A Short Introduction to Superannuation
"Superannuation", or just simply "super", is the universally used Australian term for a pension or retirement fund. There is some suggestion that the use of the term "superannuation" is a consequence of lump sum payments being more a feature of retirement schemes in Australia than appear to be the case elsewhere in the world, and there is some truth to that view.
Superannuation funds have existed in Australia since the late 19th century, but until the mid-1980's they were generally limited to the professional, white collar employees of large corporations and public servants. During the 1980's superannuation began to become a feature of many industrial awards, but coverage still remained far from widespread.
In 1992 the Federal Government introduced the Superannuation Guarantee (SG) scheme which required employers, with very few exceptions, to provide a minimum level of superannuation support each financial year for their employees. Funds within superannuation could not be accessed until preservation age, then at least age 55, and in the years that followed the SG contribution rate has increased steadily, if irregularly, until it currently stands at 9.5% of an employee's ordinary time earnings. The chart below illustrates how the SG has increased over the last 20 years and how the rate is scheduled to again increase over time to 12% in 2025.
Australia's approach to providing retirement incomes has been said to rest on "three pillars", comprising:
- A means tested and publicly funded Age Pension;
- Compulsory private savings through the SG payments; and
- Voluntary private savings, within and outside Super, supported by taxation concessions and direct government payments for low income earners.
Apart from the SG, individuals have been able to make additional contributions to Superannuation - both before tax and after tax - subject to certain annual caps, which have tended to reduce over time. See our section, Contributing to Super, for more details in this regard.