MySuper products, which represent around $13.7 million accounts. Super members in other types of products will not have access to the same independent APRA performance analysis unless the consultation concludes they should.
According to Mr Jones, “[t]he performance tests, conducted by APRA, must and will continue. Trustees need to be held to account because it is about ‘Your Future’. We also need to ensure members have meaningful information so that they can hold their funds to account and make informed decisions about their retirement.” Hence, it appears that the performance tests will continue in one form or another into the future, perhaps with different benchmarks.