Making retirement sustainable

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Planning or organising retirement income has become the ultimate juggling act in recent years, with far too many piecemeal, ad hoc changes to policy and entitlements. So imagine this: What if a group of experienced academics, senior policy makers, and community and industry organisations were to join forces to investigate a comprehensive review of Australia’s retirement income system? And ask the critical questions:

  • What is its aim?
  • Who benefits from this system?
  • How might it work better?

Well, you don’t need to pinch yourself, it’s actually happening!

YourLifeChoices was privileged to attend Day One of the inaugural Committee for Sustainable Retirement Incomes (CSRI) leadership forum in Canberra last week.  The committee is formidable, with former Federal Government secretaries Dr Michael Keating, Dr Vince Fitzgerald, Professor Andrew Podger, and Founder, Ms Patricia Pascuzzo.

Keynote speaker Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), set the scene for a lively debate by noting the heavy political focus on the spending side of retirement incomes, but little will to change the tax concessions on super – the majority of which benefit high earners.

As Ms Goldie noted, our retiree income system has many strengths but fails on three key indicators:

  • clear purpose and cohesiveness 
  • the equality test
  • sustainability.

Presentations and a panel session, featuring members of the CSRI, further built on Ms Goldie’s observations on how our retirement income system could be improved. And, at dinner, David Murray, chair of the Financial Services Inquiry (FSI) addressed how we might improve our superannuation system.

Mr Murray noted that much of the day’s discussion had considered how a range of Comprehensive Income Products for Retirement (CIPR) might be developed to meet the need of today’s and tomorrow’s retirees.

It is fair to say that for the past two decades, the main concentration on retirement incomes has been on the accumulation or savings phase, with little attention on how retirees can draw down their savings in an orderly and sustainable manner.

Mr Murray’s FSI report emphasised the need for a CIPR that would enable retirees to meet their longevity needs, spreading their withdrawal of funds from super accounts throughout their retirement, avoiding the early withdrawal of too large a lump sum and a life lived in fear of running out of money.

Such products are, of course, difficult to create, as they involve risk management of pooled funds in order to guarantee secure returns for individual investors. Yet, until long-term retirement income stream products are more widely available, it is likely that retirees will continue to overspend or underspend their hard-earned savings.

An ageing population means that retirement income adequacy remains a hot topic, subject to blasts of hot air from politicians keen to seize the day – or even the moment – for their own political advantage. But such knee jerk reactions are rarely advantageous for retirees.

At last, the initiative has been taken by people who have the runs on the board when it comes to making effective policy change. We look forward to supporting the aims of the CSRI for poverty alleviation and income maintenance on behalf of all Australian retirees.

Read more at CSRI

Written by Kaye Fallick


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