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.