Category: Features

Labor ban hits small investors hardest

The Australian

28 February 2019

Michael Roddan

Retirees with more than $1.6 million in self-managed super­annuation will mostly be able to dodge Labor’s ban on franking credit refunds, while savers with smaller balances will bear the brunt of the opposition’s proposal, according to consultancy Pitcher Partners.

In a submission to Liberal MP Tim Wilson’s house economics committee inquiry into the Labor proposal, Pitcher Partner super­annuation adviser Brad Twentyman said larger-balance SMSFs would still suffer a “detrimental impact” but in percentage terms those retirees would suffer a tax hit significantly less than the “30 per cent tax increase” to be felt by smaller SMSFs.

“Members in larger balance SMSFs are also more likely to be able to restructure their arrangements to mitigate the impact of the tax change,” Mr Twentyman said.

Labor has proposed to end cash refunds for excess franking credits for investors who pay little or no tax from July 1 if it wins the election — a move that is expected to increase government revenue by $56 billion over a decade.

But Mr Twentyman said the franking credit proposal would also treat large regulated super­annuation funds differently ­depending on the demographics of the fund, the percentage of fund assets supporting pensions or the taxpaying status of the fund.

The not-for-profit industry fund sector is expected to be largely insulated from the measure.

“The different tax outcomes arising for taxpayers in similar situation depending on the circumstances of the superannuation structure they are using highlights the significant underlying problems with the franking credit changes being considered,” Mr Twentyman said.

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said yesterday there was a reason Australia was the only major economy to offer the ­generous tax scheme. “The idea you get a refund … of your tax when you haven’t paid any tax is not sustainable,” Mr Albanese said.

AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said a problem with Labor’s proposal was many ­Australians had factored their ­retirement plans around the ­refunds.

Mr Oliver said the proposal “could be argued to remove an anomaly in the tax system as dividend imputation was designed to prevent double taxation of dividends, not to stop them being taxed at all”.

He also said it was “worth noting Labor’s proposal does not ­affect at least 92 per cent of taxpayers, who will continue receiving franking credits as they have a sufficient income tax liability — as will pensioners, who will be exempted”.

“If it sets off a broader windback of franking credits, then it would be a bigger concern,” Mr Oliver said.

The cost to the budget of the scheme has increased since it was introduced by the Howard government, when the measure cost $500 million a year.

Since then, many investors and self-managed super fund operators have shifted all their assets into equities to take advantage of the franking credit rebate.

Michael Roddan is a business reporter covering banking, insurance, superannuation, financial services and regulation.

Retirees in the crosshairs

The Australian

21 February 2019

Bernard Salt

It’s a time of reckoning for middle-class retirees who held the flawed assumption that concessions in the past would remain in the future.  Retiring boomers can expect to be mugged by reality – and ingratitude.

In 2001 I published my first book, The Big Shift, which included a thought piece I had published some years earlier. Here’s what I wrote 20 years ago: “Greedy Boomers Bleed Xers. So runs the headline … in 2021. The story proceeds, ‘The Australian president today launched a stinging attack on the now-retiring baby boom generation for what she calls its bleeding of the taxpayer after a life of self-indulgent spending. We, the X generation, are now being asked to support a bunch of bludgers,’ the president said.”

As you can see my taste for satire, which peaked with the smashed avocado brouhaha of 2016, was evident early in my writing. Plus, it’s nice to see that the term “bludgers” remains as relevant and as piquant today as it was back then. And we may not have a president today, but we have had a female prime minister, so I’m claiming this entire piece as a prediction proven.

You will immediately see the parallels with today’s debate around proposed plans to limit the payment of dividend franking credits. This is a policy designed to rein in what is being presented as generous if not unfair concessions to the mostly baby-boomer self-funded-retiree set.

It is indeed a time of reckoning for middle-class retirees who have built nest eggs and a lifestyle on the apparently flawed assumption that concessions granted in the past would be maintained into the future. Or that previous concessions would be grandfathered, meaning existing arrangements would continue to be honoured.

The president continues: “Baby boomers had it better than their kids, and certainly much better than their parents. They are the ‘spoilt generation’ who forged culture around their every whim: hippies, punks, dinks and yuppies. Now they want us to install them as WOPs (wealthy old people). Well, it’s not on. They should have provisioned better in their time. Not ours.”

I admit I was also way off the mark about generation X — born between 1965 and 1982 — being ­incensed. It’s the millennials (1983 to 2000) — the children of baby boomers (1946 to 1964) — who seem to be most aggrieved about the perceived privileges of the once mighty but now wounded baby boomersaurus.

As it turns out the Xers have been both a placid and a stoic life form. Oddly, the generation that entered the workforce in the 1990s recession didn’t complain about their lot. It’s the later-blooming millennials who are angry, including Adam Creighton, The Australian ’s economics-writing Xer-millennial cusper, who has put (and I think quite enjoys putting) the case for limiting all forms of generationally bestowed largesse.

Actually, to the growing bucket of boomer critics should be added politicians who are remarkably adept at spotting a taxation opportunity.

“The problem for baby boomers is that there is no unifying voice to argue their case. They’re scattered across the country in electorates that aren’t likely to shift an election, and are divided.”

I have an idea. Let’s have a special “fairness tax” levied on all Australian billionaires, shall we? I mean, they can’t have amassed such wealth without at least the tacit support of the Australian people and nation. And to be entirely transparent and fair, if they don’t like the proposal, they are most welcome to vote against it. All 76 of them. What do you think?

Here is the problem that well-to-do baby-boomer retirees have. There’s a lot of them and so any concessions granted in their favour are significant and expensive. This underlying logic will never change. There’s a lot of quite healthy 65-year-old baby boomers now; there’ll be vastly more quite frail (and expensive) 85-year-old baby boomers in 20 years than there are today. This equation will tempt politicians to be even bolder and even “fairer” every election for another generation. Welcome to retirement, baby boomers. .

No one complained when baby boomers were pouring en masse into the workforce in the 70s and 80s, paying taxes to governments, which spent that money on infrastructure and defence and education … but which made no provision for the retirement of the boomer-boosted worker bulge. Other than, of course, setting in place generous defined-benefit superannuation schemes for state and federal government workers, including the political class.

I guess boomers are at fault because in their 30s they didn’t hold governments of the day to account — saying, “You shouldn’t be spending money on infrastructure and health, you should be setting up a national retirement scheme for when we retire in 30 years.” Although I suspect that had boomers made this case, politicians of the day would have said, “Yeah, right, let some future administration deal with that problem; we have an election to win!”

For the record, the superannuation guarantee come into play in 1992. The first baby boomers entered the workforce as 15-year-old apprentices in 1962 and subsequently paid tax for 30 years of a 50-year career, with nothing being saved by the governments of the day for their collective retirement. That kind of lack of a safety net builds a culture of self-reliance and of frugality. Here’s the logic of that 1962 apprentice, now aged 72: Fine, I’ll look after myself, but you can’t come along after the fact and commandeer what I have fairly saved by the rules of the day.

Self-funded retirees have a problem. If the proposal to limit franking credits is rewarded with success at the upcoming election, it will merely confirm the logic that they are fair game. All that scrimping and saving and self-denial; all the principles of effort-and-­reward that boomers learned from their Depression-raised parents, is diminished, and not just in terms of monies lost.

It’s the idea that a lifetime’s sustained effort and frugality is no longer rewarded by a me-me-me society that cannot remember a recession of double-digit unemployment or of a time when interest rates topped 18 per cent. It’s more than money. It’s putting your heart and soul into a place, into a country, over a lifetime with an eye to retaining your dignity and your pride through self-sufficiency in retirement. And then discovering late in the game that the social contract on which you have built your life, your savings, your sense of pride, your independence, can be whipped away.

And not only whipped away but quite reviled by an ascendant zeitgeist for supposedly having unfairly garnered more than your fair share. Baby boomers will say they have worked hard, they have paid all required taxes at every stage of their lives, they raised families and scrimped and saved to buy a house, and on top of all this they will also say that they have provisioned for their own retirement. This isn’t an issue of money. This is an issue of the kind of society we want for our nation. Do we want to encourage self-reliance and resilience and pride in work whereby the efforts of a lifetime are protected, or are at least respected? Or do we want a society where the underlying ­social contract can be changed at any point in the future? And for such changes to be made by a political class whose own retirement is assured by an uncommon level of generosity?

It doesn’t seem fair to self-funded retirees. They are upset.

The problem for baby boomers is that there is no unifying voice to argue their case. They’re a disparate lot scattered across the country, in electorates that aren’t likely to shift an election, and are divided among themselves.

Some self-funded retirees agree that past concessions have been too generous. The problem isn’t so much with well-to-do self-funded retirees losing concessions, it’s the barely rich.

It’s the private-sector worker who has worked and scrimped and saved and who has taken pride in being independent. It’s the worker whose big plan for retirement is to look after grandchildren and to spoil them a bit, to help out their kids a bit, to go around Australia in a campervan, or to take a single “big trip” to Europe and to come back declaring that Australia is the best place on earth.

It’s hardly a glamorous lifestyle.

But it has taken hard work, sacrifice and belief in a social contract with the Australian people to achieve. We will work hard. We will provide for our own retirement. We will make the required sacrifices. But we need you to keep your side of the bargain and either maintain the social contract on which our retirement planning has been built, or at the very least honour existing arrangements.

I think baby boomers — or at least self-funded retirees — would say, “We get that if there’s a war or if there’s a recession then sacrifices need to be made by the collective. But these are prosperous times — unemployment is at a record low, employment growth is strong. This is a shift in the social contract and it’s unfair. “

Bernard Salt is managing director of The Demographics Group and is not planning to retire anytime soon.

Darwin, Northern Territory

Retirees Ken Moffitt (66, retired financial-software consultant) and Sue Moffitt (69, retired head of a luxury travel business) say, ‘They (Labor) think they’re going to get the rich, but they’re not. They’re going to get all the people in the middle who’ve worked hard and saved hard to provide for their retirement — to give themselves independence from government handouts.’ – Ken Moffitt

‘What I can’t abide is the discrimination’

When Ken and Sue Moffitt retired in their mid-50s a little over a decade ago, they thought they had enough money in their self-managed super fund to last a lifetime.

The couple sold their Sydney home and businesses to pay for a camper-trailer and four-wheel-drive and set off on a five-year dream trip around Australia, before finally settling in Darwin.

If Labor’s proposed superannuation changes become law, Ken says he and his wife will have to “die six years earlier”, or begin claiming a government pension to cover their expected losses.

“I could swallow the loss of money if everyone was treated equally,” he says. “What I can’t abide is the discrimination: people in the exact same (financial) circumstances are being treated differently. I find that un-Australian and very unacceptable.”

The couple has about $1.7 million in joint fund earning around $13,000 in franking credits annually.

Ken estimates Labor’s changes will cut the fund’s total yearly income by up to 30 per cent but says franking credits contributed 15 per cent of its income in 2016-17.

Sue says the only alternatives to relying on government handouts are restructuring their portfolio with riskier assets or reducing their standard of living.

“Why should we have to when we worked for (a combined total) of 60 years and planned for our retirement?” she says. “It’s really, really annoying, frustrating and ridiculous.”

She ran a luxury travel business tailoring itineraries for wealthy clients while her husband consulted to large companies about financial software. They have godchildren who they “spoil rotten”, but no children of their own.

Experts have warned Labor’s proposed changes are unfair because someone with the same assets as a self-managed retiree would still receive franking credits if they held those assets via an industry fund.

On arriving in Darwin, Ken helped establish the Association of Independent Retirees to help others manage their savings. Some of those affected by Labor’s policy could move their money into industry funds, while others might take extra risk and potentially “shoot themselves in the foot”, he says.

More still could burden the pension system. The combined superannuation, capital-gains and negative-gearing policies could “profoundly impact” markets.

“The problem we’ve got is that I now no longer have the capacity to make up the difference,” Ken says. “They (Labor) think they’re going to get the rich, but they’re not.

“They’re going to get all the people in the middle who’ve worked hard and saved hard to provide for their retirement — to give themselves independence from government handouts. The rug has just been pulled out from underneath them.” While critical of the Coalition’s past modifications to “taper rates”, Ken puts Labor’s policies in a different league. “I don’t think anybody truly understands the ramifications of what’s going to happen,” he says.

Labor could make its plan more palatable by capping “excess” franking credits for everyone and correspondingly curtailing generous defined-benefit pension schemes.

Although a Coalition-leaning voter, Ken says he is not a member of any party. Labor’s changes will not cause him to join, but he might independently canvass people.

“I feel probably more political now than I have at any time before in my life,” he says.

Helensvale, Queensland

John Cadzow, 68, former construction site supervisor and Rhonda Cadzow, 64, former office administrator.

They will lose about $15,000 a year — about 15 per cent of their income — under Labor’s proposal.

“At some stage in the future we will rely on government handouts. At the stroke of a pen, our retirement plan, worked towards as paying taxpayers, is null and void.”– Rhonda Cadzow

Tweed Heads, NSW

Vicki Fitzgerald, 60, former accountant and Peter Fitzgerald, 64, former general manager at the Australian Securities Exchange.

The Fitzgeralds will lose 30 per cent of their income and will eventually be forced to take a part-pension under Labor. The residents of the marginal seat of Richmond say they will vote against Labor for the first time.

“You make plans, save money, put money away and try and get a balance that you can live on and you do that based on the rules of the day … We believed Paul Keating when he told us to save for the future because there would not be enough taxpayers to fund pensioners when we retired.” – Peter Fitzgerald

Wesfarmers boss Rob Scott cites franking credits in warning on tax policies

The Australian

21 February 2019

Eli Greenblat – Senior Business Reporter

Wesfarmers chief executive Rob Scott has cautioned both sides of politics against policies that crimp household disposable income, just as consumers face pressure from stagnant wages growth, rising costs of living and tighter access to credit.

Mr Scott said that while the ALP’s policy to remove excess franking credits on shares was “not the end of the world”, these tax refunds were relied upon by many Australians to fund their retirement.

The boss of a company which owns leading retail chains such as Bunnings, Kmart and Target said politicians must be mindful about cost pressures facing consumers in the lead up to the election, and not make things worse by further strangling incomes.

“We will start to hear in coming months about a range of policies from all political parties and I guess what I am saying is it is very easy to look at one policy in isolation, but I think it’s important we consider the impact of a number of different policies,’’ Mr Scott told The Australian, as Wesfarmers unveiled its latest profit result for the December half.

“So there is a whole lot of policies relating to tax, obviously franking credits, and I think we just need to be mindful at a time when consumers are under a bit of pressure, cost of living increases, real wages growth has been relatively modest, concerns around housing and access to credit, I think now is the time that when setting policies we should be mindful about the impact it can have on consumers and the impact it will have on business investment.’’

Proposed Labor tax policies include raising $60 billion over 10 years by eliminating excess franking credit refunds as well as scrapping negative gearing.

The Coalition argues Labor’s policies will damage the Australian economy and that

$200 billion in new taxes will dent consumer spending and constrict business investment.

“Those opposite have a plan for $200 billion of new taxes, including a big new housing tax,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told parliament last week, as the government warned of the impact new charges could have on personal incomes and the wider economy.

Labor’s franking credits policy has become a key election battleground, with the government arguing as many as 800,000 retirees could suffer financially if cash refunds for excess franking credits are axed.

Mr Scott said that while the market would adjust to the franking credits scheme, he agreed that Australians who rely on franking refunds for income – mostly retirees and pensioners – would see their disposable income fall.

“I think it’s important to note that before 2000 this (excess franking) refund wasn’t available so at end of the day the market will adjust and we will adjust, and franked dividends will continue to be of great value for a majority of shareholders.

“So I guess in terms of the policy, in isolation I don’t think it is the end of the world, but I think what needs to be considered is the policy in the light of a whole lot of other policies that could dampen consumer spending, because clearly there are number of people who rely on those credits, that is part of their income and influences spending.

“I wouldn’t get too hung up on that policy in isolation, but we need to consider the broader set of policies and what impact it might have on household spending going forward.’’

Mr Scott said election promises needed to be viewed through any potential threat to the household budget, with consumers already feeling the strains of rises in cost of living expenses.

“I think at a time when the consumer is particularly cautious and facing some challenges in terms of managing their budget, we need to be mindful the impact of any policy changes are going to make their lives even harder, and I think that is stating the obvious.’’

Kelly O’Dwyer’s Valedictory Speech to Parliament

20 February 2019

Ms O’DWYER (Higgins—Minister for Women and Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations) (16:34): on indulgence—I start today with the words that concluded my very first speech in this place:

I will never forget that politics is about people and that people can make a difference. That is why I am here. I look forward to playing my part in building an even better Australia …

Going on a decade as the federal member for Higgins, I believe that I have been able to do that.

As anyone who has had the honour of serving in this place knows, you cannot make a contribution in this place without a lot of support. I want to start by thanking the people of Higgins for the privilege of representing them in this place and for entrusting me to represent their issues, both big and small. I especially want to thank them for giving me the opportunity to share in important moments in their lives and those of their families.

I also want to thank the extraordinary members of the Liberal Party. I joined the Liberal Party as a 17-year-old because I believe that people should be free to choose their own paths in life—that they should be rewarded for their hard work and enterprise

—and that everyone, regardless of background or circumstance, deserves respect and the opportunity to live their best life. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to prosecute those values in this place. I have been extremely fortunate to have such a strong electorate conference executive, led so brilliantly by my good friend Mark Stretton, who is here today with his beautiful family. I’m grateful to them, as well as every member of my hardworking committee.

I feel the same debt of gratitude to the Chairman and patrons of the Higgins 200 Club and their families during my time here—Peter Bartels AO, the Hon. Peter Costello AC and current chairman, Richard Murray. Each has been a source of thoughtful advice and wonderful friendship. Peter Costello has also been a great mentor and a terrific example of integrity in political life. And while we haven’t always agreed on everything, I am the better for our robust discussions. I look forward to many more in the years ahead.

I want to place on record my sincere thanks and appreciation to the hundreds of volunteers, supporters and friends who have backed me with their time, money and expertise over four elections. In particular, I want to thank Andrea Coote, a Higgins Liberal powerhouse, who has helped direct each of my campaigns. The people, though, on the frontline each and every day are the people who work for you. And some, like the brilliant Sarah Nicholson and Tania Coltman, have been on the journey with me from the very beginning.

Working in politics is more than just a job. It is a vocation. Like us, our staff want to serve their community and their nation and change lives for the better. The expectations and pace is unrelenting, and the sacrifices demanded of them and their families are very real. I have had the good fortune to work with the very best team in the country—

people who are caring, bright, intellectually curious, loyal, hardworking and determined and who go above and beyond because they believe in our common Liberal cause.

Amongst them are women and men who I hope will serve in this place or the other. I say to each of them and their families a heartfelt thankyou—you enrich the fabric of our nation, I cherish your friendship and I look forward to celebrating your many personal and professional achievements in the decades to come.

Anyone who knows me knows that family means everything to me, and without them I wouldn’t be here. I’m joined today by my loving parents, Karen and Dan, who instilled in me a strong moral compass that has always been my guide. My colleagues can blame them for my forthright manner, because they taught me from a young age that you have a responsibility to communicate your view clearly, no matter how difficult and no matter the cost, and that above all else you must be true to yourself.

Two of my wonderful siblings are also here—my sister Kate and my brother, Tom, who together with my sister Nicki, who is overseas, are the very essence of tolerance, loyalty and love. I look forward to spending more time with them and their partners, along with my gorgeous and clever nieces, Lily, who is here today, Izzy, Lara and Charlie.

I met my husband, Jon, 24 years ago at university, and I am so glad that we are on life’s journey together. I have relied on his advice, his reservoir of love and understanding, his truth telling, his great intellect and his selfless devotion to our family. Jon works part time and is the primary caregiver in our family, ferrying children to child care, kinder and all manner of other things. He twice took extended paternity leave so that I could serve in cabinet and parliament and breastfeed our children. Whilst Jon trained as an engineer and a lawyer, I think he now sees his core competency as logistics. He is, quite simply, a great man, wonderful husband and brilliant father, and I just love him to bits.

There is no doubt, though, that our greatest achievement in life is our two beautiful, happy, confident and loving children, Olivia and Edward. Livvy and Edward, you make my heart sing, and I love you more than words can express. There is nothing that gives me greater joy than being your mum.

From the outside, politics can look like a brutal business—and it can be. There is a ferocity and urgency that is a permanent overlay to everything that is said and done here, because politics affects everyone, because the decisions made in this place affect the choices and opportunities of millions of Australians and the sort of Australia that we are and that we might become. In the battle of ideas, robust debate is critical and accountability for decision-making essential. Those who serve here have a responsibility to think deeply about the challenges that we face as a nation. Today I want to reflect on four themes that have dominated my thinking and my approach as a backbencher and minister.

The first is the intergenerational bargain. I believe that each generation has an obligation to try to put the next generation in a stronger position than the one they inherited, or, at the very least, to make sure that they are no worse off. That is why I chaired an inquiry into foreign investment and residential real estate as a backbencher. It is why I have championed key infrastructure projects like the Melbourne Airport Rail Link and the congestion fund as a member of the Expenditure Review Committee. These are essential reforms aimed at increasing the supply of more affordable housing for all Australians. The intergenerational compact is why, as a member of the ERC, I am proud to have played my part in containing spending growth and returning the budget to surplus, in the face of an obstructionist Senate, so that we can get on with paying down Labor’s debt legacy. Labor’s budgets, and the trajectory they established for future years, were quite simply an enormous exercise in intergenerational wealth transfer from our children and our grandchildren to us. It is wrong to expect the next generation of Australians to fund a higher standard of living for us than they can ever reasonably be expected to achieve for themselves, yet this is a direct consequence of a spend-now

pay-later philosophy. This is exacerbated further when you consider the ever-diminishing ratio of working-age Australians to fund the growing expenditure of an ageing population.

Given all this, as Assistant Treasurer and later as Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, I realised it was important to make modest tax changes to broaden our overall income tax base and put superannuation on a sustainable footing. It wasn’t popular amongst all of my constituents and divided opinion amongst sections of my party’s membership, but it was the right thing to do, and I am grateful to the Liberal party room for unanimously endorsing our final package. (Highlight & underline by SOS). After all, how could it be right that a young person on average earnings, with a substantial HECS debt, faced a higher tax bill on the interest earned on their home deposit savings than a person who owned their own house, had a free university education and was paying no tax on the income earned from millions saved in superannuation? We must never forget that in this place we have a dual responsibility, both to the voters of today and to those that economic historian Niall Ferguson so eloquently describes as ‘as yet too young to vote or as yet unborn’.

The intergenerational compact demands that we be fair to both.

That leads me to the second theme I want to touch on: fairness. Fairness is more than a one-word slogan hijacked to denote the redistribution of income. It has many dimensions. We must always ask the questions: fair to who and fairer on what measure? Those who choose to work harder and longer deserve to be rewarded. Those who put their capital on the line to invest in new enterprises that create jobs should have the opportunity to see the fruits of their efforts. Government tax policy that smothers initiative and enterprise and deters risk-taking and hard work is inherently unfair. This is why, together with the Prime Minister, I am proud to have contributed to legislated tax cuts for small and medium-sized businesses and tax cuts for individuals that will see the 37 per cent tax rate eliminated altogether. Our upper personal income tax rates are still too high, though, and our top marginal tax rate kicks in at too low a level. As our budgetary position improves over time, I hope that both of these issues are addressed.

Equally, it is absolutely not fair for some to treat their tax obligations as optional. If profit is earned in Australia, it must be taxed in Australia. Failing to close loopholes and enforce the law can cheat Australians of vital services and infrastructure and can mean higher taxes for those who do the right thing. I am proud to have closed loopholes that allowed multinationals to try to avoid their tax obligations, doubled penalties on large companies ripping off the taxpayer, strengthened the Australian Taxation Office and established the Tax Avoidance Taskforce. As a result, around $7 billion has been collected from large corporations, multinationals, private groups and wealthy Australians. In response to the MAAL, around $7 billion in sales income is being returned to Australians each year, plus hundreds of millions of dollars in GST revenue. Just this week, my whistleblower protections for those who expose corporate and tax misconduct were finally legislated. I’m also proud to have commissioned the first comprehensive review of the black economy, which is estimated to cost our economy up to $50 billion a year. Tackling the black economy will reduce the tax burden on everyone. Budget announcements last year have demonstrated our progress, but it is clear that there is more to do.

The third issue I want to touch on is the role of women in our society and economy, and the perennial work-life struggle. We sell ourselves short as a nation if we don’t maximise the talents and expertise of both halves of our population. There should be no limit on what girls and women can aspire to and no limit on what they can achieve. As a feminist, I have always believed that girls and women deserve an equal stake in our society and our economy. We want women to make choices that are right for them and right for their families. Choice is a good thing. But we must also be mindful that a choice today can have long-term consequences. So that means that we need to have better pathways back into work after having children, more flexible work arrangements to accommodate family responsibilities and more affordable childcare arrangements. In essence, it means helping women to build their financial security.

It also means giving men more flexibility in work to take on caring responsibilities.

Men love their children and want to be part of their lives, and children love their fathers. Yet the number of men who work part-time remains well below that of women, and I call this the flexibility gap. We need to normalise flexibility for men and ask, ‘What are the barriers? Should we have a target?’ We began work on this area during my time as Minister for Women, and I encourage my successor to continue it.

I’m proud to have delivered the inaugural Women’s Economic Security Statement, with over $100 million dedicated to help build women’s financial security through practical actions that boost their skills and employability, smooth their return to work, help them to establish their own businesses, and improve their economic recovery following critical life events such as family separation or domestic violence. I hope future governments commit to this important annual statement to keep a strong focus on gender equality.

I was pleased to announce funding for the first ever national inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace and introduce legislation to enshrine minimum standards in the workplace for family and domestic violence leave. I’m glad this passed with the support of the whole parliament.

In my party, I’m proud to have instigated the Enid Lyons Fighting Fund to give extra financial assistance to women fighting elections. We need more of them to succeed. I hope the example of female trailblazers in this place since Federation, as well as my own lived experience, demonstrate to women contemplating public service that you can have a family, serve at the highest levels and make a serious and lasting contribution to your country. My decision not to recontest is a very personal one, and simply reflects, after four elections, a shift in my priorities.

The intergenerational bargain, fairness and women’s issues all animated me before I came into this place. I never imagined that I would see them intersect in what many consider to be one of the driest policy areas—superannuation. I said in my first speech:

We face big challenges, and I will not duck the task of tackling those challenges.

Reforming the superannuation industry has been one such challenge. Workers are mandated by government to defer 9.5 per cent of their wages today to save for their retirement. The system has seen our national savings pool grow to $2.8 trillion, which is a great achievement.

We want to encourage people to be self-reliant in retirement—that is a good thing— yet, when I came to the portfolio, some Australians were unable to take full advantage of concessional contributions because of their work arrangements. We fixed it through reforms to deductible personal contributions so that everyone benefits. I was also particularly concerned to ensure women and men with career interruptions weren’t denied access to the benefit of tax concessions for their years out of the workforce. We enacted catch-up contributions to address this. We also acted to ensure low-income Australians were not paying more tax on their mandated superannuation contributions than on their take-home pay. Our measure now benefits more than three million Australians, including around 1.9 million low-income women, to the tune of around half a billion dollars each year. These reforms all improve the system.

But there remains a deeper problem. Millions of Australians have been cheated of billions of dollars in their retirement savings. Young people have seen their accounts drained to zero through multiple accounts, multiple sets of fees and multiple insurance premiums. People have been forced into poor-performing funds through backroom deals and enterprise agreements that take away their choice. For too long, the industry has been putting their interests ahead of those of their members. They have forgotten that the money they hold on trust is not the banks’ money, the unions’ money or the funds’ money. It is the members’ money. It is their wages, so the system must work for them.

I’m proud of the action that I took to pursue a series of member-first superannuation reforms to end the rorts and rip-offs in the sector and to better protect Australians’ retirement savings. Many of these reforms were endorsed by the landmark Productivity Commission report on the superannuation system and the financial services royal commission. Thankfully, many have now been legislated, despite lobby groups using members’ money to try to block them. They include boosting the retirement savings of around three million Australians by about $6 billion, thanks to automatically reuniting lost and inactive low-balance accounts; capping fees on low-balance accounts and banning exit fees on all accounts, which will save members over half a billion dollars in 2019-20 alone; providing APRA with greater powers to crack down on dodgy funds; and introducing tougher penalties on fund trustees, including, for the first time, up to five

years in jail.

I’m also pleased that, today, we reintroduced legislation to implement my proposed reforms to improve default insurance arrangements, by making insurance cover opt-in rather than opt-out for new members under 25 years of age and for those with low- balance accounts. It is a scandal that people are defaulted into insurance that they don’t know about, don’t want, don’t need and, in some cases, can’t even claim on. If those opposite finally see sense and support our bill without amendment, it will mean up to $3 billion each year in retirement savings for millions of affected members. I also look forward to legislation being introduced which will give victims of crime, including victims of child sex abuse offences, access to the superannuation of their perpetrators as compensation.

There remain other areas to progress. Funds should have a greater focus on retirement incomes. The retirement income covenant is an important start, but more must be done in this area. I remain hopeful that parliament will extend choice of fund to the around one million Australians who are currently restrict from doing so. I also remain hopeful that parliament has the strength to tackle the long-vexed issue of default funds, where people make no active choice about their fund or how their money should be invested. In my view, given that the government compels Australians to put an ever- increasing percentage of their wages into superannuation, it’s only right that the government should offer up a solution to look after those foregone wages. It is my strong view that a conflict-free, low-fee government default fund could benefit millions of Australians by utilising the investment management expertise of the Future Fund. It would boost retirement incomes by taking advantage of economies of scale and would stop Australians from being defaulted into underperforming funds.

Fixing the superannuation system can be best summarised as getting a better deal for consumers. This has been a constant thread through the fabric of my ministerial and constituent work. I’m glad that we called the royal commission into the banking and financial services sector. It was the right thing to do. We were so keen to address the issues we had already identified that we underestimated just how strong a disinfectant the sunlight from a royal commission would be. (Highlight & underline by SOS). I’m pleased that the royal commissioner’s report endorsed many of the reforms that we progressed in the interim. I’m particularly proud of establishing the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, a one-stop shop to enable consumers and small businesses access to fast and free dispute resolution for banking, insurance, superannuation and financial advice. The government will extend its remit to look back 10 years.

The royal commission also endorsed the work we had done to design a compensation scheme of last resort for financial misconduct. I’m pleased the government has agreed to establish such a scheme. Time will tell, but I expect that our strengthening of ASIC, including the overhaul of its leadership and the introduction of an enforcement-focused deputy commissioner, will also have a big impact. A strong financial services system is essential to job creation. On that theme, I’m particularly proud of reforms to overhaul our insolvency laws and facilitate crowdsourced equity funding, which will support entrepreneurship and innovation.

At a local level, I have enjoyed resolving many diverse issues, but none has been more satisfying than securing a permanent home for the very first children’s hospice in Australia. Very Special Kids does the work of angels, helping families with the care of profoundly ill children and supporting families dealing with unimaginable grief when a child dies. I am exceptionally grateful for their work and will continue to champion them so that they get the world-class facilities that they need.

An issue that resonated strongly with me and my electorate was same-sex marriage. One of the most nerve-racking days that I had as a new MP was the day that I walked into the Federation Chamber to announce my support for same-sex marriage. Many warned me it was a career-limiting move, and maybe it was at the time, but I believe it was the right thing to do. I am proud that it will be the legacy of a Liberal government to have legislated same-sex marriage.

This brings me to the fourth and final issue, the quality of our democracy itself. My

time in this place has coincided with a deterioration of trust in both this institution and, indeed, the very concept of democracy. Social media and a proliferation of tribal echo chambers have led to warped perceptions of Australians’ views, a failure to listen to alternative ideas and a decline in genuine policy debate and civil discourse. Time spent in the community is the best antidote. However, technology has accelerated our lives and our expectations. Complex policy issues in an increasingly complex world don’t usually have an easy answer. The default response here should not be to immediately outsource decision-making to unelected people. Sometimes parliamentarians need to prosecute the case for patience and a deeper conversation with their electorates.

Equally concerning is the transformation of the Senate. It is now neither a house of review nor a house to protect the state’s interests. Rather, it has become a forum to frustrate the government’s agenda and the will of the people. This has contributed to undermining faith in our democracy and its institutions, and long-term policy outcomes for our country.

As my final observation in this place, I think that elected governments should be able to implement their mandates. I support the proposition endorsed by the Senate President for major parties to consider implementing an Australian version of the Salisbury convention. This would mean parties agreeing to abide by the convention that the Senate won’t obstruct the passage of legislation to effect government policy which has been fully and fairly disclosed to the Australian people well before voting commences in an election.

In conclusion, I would like to thank my colleagues, including a number that I have worked with across the aisle, and, in particular, Julie Bishop for her friendship and guidance. I am lucky that before I came into this place I had two lifelong friends who were already here: the Speaker of the House, Tony Smith; and the President of the Senate, Scott Ryan, who are both like big brothers to me—and, like big brothers, can both delight and infuriate me!

I want to place on record my thanks to Malcolm Turnbull for his friendship and also his great support of me when I gave birth—the first serving cabinet minister to do so. He also made me the youngest female cabinet minister, and, together with Scott Morrison, gave me portfolios with complex policy issues to work through. I have loved the intellectual stimulation and technical detail that has come with the second-largest legislative workload in this place. I would like to place on record my gratitude to the many hardworking public servants in my various portfolios, and the teams of people who enable our parliament to function.

To the Prime Minister: thank you for your friendship, your determination, your courage and your leadership. It has never been more needed than now. I know that, with you, our country is in good hands. I thank the House for its indulgence.

Double tax hit haunts near retirees

The Australian

18 February 2019

Simon Benson – National Affairs Editor

More than half a million Australians approaching retirement could suffer a double tax hit to their savings plans under Labor’s policy to axe franking credit refunds and curb negative gearing, new tax data analysis says.

More than 40 per cent of the 1.3 million people who already claim tax deductions on their rental properties are between 45 and 59, Australian Taxation Office figures show.

With an average rental loss of $9500, this group would also stand to lose the most from the scrapping of the scheme.

The government will claim that those already in the planning stage of their retirement would have two major retirement investment options taken off the table with the scrapping also of franking credit refunds, which are relied on by 900,000 Australians and mainly those in retirement.

While those already negatively gearing property will have their current arrangements grandfathered under Labor’s policy, the data reveals that people approaching retirement relied most on the tax deduction.

Negatively gearing property would be available in the future for only those buying new investment dwellings. The government argues that the impact would mean a significant investment option would be removed in the future for people planning for retirement.

Josh Frydenberg plans to revive the government’s campaign against Labor’s tax plans with a property industry roundtable this morning in Canberra hosted by the Property Council of Australia.

The council has warned against any changes to negative gearing or capital gains tax,

claiming the risk was too great, considering the current cycle in the housing market.

The Treasurer will use the roundtable to muster support among industry groups, which include the Master Builders Association and the Real Estate Institute of Australia.

The ongoing analysis of the 2015-16 ATO tax data being conducted by Mr Frydenberg’s office has revealed that Labor’s twin tax policies were heavily weighted against middle-aged Australians approaching retirement and those who had already finished their working lives.

Those aged between 45 and 59 represented the largest group to lose money from the scrapping of negative gearing on established dwellings.

This represents more than 525,000 Australians or 40 per cent of the 1.3 million Australians who claim rental losses on investment properties.

Of these, a total of 183,000 were aged 45-49, 183,000 aged 50-54 and 160,000 aged

55-59.

The ATO data is the same that has been used by the government on numerous occasions to attack Labor’s policies.

Mr Frydenberg said Labor’s “retiree tax” punished aspiration and no one would be hit harder by Labor’s housing tax than Australians approaching retirement.

“More than half a million Australians aged between 45 and 59 years of age will be worse off and have their hard-earned investment smashed by Labor’s changes to negative gearing,” he said.

“Not only is the proportion of those affected by Labor’s housing tax highest in this age group, their rental loss is the greatest too: the average net rental loss for those aged between 45 and 59 is around $9500, well above any other age group.

“This is the same age group that is working hard to put their retirement plans in place and who will also be punished by Labor’s retiree tax.

“In a double whammy for Australians approaching retirement age, not only will Labor raid their nest egg, they will also punish those who have invested in the housing

market.

“As a retiree under Labor, if you own your home it will be worth less, if you rent a home it will cost you more and if you invest in shares you will earn less.”

An exclusive Newspoll published last week by The Australian showed strong opposition to Labor’s $55 billion plan to scrap franking credit refunds.

Senior Labor sources privately admit the so-called “retiree” tax is unpopular but have calculated it would impact mainly Coalition voters rather than their own.

Last week, Bill Shorten stood by the policy, despite increasing pressure to modify or scrap it, saying he was “not for turning” on the policy.

In response, Mr Frydenberg said: “Another saying of (Margaret) Thatcher would have been more apt: ‘The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money’.”

Labor says the tax measures address an imbalance in the system that favours the well- off. It says only 2 per cent of Australians would be affected by the scrapping of franking credit refunds, while reducing the capital gains tax discount from 50 per cent to 25 per cent would mostly affect the top 10 per cent of income- earners.

Retirement dream at risk from Labor policy

The Australian

18 February 2019

Luke Griffiths – Journalist

Veterinary surgeon Derek Wells laments that his retirement plans have been thrown into disarray because of Labor’s proposed crackdown on franking credits for self- funded retirees.

Mr Wells planned to retire this year so he and wife Lyn, also a vet but now retired, could indulge themselves a little after 40-plus years of hard work.

Instead, the couple are gripped by anger and anxiety.

“I wanted to retire but I just cannot because we’re going to lose income and, with that, lifestyle and choices,” Mr Wells said at the couple’s home in the Adelaide Hills town of Echunga, 35km southeast of Adelaide.

The couple have cut their expenditure wherever possible in anticipation of a Labor government that they said would slash up to $20,000 — or one third — of their annual retirement income because of its plan to abolish a scheme that delivers cash payments for excess franking credits which was introduced by the Howard government.

They hope, but are not confident, the Senate will block Labor’s proposed measures, which they liken to elder financial abuse.

“We’re sitting down and working out what we can afford, trying to change electricity providers because we’re in South Australia and the prices are horrendous,” Mrs Wells said. “We’re trying to cut back on insurance … at the moment it’s a nip-tuck here, a nip-tuck there, because it’s a lot of extra money to find.

“The anxiety is something that every day we speak about because we’ve been waiting to do some things for 40 years and with the stroke of a pen, or a vote, the rules will suddenly change.”

The couple, who said they were not affiliated with any political party, have been self- employed most of their lives and have managed their own superannuation for more than two decades.

They are proud they’ve never had to rely on government handouts, yet Mr Wells, 63, dismissed the notion that all self-funded retirees were wealthy.

He said he and his wife were hardworking, middle-class Australians who followed expert advice and invested in companies that paid fully franked dividends.

“This is abuse of older people by Labor, coming up with a system to make it really hard for them … taking away any ‘cream’ they may have, making it harder for them to live. It’s just crazy,” Mr Wells said.

“This is not something society should be doing. It should be looking after older people, not picking on them. You try to have some pleasure in retirement and they’re taking away all that because you just won’t have the money for the things you want to do.”

Mrs Wells, 62, said Labor had framed its argument in simple terms — “really good one-liners” — that suggested those affected had done something wrong.

Mrs Wells said she was also angry with the Liberals after then treasurer Scott Morrison tinkered with superannuation in the 2016 budget. “Unfortunately, superannuation has become the government of the day’s honey pot.”

Labor tax hikes to bite workers

The Australian

18 February 2019

Editorial

Policy by policy, Josh Frydenberg is slowly but surely enlightening voters about how much the opposition’s tax changes would cost them. From retirees’ loss of franking credits and a higher marginal tax rate to super changes and a crackdown on capital gains and negative gearing, hundreds of thousands of Australians are realising they stand to be disadvantaged by thousands of dollars or more a year.

Given current property price trends, especially in Sydney and Melbourne, real estate investors do not need further dampeners.

At the very least, Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen owe it to the public to reveal when their planned hike in capital gains tax and negative gearing restrictions would take effect. They should also state if they would factor in the state of the property market before proceeding with their property tax grab, or even delay it until conditions improve.

As reported today, the Treasury has crunched the numbers, finding more than half a million taxpayers aged from 45 to 59, with an average rental loss of $9500, would be hardest hit by Labor’s housing tax.

The Treasurer is correct when he says workers approaching retirement face a double whammy under the opposition. Those who own homes or who have invested in rental property would find their assets worth less. Those renting would pay more. And those who have invested in shares would earn less through the loss of franking credits.

Aside from creating widespread personal hardship, such policies would discourage workers from being thrifty to ensure they are self-supporting in retirement, rather than relying on taxpayer-funded pensions.

The divisions between the major parties on tax and encouraging workers to keep more of their hard-earned money for retirement are stark. The question for voters is how widely they are prepared to open their wallets to fund Labor’s profligate social programs.

Chris Bowen and the ALP want to trash two fundamental pillars of our tax policy

The Australian

25 January 2019

Robert Gottliebsen, Business Columnist

Let me explain simply the nub of where Chris Bowen and I differ over the so-called retirement and pensioners’ tax. I think once most Australians, including many ALP supporters, understand the fundamental pillars that underpin my view, they will be on my side rather than that of the Treasurer in waiting.

But first I want to express my appreciation to Chris Bowen for his willingness to debate the issue and I urge my readers to read every word he has written.

I might be old fashioned, but I believe passionately in two pillars of Australian taxation policy: The first pillar is that people in the same financial position (i.e. have the same assets and income) should be treated the same. Since federation all political parties have endorsed this anti-discrimination policy. Until now.

Secondly, where there are longstanding retirement rules under which people arrange their future when they cease working, there should be extensive grandfathering when fundamental changes are proposed. I am afraid both sides of politics have strayed from this pillar, but I can’t recall any group of politicians being so ruthless in their treatment of battling retirees and grandparents as Bill Shorten’s ALP.

Let me set out in the clearest possible terms how Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen are dismantling the first and second pillars. I believe they have been extremely poorly advised so I will put forward some ideas help them adjust their policy to conform with the above two pillars which I believe help unite our society.

Until now, both parties had an agreed policy whereby shareholders in a company would not be double taxed on company profits. Accordingly, when you receive a dividend from a company that dividend forms part of your taxable income. But you receive a credit for the tax already paid by the company (it’s called a franking credit) so there is no double taxation. If you are a retiree and have no other taxable income, of course you receive the corporate tax refund in cash.

If Chris Bowen had declared that all non-earning retirees can no longer receive the cashback refund or, where there were exemptions, then those exemptions applied to all people in that classification, I would have declared that his retirement and pensioners’ tax complied with the first pillar.

Instead, Shorten and Bowen discriminated between people with the same assets and income thus trashing the first pillar for the first time in our history.

Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen declared that if you had no taxable income but saved your money through an industry or certain retail funds then you would receive your cash refund entitlement “in full”. I repeat “in full”.

By contrast, if you are in exactly the same financial situation, again with no taxable income, but saved outside of superannuation or saved via some retail funds or most self-managed funds then you would not receive a cent of your cash refund entitlement. I repeat not a cent. There are more than a million Australians being discriminated against this way — probably more women than men.

There was an exemption for pensioners but again there was blatant discrimination — if you did not register by a set date you got hit by the tax. Never in our history has any set of politicians ever engaged in such blatant and unfair discrimination.

The ALP shadow ministers have minders who insulate them from the pleading letters/emails from salt-of-the-earth older Australians who have been hit hard while their retired friends in the same financial position are totally unaffected.

By contrast I have no minders to shield me. I am human and I let the letters/emails from wonderful people create anger and I described the industry funds as ALP mates. That was not fair. They have won the superannuation wars fair and square and not on a mates basis.

Shorten and Bowen defend their blatant discrimination by saying that because the industry and big retail funds happened to have members who were salary earners and paid tax, those salary earners’ tax payments can be credited to the retirees so they can receive their corporate tax cash refunds. That’s an insult to the intelligence of ordinary Australians. To mix up the taxes paid by one member of a fund with the tax status of an entirely separate person breaks all the rules. It’s a complete nonsense.

So, if the retirement and pensioner tax is to be fair it must apply to everyone in the same tax income/asset bracket and cannot exclude those in retail and industry funds. All must have their cash franking credit refunds blocked

Of course, we all know that if everyone was subject to the retirement and pensioner tax it would spark a riot among grandparents and retirees and would enrage their children.

So, if we are making the tax comply with the first pillar outlined above and apply it to all people equally, then we must grandfather it to comply with pillar two.

I would suggest that everyone be given a $15,000 limit on their cash franking credits. Make it a fixed sum so it will be reduced by inflation over the years. If Chris Bowen is right that there is a pool of rich people out there who will pay most of the tax, then this will not greatly affect his revenue. But while I can’t prove it, I think he is wrong. I believe the vast bulk of the $55 billion in projected revenue will be raised from battlers. If I am right then fair grandfathering would decimate the income projections.

The ALP is set to win a May election by one of the biggest margins in our history. So, Chris Bowen will claim that he has a mandate. But the Australian population is justifiably so angry with the Coalition that they want to teach it a lesson. In my view, a May election will be about venting voter anger against the Liberals and not the policies of either party. But under the accepted practice, Chris Bowen is entitled to claim a mandate.

So, after the election the retirement and pensioners tax will become law. We are going to be stuck with a precedent that promotes taxation discrimination. Who knows what politicians will do next time. With some justification, I don’t believe Bill Shorten fully understood this when he originally endorsed the policy.

Unfortunately, the ALP has made promises that spend the money. But there is a way out. The real issue is the level of franking credit benefit. Cut the total franking credits benefit (not just those credits received in cash) from 100 per cent of tax paid to say 95 or 90 per cent and end the illegal use of franking credits by international investors.

While many will oppose this, the measure conforms with my two pillars and does not create an incredibly dangerous and divisive precedent that shatters salt of the earth Australians.

Labor franking credits policy creates superannuation class divide, says Robert Millner

The Australian

Eli Greenblat

24 January 2019

Billionaire investor Robert Millner has raised concerns that Labor’s policy to rip up the franking credit system on dividends could create two different classes of investors.

Mr Millner also expressed concern that Labor’s changes also hand an advantage to union-controlled industry funds, which will mostly maintain the rich flow of franking refunds.

Speaking to The Australian on Thursday after the $3 billion listed investment company Milton Corporation, which he chairs, issued its half-year profit results, Mr Millner said the proposed ALP policy could also encourage investors to shift out of Australian equities and place their money into riskier assets such as property and overseas shares.

“It doesn’t apply to everybody, but it does apply to a certain few,’’ Mr Millner said.

“It might make franked dividends less attractive for some people, and if people think they aren’t going to get those refunds, those people have relied on those refunds might put their capital to work somewhere else.

“If they do decide to exit equities, do they put it into property? Or do they go overseas?”

Current ALP policy is to close down a concession that gives cash refunds for excess dividend imputation credits. Most industry funds and some retail funds could still harvest franking credits because of the dominance in these funds of workers still in accumulation phase, rather than pension phase of their policies. Franking credits wouldn’t offset the whole tax liability for accounts in accumulation phase, effectively making industry funds exempt.

Opponents of the ALP scheme, led by the government, have accused shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen of allowing this loophole, which greatly protects industry funds – many of which are run by trade unions.

Mr Millner said this created an unfair advantage for one group of investors, and gave more power to the unions.

“Why should they have the benefit and no one else?” he asked.

“I think what will happen, if we do get a change of government, is that we could get a divide in the community.

“Obviously the unions are speaking out on what they would like to be doing, but not everybody likes to be in the union.’’

Mr Millner’s family is worth more than $1 billion, accrued over more than 100 years of association with its publicly listed family business, Washington H. Soul Pattinson, valued at more than $6.15bn, and its controlling stake in Brickworks, which is Australia’s biggest brick maker and valued at more than $2.4bn.

In Milton’s half-year review for shareholders, Mr Millner also argued the ALP policy on refundability of franking credits was inequitable and could ramp up the cost of capital in Australia.

“Milton notes and remains vigilant about the policy proposal from the ALP to end the refundability of franking credits to a certain group of investors,” he wrote.

“We believe the policy to be inequitable, likely to reduce the attractiveness of equity investments and increase the cost of capital for all Australians. Milton will continue to advocate on behalf of shareholders and encourage concerned shareholders to highlight the issue by contacting their local political representatives.’’

Over the last two weeks leading investment funds such as BKI Investment, Mirrabooka, Amcil and Australian Foundation Investment Co have criticised the ALP policy and acted to protect their own shareholders by dumping more than $120 million worth of shares in blue-chip miners BHP and Rio Tinto to pay for special dividends. They have rushed out these dividends to beat any ALP policy applicable from July 1, assuming the ALP win the upcoming election.

Mr Bowen has previously argued that Australia’s dividend imputation system was introduced by former ALP Treasurer and Prime Minister Paul Keating to eliminate double taxation on dividends from company profits.

But under Coalition Prime Minister John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello, a concession was created that allowed some individuals and superannuation funds to receive a cash refund from the ATO if their imputation credits exceeded the tax they owed.

“Because of this change, Australia is the only OECD country with a fully refundable dividend imputation credit system – a concession which has grown at a rapid rate and now costs the budget more than $5 billion dollars a year,” Mr Bowen said.

“Failing to reform this unfair revenue leakage puts a greater tax burden on low and middle income working Australians. A Shorten Labor Government will close down the concession created by Howard and Costello, and return to the arrangement first introduced by Hawke and Keating – so that imputation credits can be used to reduce tax, but not for cash refunds.”

Closing down this concession will save the budget $11.4 billion over the forward estimates from 2018-19, and improve the budget bottom line by $59 billion over the medium term, Mr Bowen has argued.

Brickworks joins special dividend rush to beat Labor franking credit change

The Australian

Eli Greenblat

24 January 2019

The trickle of listed investment companies paying special dividends to shareholders to beat Labor’s franking credit changes is threatening to become a flood.

Following in the footsteps of companies like Australian Foundation Investment Co, the $1.1 billion Brickworks Investment Company issued a surprise dividend on Wednesday morning and vowing to pay another one later this year.

Brickworks Investment, which is part of the Washington H. Soul Pattinson investment empire, has also dumped $15 million in shares of BHP to capture the value of franked dividends on offer from the mining company, although it then bought back some shares in the company.

It is the latest listed equities fund to re-engineer its share portfolio in the face of the looming changes to dividend franking proposed by the ALP, as its investment managers scramble to protect the value of dividends for their mostly elderly, retired shareholders.

In the last week the nation’s biggest listed investment company Australian Foundation Investment Co dumped $120 million worth of shares in BHP and Rio Tinto and paid an unscheduled dividend to beat the stripping of cash refunds for excess dividend imputation credits by an incoming ALP government.

It has been joined by other investment companies Mirrabooka and Amcil that have put dividends into the hands of its shareholders to ensure the franking credits are passed on before their value is greatly diminished by the ALP scheme.

Brickworks Investment, which has a portfolio of blue chip stocks worth more than $1.1 billion, unveiled a fully franked interim dividend of 3.625 cents per share, as well as a special dividend of 1.5 cents per share, both payable on February 28.

Brickworks Investment also intends to pay another special dividend of at least 1 cent per share at the end of the financial year as it shifts $16.75 million of imputation credits on its books to beat any ALP policy that could come into effect if the party wins the federal election.

“In recent months we have been overwhelmed by the level of angst in the investment community regarding Labor’s proposal to eliminate cash refunds of excess franking credits,Brickworks Investment said as it posted a 104 per cent rise in December half profit to $47.09 million.

Brickworks Investment portfolio manager Tom Millner told The Australian the special dividends were directly linked to the threat to franking credits by the ALP. He said his shareholders were greatly concerned about the policy.

“It is a big concern,” he said.

“We don’t exactly know how much of our shareholder base it effects, but we are paying a fully franked 1.5 cents per share dividend and this shows we are concerned about it. And there is more to come because we have this concern,Mr Millner said.

He described the ALP policy as a poor one.

‘’They (the ALP) are not listening. Maybe the voters will tell them no one likes it. It will affect a lot of people nationally and it’s not a good policy, simple as that.”

A Shorten Labor Government has vowed to make the tax system fairer by closing down a concession that gives cash refunds for excess dividend imputation credits. Closing down this concession will save the budget $11.4bn over the forward estimates from 2018-19, and improve the budget bottom line by $59bn over the medium term, shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen has claimed.

But even the threat of the policy has been enough to force the hand of investment managers who have begun to sell down shares and pull the trigger on special dividends to ensure the value of franking credits are protected and handed over to shareholders.

AFIC chief executive Mark Freeman, who is also the CEO of Amcil and Mirrabooka,

revealed this week the fund had sold down almost half its stake in Rio Tinto and 3 per cent of its holding in BHP to pass on the franking credits to its shareholders as soon as possible.

He told The Australian that the feedback from his 130,000 shareholders, who were mostly elderly retirees, that the ALP proposed changes to franking credits would hurt them financially.

“This is going to hurt a lot of people who are saying ‘I’m not rich, I’m not wealthy and why am I being forced to go on a higher tax bracket through this?’’

Turning to its financial performance for the December half, Brickworks Investment said its strong rise in net profit was attributable to higher dividends received from companies such as New Hope, AGL, Woodside Petroleum, BHP and Sydney Airport. It also harvested $24 million in special dividend income from BHP, Wesfarmers, Telstra, IAG and Woolworths.

It said it believed the markets were now rolling off the top of the cycle as evidenced by falling share prices, especially high growth stocks, falling commodity prices, tighter credit conditions, sliding real estate values and flat domestic interest rates.

Brickworks Investment co-portfolio manager Will Culbert said the decline in domestic markets over the last six months provided the investor with some good investment opportunities.

In the half it sold down shares in Flight Centre, IOOF and Perpetual and new positions in the portfolio included Coles Group, Platinum Asset Management, Magellan Financial Group, Stockland and Pact Group.

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