While you’re here… help us stay here.

Are you enjoying open access to policy and research published by a broad range of organisations? Please donate today so that we can continue to provide this service.

Fact sheet

Fact Check: Paul Keating says people are being allowed early access to their super with no scrutiny whatsoever. Is he correct?

Access to superannuation Retirement income Superannuation Australia

Hundreds of thousands of Australians have rushed to access their superannuation early as part of the Federal Government's coronavirus response plan.

But with more than $30 billion now withdrawn, questions are being asked about the wisdom of raiding future retirement savings to pay for the present.

Paul Keating, who as treasurer and later prime minister oversaw the design and introduction of Australia's compulsory superannuation system, accused the Government of leaning on the system to pay for the coronavirus stimulus, arguing there had been no assessment of whether people were eligible.

"There's been no scrutiny whatsoever," Mr Keating told an Industry Super Australia webinar on August 4.

"Twenty thousand [dollars], all up, and you can take it."

Is it correct that Australians have been allowed to access their superannuation early with "no scrutiny"?

The Australian Taxation Office relies on the self-assessment system to determine whether a person is eligible to access their superannuation early.

The self-assessment system, which underpins Australia's income tax regime, requires individuals to make honest declarations about their financial circumstances. Under this system, if an individual is found to have misrepresented their situation, they face being penalised.

In the case of the early access scheme, no accompanying documentation is required, at least at the application stage.

The take-up rate of the scheme has significantly exceeded initial expectations, with some analysis suggesting that a significant proportion of those people who have accessed their superannuation experienced no drop in income, raising questions about eligibility.

Shortly before Mr Keating made his comments, the tax office confirmed to a Senate hearing it had not issued any fines to individuals for accessing their super while being ineligible, nor had it forced anyone to pay tax on their super withdrawals because of ineligibility.

Australians have taken more than $30 billion out of their super since the scheme began.(Unsplash: Andrea Natali)

While this reflects the present situation, this does not mean the scheme will be free from scrutiny in the future.

In a statement, the tax office confirmed that 2.7 million people had accessed their super by August 14. It said it had stopped more than 2000 applications "for investigation" and cancelled more than 130.

The tax office has also noted it is conducting a "pilot" program in an attempt to determine the level of ineligibility.

It has also warned that should it find individuals accessing their superannuation who were not in financial hardship, or who were attempting to minimise their tax, "we will consider taking further action".

While such action appears to have been applied sparingly, it is a stretch to say there has been "no scrutiny whatsoever".

To some extent, it is self-evident that eligibility would not be heavily scrutinised at the point when people are given access to their retirement savings, given the scheme relies on the self-assessment system.

The verdict: Mr Keating's claim is overstated.

Publication Details
License type:
All Rights Reserved
Access Rights Type: