Back in 2013, I wrote a now infamous article entitled Dear Under 50 Investor. For convenience, I have linked that article at the end of this one. That article made it clear Australians’ superannuation would not be the great source of wealth accumulation for the youth that it once was, and still is, for the older cohort of baby boomers.
The purpose of the article and its associated predictions were to warn younger investors about the dangers of funnelling too much money into their super. Money they might not see again. In fact, I went further, risking being a ‘generationist’ and suggested younger superannuants; “invest the absolute minimum amount into super…That means, no salary sacrificing, no co-contributions, no non-concessional contributions. Ignore the calls to save tax and boost your super…”
And why did I offer such a contrarian opinion?
Because, up to that point in time, almost every change to super legislation had shifted the goalposts further away from younger accumulators and, in many cases, grandfathered and therefore favoured the boomer cohort who had created the super scheme for themselves.
“Super was set up by baby boomers, for baby boomers. And since I am not a boomer, the favourable tax environment enjoyed by the boomers, I believed, would be gradually eroded such that it won’t be any advantage when it comes around to my turn.”
Even then, an observable chronological trend meant investing within the super structure was becoming less and less attractive for the young.
And most recently, evidence is emerging, of my final 2013 prediction for super, coming to fruition.
That final prediction was that as the total sum in superannuation grew, the trillions would be too tempting for the government of the day to ignore when thinking about repairing their own budgets.
“As the aggregate amount invested gets bigger, and as baby boomers get older, the temptation to tap into the giant pool simply becomes too great for the government to resist…Over time however, I expect it is inevitable (thanks also to poor economic and fiscal management – see my post here on The Balance of Payments and my meeting with Andrew Robb) there will be a gradual erosion of the attractiveness of super for younger people.”
On 1 September 2023, the expanded memorandum of the exposure draft of legislating the objective of superannuation has triggered fear and consternation among financial advisers and their member organisations that the government intends to view the pool of superannuation we have accumulated as a source of funds for national building and fiscal repair.
The Institute of Financial Professionals Australia’s (IFPA) 28 March 2023 submission to The Treasury, noted they do not support legislating the objective of superannuation. Criticism was reserved for Section 5 (1) of A Bill for an Act relating to the objective of superannuation, and for related purposes.
Section 5(1) reads as follows:
“The objective of superannuation is to preserve savings to deliver income for a dignified retirement, alongside government support, in an equitable and sustainable way.”
Quite rightly the IFPA warns “The proposed objective is in our view loaded with terms that are open to interpretation or manipulation by future governments.”
They’re right. A ‘dignified retirement’ means different things to different people based on their own economic circumstances. It can also mean different things at different stages of the economic and business cycle.
Legislation should be much more tightly drafted.
Moreover, the sustainability of the superannuation system could be contingent upon the overall budgetary and fiscal situation of the current government. It’s possible that when the superannuation pool reaches four or five trillion dollars (an arbitrary figure), the government might decide that there’s more than needed to maintain sustainability. In such a scenario, they could consider accessing the surplus for other purposes, such as fiscal recovery or ‘pet’ projects like social housing.
While these projects may indeed have a great social benefit, they were not suggested as a possibility when workers were encouraged to accumulate money in super. It’s a fundamental democratic principle that ‘goods must be correctly labelled at the time of purchase’. People need to know what they are buying before they pay. At no point since 1991 have those who contributed to super been told, ‘the government may use your money for whatever it likes’.
Natasha Panaganis, who heads Super and Financial Services for the IFPA, warns the government does indeed view the superannuation system as an important source of capital for the economy.
Speaking to self managed super fund (SMSF) Adviser, Panaganis notes the government hasn’t been “shy” regarding its plans for the nation’s super savings. Her interpretation of the draft exposure is that the government sees your super as an important source of capital that could be used to support investments in the economic priorities of any government at the time.
As you will see from the chronology of legislative changes in my 2013 article, younger people must work longer before qualifying to access super, the amount they can take out has had limits imposed, and the tax rate that applies has risen. In each case, less of your money is available to you. This trend is structural and will not be reversed.
And now the IFPA warns, as I did in 2013, the super pool is so great that governments will seek access to it.
And so, I conclude by repeating my warning of 2013: minimise your contributions to super.
Any advantages that exist today are not static and are subject to the whims of government legislative change. If you are young, you won’t see much of it so why lock it up for up to 40 years?