Implications of the Retirement Income Review: Public advocacy of private profligacy?

17 March 2021

Terrence O’Brien

Download the Analysis Paper (AP19) as a PDF

The recent Retirement Income Review (RIR) implies policies that would reduce after-tax returns to super saving, encourage faster spending of life savings and of equity in the family home, and minimise bequests.  Its approach would incline each generation towards consuming more fully its own lifetime savings.

This paper demonstrates the RIR relies on contested Treasury ‘tax expenditure’ estimates that use a hypothetical benchmark that is biased against all saving, but particularly against long-term saving.

The AP reports that the effective tax rate on superannuation earnings is already much higher than the statutory rate. It also presents credible alternative Treasury measures that use a neutral benchmark. These estimate ‘tax expenditures’ that are only one-fifth the size the RIR claims, essentially flat over time rather than rising strongly, and thus do not unduly favour self-funded retirees compared to Age Pensioners.

The RIR implies policies should encourage faster and more complete consumption of superannuation capital and housing equity in retirement to prevent some retirees’ wealth rising and ending in bequests.  But with savers’ equity in their houses typically about double their savings in superannuation, no prudent acceleration of super spending is likely to overtake inflation of housing prices in an era of fiscal and monetary stimulus and asset price inflation.

The RIR proposes that a retirement income of 65-75% of the average of after-tax incomes in the last 10 years of work would be “adequate” for all, and estimates most (except some retiring as renters) are already saving more than enough for such a retirement.  But it would be unwise and unnecessary for government to set its policies to constrain citizens’ choice of the self-funded living standards they want to work and save towards.  Policies to crimp voluntary saving and accelerate retirement spending would create more uncertain retirements and a more fragile economy, more dependent on international lending and investment.

This paper was first published on 17 March 2021 by The Centre for Independent Studies (Analysis Paper 19)