Originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald on August 7, 2012

The budget papers mask some public spending by classifying it as ‘tax expenditures’ The amount the federal government spends on superannuation subsidies is forecast to hit $45 billion in 2015-16. Yes: $45 billion! That’s well over 10 per cent of the government’s total projected outlays and bigger than the amount spent on the age pension. These huge concessions go disproportionately to high-income earners. Treasury data shows that the top 5 per cent of individuals account for more than 37 per cent of concessional super contributions. The concessions work by taxing super contributions and earnings at 15 per cent rather than the taxpayers’ marginal tax rate. This is a big concession to someone on a 45 per cent marginal tax rate but in fact a penalty for someone with a zero marginal tax rate. While there were some initiatives in the 2012-13 budget to address the bias in super concessions, there is much more that could be done and a broader discussion to be had. Given that the budget papers are now more than 10 centimetres thick, you would think there would be a lot of information about super subsidies, right? Wrong. Super tax concessions get two mentions in appendix F to the chapter headed ”Statement 5: revenue”, in Budget Paper No 1. If you can find it, the meaning is obscure and assumes the reader knows what a ”tax expenditure” is.

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