Tax

Judge slams “totally skewed” super tax breaks for rich

Cara Waters /

A Federal Court judge has attacked superannuation breaks in the tax system as “totally skewed” in favour of the rich.

Justice Edmonds criticized Australia’s tax regime in a speech to the Australasian Tax Teachers Association conference at the University of Adelaide.

“I dare say that if the ordinary man in the street had any knowledgeable notion of what certain sections of the community were getting away with in this regard, any semblance of consensus would quickly disappear,” he said.

“The whole system of the taxation of superannuation in this country needs to be brought back to the table.”

But Justice Edmonds said the Abbott government has no “realistic prospect” of achieving structural tax reform.

“I fear time is now too short. Of course that may suit the government,” he said.  

Read more: How much time you are really losing to tax red tape each year

“It will be to the detriment of our ‘common wealth’, if that ‘unique confluence of opportunities’ is not grasped by structural reform of our tax system, reform which implements a broader base upon which our income tax can operate, so as to facilitate a reduction of marginal rates of income tax across the board, but particularly at lower levels, which will be required to provide an equitable foundation to broaden the base of the GST, and, if necessary, increase its rate, without doing violence to the underlying criteria that need to be satisfied for the achievement of true tax reform.”

Professor Chris Evans, of the University of New South Wales, attended the conference and was in the audience for Justice Edmonds’ speech.

He told SmartCompany Justice Edmonds’ comments were “quite brave” and “eminently sensible”.

“He is spot on in the sense that it would be good to have structural tax reform. The government is leaving it really late and it does suit the government for there not to be real debate about structural tax reform,” he says.

Evans says if the government is serious about having a better tax system going forward it needs to look at broadening the taxation base by reevaluating superannuation, capital gains tax discounts, negative gearing and the rules surrounding gifts and bequests.

Evans says “there are so many subsidies” making the current tax system “massively inequitable”.

“While [the subsidies] benefit everyone relatively, they benefit those on higher income much more. When you can take literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in superannuation tax-free you have got to say it is skewed violently towards the rich and wealthy,” he says.   

Paul Drum, head of policy at CPA Australia, told SmartCompany CPA Australia has been saying for some time that superannuation requires a long-term vision and a clearly articulated direction.

“Constant rule changes only serve to undermine public confidence in the system,” he says.

 “The fact is that we are living longer and for many of us, despite having a good superannuation nest egg, there is the real possibility that we will outlive our savings.”

Drum wants a comprehensive review of the super system, including looking at ways to improve the de-cumulation phase as part of the broader tax reform process.

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Cara Waters

Cara Waters is a former SmartCompany editor. Previously, Cara was a senior reporter for the Financial Times' website and worked for The Sunday Times in London.

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