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Prepare for the shifting sands in personal taxation

Around this time three years ago I warned investors to brace themselves for bad news regarding potential tax and superannuation reforms as those areas were likely targets for the Government in the wake of the debt increase caused by the response to the pandemic. None of those reform options came to fruition (“thankfully” I hear you gasp!).

Since then, the Labor Party adopted a ‘policy light’ stance on tax and superannuation into the 2022 federal election probably due to its heavy defeat at the 2019 election where it sought to, among other things, implement limits on negative gearing, halve the capital gains tax discount from 50% to 25%, and eliminate the refundability of franking credits.

Furthermore, the October 2022 Budget was again light on tax reforms and changes to superannuation but, as NAB Group Economics noted:

“while this budget does little to address medium-term structural budget issues, it does lay the groundwork for the government to seek to address these challenges more actively in the future.”

On the back of recent developments, and the fact Treasurer Jim Chalmers is keen to stamp his mark by building something better, more meaningful and more inclusive, I think the sands may be shifting.

Potential tax changes

Last month, in its annual review of Australia, the IMF suggested comprehensive medium-term tax reform is needed to meet higher structural spending needs and to support economic efficiency and growth. The IMF recommended the government may need to:

  1. Reassess the stage three tax cuts given they limit the pace of budget consolidation
  2. Broaden the GST by limiting exemptions (e.g., healthcare) to rebalance from currently high direct to underutilised indirect taxes
  3. Restrict the capital gains tax exemption on the sale of main residences (family home) due to this exemption costing 2.5% of GDP and to make the tax system more efficient and equitable
  4. At the state and territory level, replace stamp duties with recurring property taxes to promote housing affordability and a more efficient use of the housing stock and provide a more stable tax base.

The last option is underway in some form in certain states and territories (NSW and ACT). However, while the cost in terms of revenue forgone in 2021 was about $64 billion, the third option is highly unlikely to ever be implemented in Australia. Taxing the family home is simply too controversial.

From a political perspective, the second option, although underpinned by strong arguments on efficiency, equity and simplicity grounds, is unlikely to be implemented in the near term given successive government reluctance to change the GST.

However, momentum has gathered for the first option over the past 12 months and the fight to scrap them is heating up in parliament. Regarding this recommendation, the IMF said:

“Stage three of the personal income tax (PIT) reforms legislated in 2018 is projected to lower tax receipts by around 1 percent of GDP annually starting in FY2024/25, partially offset by gains from bracket creep during ensuing years.” and…

“The stage 3 personal income tax cuts will reduce the personal income tax burden. With the cuts taking effect from FY2024/25, there would be time, if needed, to re-assess the parameters to appropriately balance costs on the budget and benefits to the economy. Addressing bracket creep in PIT by raising the tax brackets periodically will limit distributional implications, including for low-income households and women.”

As a reminder, the stage three tax cuts will result in the following rates and thresholds from the 2024-25 income year:

In the lead up to the October 2022 federal Budget, Jim Chalmers announced the cost of the stage three tax cuts has blown out by $11 billion to $254 billion over 10 years. So, Labor is now between a rock and a hard place since it went into the 2022 federal election promising not to change the tax cuts and did not tinker with them in the October Budget. However, commenting on the IMF’s report, Jim Chalmers gave conflicting messages when he said:

“The point that the IMF is making is that when we’ve got these pressures on the budget … we need to make sure that we’ve got the tax system that can sustain the funding that we want to see in our areas of national priority” and…

"If there are avenues for responsible tax reform into the future, like what we are doing in multinationals, then obviously those opportunities and avenues should be explored"

Followed by:

"We listen respectfully when those kinds of suggestions are made to us, but the government's approach to the stage 3 tax cuts hasn't changed. We've got other priorities in the budget. You will see them in May."

So, the jury is out on whether the stage three tax cuts are at risk, but the IMF has effectively given the green light for the government to overhaul them.

Super changes show the need to be prepared

The announcements this week on the Government's intention to legislate an objective of superannuation is a sign of moves to come. The proposed definition is:

“to preserve savings to deliver income for a dignified retirement, alongside government support, in an equitable and sustainable way.”

It makes clear that superannuation is not a tax minimisation vehicle or a pot for later generations, as it must:

"to provide universal savings that are then drawn down in retirement to deliver income that support retirees’ standards of living. The focus on delivering income makes clear that the purpose of superannuation is not for minimising tax on wealth accumulation or enabling retirees to leave tax-effective bequests."

The Government has admitted this objective is background to introducing a cap of the amount of superannuation allowed per person.

The zeitgeist has changed and investors can expect some changes to the current taxation settings in the Budget as well. However, I suspect that, given the political cycle, they will not be significant but rather lay a platform to be followed by an in-depth holistic review of Australia’s taxation systems leading to a more comprehensive platform of reform prior to the next federal election.

 

Dr Rodney Brown is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Accounting, Auditing & Taxation at UNSW Business School. This article is for general information only, as it does not consider the circumstances of any individual.

 

25 Comments
D Ramsay
February 27, 2023

"to preserve savings to deliver income for a dignified retirement,"
....should read as follows....
"to preserve savings to deliver income for a dignified retirement that is commensurate with the lifestyle the superannuant enjoyed at the time of retirement,

Hopefully that would avoid the government (by law) being given a carte blanche in deciding what peoples needs are.

Mark
April 08, 2023

Your confusing needs with wants.

Besides, no one is being stopped from having more than $3M in Superannuation, just some of the generous taxation benefits are foregone for amounts above $3M.

Peter
February 26, 2023

Inequality is increasing in Australia. High income individuals do not need a tax break that will give them a massive increase in income. I strand to gain ( a little) from the tax break but there has to be some decency and fairness in income for all. Further, why give this money to people who are already well off. There are other areas of our country that would benefit more from a cash injection.

Ray Cameron
February 26, 2023

Could we see what the Prime Minister's and Treasurer's current superannuation balances are? A,nd their pension payments if retired today? Then show the effects of of same if Treasurer's proposed changes take place?

Denial
February 24, 2023

Dudley has made some funny but also quite insightful comments.

Don't exempt pension incomes.......What could be more "progressive" than that given the overwhelming majority earn/pay<$30K pa and won't get taxed?

John
February 26, 2023

here here

Bring back the pre-costello treatment of super pensions and all of the issues raised (high account balances not being taxed) are fixed. Just to describe how the pre-costello pensions were treated. When someone claimed a tax deduction for a super contribution (just like now) the super fund paid 15% contributions tax. Earnings in the fund were also taxed at 15%. If you contributed after tax money, then that amount was identified.

When it came to being paid a pension, there were two components of the pension you got. The first was the return of your after tax contributions (you got that back tax free). The other was the earnings on the fund. You got taxed on that, but you got a tax rebate of 15% - what you paid on the contributions and the earnings.

Thereby, if you had a big balance of super fund earned money, then when you got it back you got taxed on it. Large balances meant large pensions, which meant large tax (albeit with a 15% rebate).

Then costello changed things, and made all pension payments tax free. And that is where to problem lies. Fix that and all of the problems disappear

Jon Kalkman
February 26, 2023

It’s not the amount. It’s the proportion. Large funds, by definition, have a large proportion of the fund made up of tax-paid contributions, so they paid little tax on pensions or lump sums.

Small funds have a larger proportion of taxable contributions but then the 15% rebate plus the tax-free threshold significantly reduced the tax.

The same method is still used today to calculate the tax on death benefits. If your fund is made up of 100% tax-paid contributions, the tax on death benefits is zero.

This change had a low fiscal cost to Costello but created a political bonus.

Peter
February 24, 2023

Stage three tax cuts will happen because the politicians and other influential members of our society stand to make substantial gains. Politicians for instance (from what I have read) will gain $10,000 dollars on average per annum from these tax cuts and they are already amongst the highest paid politicians in the world. It is a tax benefit for the rich. These same politicians also got rid of the low income tax offset because that was too generous. Maybe I am being too cynical but I believe that many in politics are in it for their personal benefit and not for the noble reason of improving society. I have already informed my local member that I will vote against him at the next election if I do not benefit. I suggest others do the same.

Steve
February 24, 2023

It's called stage 3 is because it followed stages 1 and 2. Did you benefit from those tax cuts?

OldbutSane
March 02, 2023

The low income tax offset remains. It is the low and middle income tax offset that has gone. As a consequence many, if not most, will pay more tax this financial year than last year on the same income. This is because Morrison Govt kept the LMITO during the pandemic.

Douglas
February 24, 2023

There are many small business people who have often put their house on the line to start a family owned business and now wanting to sell & put the money into their superannuation. Stop tampering with superannuation.It’s our money …not theirs ??

Altair_AU
February 24, 2023

Thee should never be any tax on wages.
Land tax has to be the main revenue for Government.
Why can't we face this truth - greed and "too hard".

Martin
February 26, 2023

If we rely on taxing capital, the rate will be enormous and the capital will move to somewhere else.
We won’t tax incomes as there won’t be any if capital leaves.

Irene
February 23, 2023

I think to increase GST is the best way. It is fair because everyone needs to pay. Meanwhile, the middle class already the worse off. And the government should not give superfund only pay 15% tax of amount over 1.6m. It should have a cap like up to 5m in total.
If people have that much in super, they should pay more tax.

John
February 23, 2023

GST is fundamentally a bad tax, and quite frankly should be scrapped.

Why?

1. It is not progressive - it is a flat rate no link to ability to pay (like income tax does)
2. It fails to tax luxuries at a higher rate than essentials (eg jewellery vs books and clothing)
3. It double taxes - when the GST was introduced there was a reduction in income tax. However, now retirees are paying double taxation. They were taxed on their wages at the higher income tax rates (pre-GST reduced rates) saved from their wages (after paying the old tax rates) and via the GST now get taxed more when they spend the money that was saved AFTER paying the high income tax rates.

Peter F Gribble
February 24, 2023

Don't agree GST is fundamentally bad. It seems very fair to me.

In the real world income constrained people don't buy high priced luxuries and when the rich do and generally pay higher prices (much higher in many cases I suspect). Eg top end luxury motor vehicle vs mass market entry level car models the GST difference should be massive on my calculation). Likewise with your example of jewellery and other fashion items like clothing. Probably true of travel packages as well and perhaps a lot more.

Finally that word 'progressive' irks me. Very Orwellian not withstanding the technical sense in which I gather you are using it!

Peter



Mark
April 08, 2023

Disagree, it is progressive. A couple on a lower wage might order fast food at say $40 for the family so $4GST. A wealthy couple might spend $250 on dinner so $25 tax. Best way to do it, base it on consumption, the more you spend, the more you spend the more you pay.

Dudley
February 23, 2023

"The focus on delivering income makes clear that the purpose of superannuation is not for minimising tax on wealth accumulation or enabling retirees to leave tax-effective bequests.":

Perhaps Government could guarantee each individual's date of death so their is no misunderstanding as to how long each retiree must plan for.

Paul Bilson
February 23, 2023

Why is the terminology on what Treasury is 'losing' with tax benefits - why not cut spending? It is what everyone else has to do when income is lower. Live within your means and start being fiscally responsible with your spending, do not just look for more ways to drain the cash cow that is the taxpayer.

Dave Sansom
February 24, 2023

And which funding would you like to cut. Health? Education? Aged care? Ndis?.alternatively we could stop people from hiding money in super to get a tax advantage most of us can only dream about

Alex
February 24, 2023

"And which spending / funding would you like to cut?" - How about the salaries of the overpaid government officials?

"alternatively we could stop people hiding money in super to get a tax advantage most of us can only dream about" - In case you don't realise it, every single one of us enjoy the benefit of 15% tax on our super contribution. If anything, the people whose income and concessional contribution exceeds $250k pays additional tax on their super contribution.

Alex
February 24, 2023

Paul - well said, couldn't agree more.

C
February 26, 2023

Every single one of us enjoy the benefit of 15 % tax on super contributions?
Incorrect
Obviously you've not heard of Div 293 tax.
Higher income earners are taxed 30% on super contributions

Dudley
February 23, 2023

"Restrict the capital gains tax exemption on the sale of main residences (family home)" .. "Taxing the family home is simply too controversial":

Buy a home as a fledgling or company to own family compound - and never move - come what may - else walloped with CGT.

Deductibility of mortgage interest for home owners. As if there is too little housing debt.

Paul
February 23, 2023

The Henry review told us all this over a decade ago. Perhaps increase the GST and broaden the base and we could manage at least part of the stage 3 tax cuts. Labor squibbed it when the Henry review was released. The other lot squibbed it for the next decade. Albo is looking like a do nothing PM and Chalmers is all talk so far. At the first indication of land tax in NSW the opposition said no. Imagine the squealing if taxing capital gains from the family home was put on the table. My cat could achieve all the necessary tax reform in this country in a week of a benign dictatorship. We could then do away with a battalion of economics academics and most of the federal treasury department. Let’s hope coal and iron ore stay at inflated prices or inflation persists because we don’t have any other plan to manage our deficit and worsening demographics.

 

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