Tax equity: Reforming capital gains taxation in Australia

by David Ingles

Short-term capital gains have always been taxed as income in Australia but gains on assets held for more than a year were first taxed in 1986 under the Hawke/Keating tax reforms. Pre-1986 assets were exempted and housing was not included. Gains on post-1986 assets were taxed in full but indexation applied. The Howard/Costello Government abolished indexation when, following the 1999 Ralph Review of Business Taxation, it substituted a 50 per cent concession, allowing half of any capital gain to be tax free; however income derived from capital continued to be taxed in full. This situation is of particular benefit to the well-off for two reasons. First, the well-off receive a disproportionate share of capital gains; the top one per cent of taxpayers receives 39 per cent while the top 10 per cent receives 64 per cent of such gains. Second, the higher the marginal income tax rate that would otherwise apply, the higher the benefit that is afforded by the concession. A taxpayer on the top rate of 46.5 per cent benefits from a 23 percentage point discount but a taxpayer on the zero marginal rate (income under $14,000) gets no benefit at all.

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