'Your future, your super' laws need work

Posted on 8 April 2021
'Your future, your super' laws need work

Marion Rae
(Australian Associated Press)

Superannuation laws due to take effect in less than 90 days are a $3 trillion concern for the superannuation industry and consumer advocates.

Martin Fahy, chief executive of the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, wants the introduction of the laws delayed until July 2022.

He also wants the proposed performance test watered down into a two-year "trial run".

Super Consumers Australia director Xavier O'Halloran agrees the proposed bill needs work but warns delay will hurt consumers.

"For too long trustees have been left alone in the dark with our money," Mr O'Halloran told a parliamentary inquiry on Wednesday.

"Australia's superannuation system must move to a model which does more to ensure all people have a single, high-performing superannuation fund."

Under the new laws, underperforming funds will be cut off from new members and required by the prudential regulator to shape up or exit the market.

But the proposed performance test covers investment performance and not costly administration fees.

This approach will turn up the heat on underperforming fund managers, but does little to target inefficiently administered funds, Super Consumers Australia said.

Multiple accounts are also a target for lawmakers as savings can get lost and workers can be assigned to a default fund that might turn out to be a dud.

The new laws should create a "best in show" model where people get the information needed to select a fund when they enter the workforce, Mr O'Halloran said.

There are 850,000 unintended multiple accounts created each year, and holding multiple accounts can reduce a typical worker's balance by $51,000.

Underperforming products can reduce a typical member's balance by more than $500,000 by the time they retire.

But Dr Fahy said the July 1 start date will place an "enormous burden" on employers to manage the changes, including the transition to one default account for workers.

He said the bill should not be passed until the draft regulations that detail how it will work are available.

Scott Donald, director of the Centre for Law, Markets and Regulation at the University of NSW, is also concerned about the lack of detail and loose wording for "ministerial discretion".

He said investment managers won't be able to determine what will fall foul of the new laws.


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Australia hits right balance in recovery

Posted on 26 March 2021
Australia hits right balance in recovery

Colin Brinsden, AAP Economics and Business Correspondent
(Australian Associated Press)

Treasury chief Steven Kennedy believes few countries have experienced what Australia has achieved in responding to last year's recession relatively good health outcomes, smaller economic impacts and now, rapid recovery.

"By any measure, Australian governments have struck the right balance," Dr Kennedy told senators in Canberra.

"Our outcomes have been world leading, both in the health and the economic sphere."

He said the economy has now recovered 85 per cent of the decline from its pre-COVID level of output.

"Growth will now begin to moderate as we move past the initial phase of the recovery," he told a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday.

"While the economy is recovering strongly, well supported by fiscal and monetary policy settings, we are well below our pre-pandemic economic growth path and it will take some time to fully recover."

He said the peak in unemployment now appears to have passed following strong employment gains in recent months.

In the mid-year budget review released in December, Treasury had predicted the unemployment peaking at 7.5 per cent in the March quarter.

Instead, the unemployment rate has steadily fallen, dropping to 5.8 per cent in February.

"Nonetheless, while outcomes to date have tended to surprise on the upside, there is still significant spare capacity in the labour market," Dr Kennedy said.

New figures show there remains strong demand to hire staff with job advertisements posted on the internet jumping by a further seven per cent in February to be 24.8 per cent over the year.

This is the 10th straight month job ads, as compiled by the National Skills Commission, have risen after striking a record low in April 2020 and the depths of last year's recession.

Job ads grew in all eight broad occupational groups monitored by the commission and recruitment activity increased across all states and territories.

But Dr Kennedy expects the number of people defined as being in long-term unemployment those who have been looking for, but been without, paid work for a year or more will jump in coming months.

"This reflects the flow-on impacts of the spike in unemployment at the onset of the crisis in March and April last year," he said.

Meanwhile, Australia recorded its third consecutive goods trade surplus above $8 billion for the first time in history.

Preliminary trade figures show exports grew by two per cent in February, buoyed by a record $1.3 billion of cereals exports, which helped offset a 12 per cent decline in iron ore shipments to China.

Imports also grew by two per cent, led by a 24 per cent increase road vehicle inbound shipments.

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Expect jobless rate 'bump' after JobKeeper

Posted on 25 March 2021
Expect jobless rate 'bump' after JobKeeper

Colin Brinsden, AAP Economics and Business Correspondent
(Australian Associated Press)

Treasury boss Steven Kennedy expects a "bump" in the unemployment rate as the JobKeeper wage subsidy comes to an end next week.

Addressing senators in Canberra, he expects between 100,000 to 150,000 people receiving the JobKeeper will lose employment.

Even so, he predicts the unemployment rate will continue to fall across the course of this year and into the following years.

"We expect the unemployment rate to have peaked and will continue that downward trajectory even if there is a bump or two in the next month or so," " Dr Kennedy told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on Wednesday.

The jobless rate dropped to 5.8 per cent in February after steadily declining from a 22-year peak of 7.5 per cent during the depths of last year's recession.

There were around 1.1 million employees still reliant on the JobKeeper subsidy at the end of January, smaller than the 1.3 million Treasury had predicted in the mid-year budget review released in December.

Dr Kennedy said JobKeeper has played a crucial role in supporting the economy and driving the recovery.

"In our view it is appropriate for the program to end as other support measures take effect and to allow the economy to continue adjusting," he told a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday.

"We believe that in the order of 100,000 to 150,000 JobKeeper recipients may lose employment at the completion of the program, though there is a wide band of uncertainty around this estimate."

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said small businesses and workers have been warning the government for months that cutting JobKeeper will cut jobs, but those pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

"If the Morrison government hadn't wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on companies which didn't need JobKeeper, there'd be more room to support those small businesses and workers which still do," Dr Chalmers told AAP.

Since JobKeeper was first introduced in April, more than 2.7 million employees and about 680,000 business have left the scheme, representing a 72 per cent reduction.

Australian Taxation Office data also shows that all industries have seen a significant decrease in the number of employees covered by JobKeeper, including a 83 per cent fall in retail and a 69 per cent drop in accommodation and food services.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the final JobKeeper numbers for January confirm that Australia's economic recovery is broad based across all states, regions and industries.

"We know that some families and businesses are still doing it tough and our message is that the Morrison government continues to have your back," Mr Frydenberg said.

He said the government's economic recovery plan will continue to provide support through targeted measures as well as tax cuts, business incentives and a record investment in skills and training and infrastructure.

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Super contributions reflect gender pay gap

Posted on 15 March 2021
Super contributions reflect gender pay gap

(Australian Associated Press)

The gender pay gap means men receive $12 billion more in employer superannuation contributions each year than women.

Analysis of ATO tax file median balances also reveals that women retire with 36 per cent less super than men and women have less super at every stage.

The super balance gender gap begins to expand when a woman hits her 30s, increasing from just under seven per cent for women in their late 20s to almost 35 per cent once a woman reaches her late 40s.

And one in three women retires with no super balance at all, according to a 2016 Senate report.

A report by financial comparison website Finder reveals women retire with an average $122,848 compared with men who retire with $154,453.

Meanwhile, the Financy Women's Index fell in the December quarter, predicting that the time frame for achieving financial equality increased to 101 years.

"We are unlikely to see equality in Australia until the year 2122," Bianca Hartge-Hazelman from the FWI said.

Industry Super Australia strategic engagement director Gemma Pinnell said lifting the rate to 12 per cent as legislated was vital to lift women's savings, with more women than men likely to receive the super rate increase.

"Until we fix inequities in the super system, like the outdated $450 threshold, we will continue to see women retiring with balances that are persistently lower than men," she said in a statement on Monday.

New research reveals three-quarters of women are unlikely to retire having received a full 40 years of super contributions, and yet key government modelling assumes everyone retires with four decades of super.

Women average just 30.1 years of contributions, while men average 36.2 years.

The research to be released this week analyses two decades of Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey to estimate the actual labour force experience of women over their life.

It highlights a dramatic flaw in the Retirement Income Review base case modelling which assumes everyone receives 40-years of super contributions leading to big overestimates in retirement balances.

The report's co-author Roger Wilkins said it "seems likely" COVID would have increased the unpaid work disparity last year.

"The increase in child care provided at home brought about by closure of child care centres and learning from home is likely to have been disproportionately borne by women," Mr Wilkins said.

A recent retirement survey, commissioned by Industry Super Australia, found that on average women spend 12 years less in the full-time workforce than men, with that time away from work having a dramatic impact on their super balance.

ISA deputy chief executive Matt Linden said modelling based on wrong assumptions had serious ramifications, with some wanting to cut super for millions who otherwise wouldn't save enough for retirement.

"This would be a terrible outcome as a more realistic working life pattern shows the current super rate is not adequate for most women to fund a secure retirement," he said.

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Costello hopes RBA wrong on rate timing

Posted on 12 March 2021
Costello hopes RBA wrong on rate timing

Colin Brinsden, AAP Economics and Business Correspondent
(Australian Associated Press)

Peter Costello hopes the Australian economy won't still need a record low cash rate in 2024, as repeatedly flagged by the Reserve Bank.

Australia's longest-serving treasurer understands RBA governor Philip Lowe is trying to reassure everybody the central bank will provide support as long as it is needed.

"I like to hope that the cash rate won't be at 0.1 per cent in 2024 because that would tell me the economy is strong and doesn't need the kind of life support that 0.1 per cent represents," the former treasurer told the Australian Financial Review Business Summit in Sydney.

"These rates are emergency rates, they are for emergencies."

Mr Costello, who is chair of the Nine Network and the Future Fund, said it is critical for both central banks and government to be thinking of an exit strategy from their support measures to be able to face the next crisis.

Dr Lowe will address the summit on Wednesday.

Mr Costello's comments came as both business and consumer confidence jumped amid signs of a robust recovery from last year's recession, despite some tapering of government support.

The influential National Australia Bank business survey showed confidence rose further in February to its highest level since 2010, while conditions also returned to multi-year highs after dipping in the previous month.

"This is a very positive survey result," NAB chief economist Alan Oster said releasing the report on Tuesday.

"Importantly, we're starting to see an uptrend in business hiring and investment activity."

The rise in confidence was broad based, with all states and industries recording an increase, except retail.

"This says the economic recovery has very strong momentum, and even though government support is tapering, businesses are increasingly confident the economy will continue to improve," Mr Oster said.

Commonwealth Bank economists estimate job losses of up to 110,000 when the JobKeeper wage subsidy expires in March, with jobs in travel-sensitive sectors like transport, accommodation and arts and recreation most at risk.

"However, given the strength of the leading indicators of the labour market we expect that the overall impacts on the labour market will be short lived and any negative impact on spending will be minimal," they said.

Consumers too have a renewed spring in their step following last week's national accounts, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison described as "remarkable".

The weekly ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index a pointer to future household spending jumped 1.5 per cent, with four out of its five sub-indices showing strong gains.

ANZ head of Australian economics David Plank said the rise was likely in response the December quarter national accounts, which showed the economy had racked up two quarters of growth above three per cent for the first time.

It also coincided with other figures last week showing job advertising soared 13.4 per cent in February, indicating further strong employment gains are possible in coming months.

The National Skills Commission's preliminary vacancy report for February also released on Tuesday showed a seven per cent increase in job ads, the 10th consecutive monthly rise to be 24.8 per cent higher over the year.

Mr Morrison told the AFR conference the national accounts highlight the economy's "remarkable comeback", growing by 3.1 per cent in the December quarter, led by the private sector and outperforming G7 countries and the OECD average.

"Household consumption was strong, backed by confident Australian consumers, whose incomes have been supported through the crisis, also increasing retail spending," he said.

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