Superannuation Ready Reckoner: Taxation and Preservation Rules for 2000-2001

Current Issues Brief 16 1999-2000

David Kehl
Economics, Commerce and Industrial Relations Group
20 June 2000


Major Issues
Taxation of Superannuation Contributions

Age Based Deduction Limits
Taxation of Contributions
Surcharge on Contributions
Low Income Superannuation Rebate
Low Income Spouse Rebate

Regulation of Superannuation Contributions

Superannuation Guarantee
Maximum Contribution Base

Taxation of Superannuation Fund Earnings
Taxation of Superannuation Benefits

Eligible Termination Payments
Reasonable Benefit Limits
Bona fide Redundancy Payments
Death Benefits Pension and Annuity Rebate

Income Tax Rates
GST and Superannuation
Preservation Rules

New Preservation Rules from 1 July 1999
New Preservation Age from 1 July 1999


Major Issues

Superannuation is a tax-effective investment vehicle, but is known for its complexity and frequent change. The complexity covers most areas of the superannuation system including prudential legislation, taxation legislation and disclosure regulation. Frequent legislative changes contribute to the system's complexity. In addition, the superannuation system constantly changes as many of the financial thresholds are indexed. Consequently, numerous thresholds change at the beginning of each new financial year. Hence, the need to know the new superannuation taxation thresholds for each new financial year.

This paper, updated for the 2000-2001 financial year, is designed to provide readers with a 'ready reckoner'-a simple, easy to use summary of superannuation taxation and preservation rules, and covers the following topics:

  • the taxation of superannuation contributions and benefits
  • the rebates that apply to certain superannuation contributions and benefits
  • the level of superannuation contributions that employers must make
  • the preservation rules that came into operation on 1 July 1999, and
  • the application of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) to superannuation.

Superannuation law is extremely complex and individual circumstances can drastically alter its general application. It is therefore stressed that this paper is not intended to be used for determining the tax liability attached to superannuation in any particular case, especially in view of the many specific considerations that need to be addressed in a summary document of this kind.(1)

It is anticipated that this paper will continue to be updated annually at the beginning of every financial year.

All figures in bold type are indexed thresholds, and are only current for the 2000-2001 financial year.(2)


Numerous laws and regulations regulate superannuation, each administered by a particular government agency. Superannuation laws and regulations can be separated into three separate categories: prudential regulation, disclosure regulation and taxation.

Prudential legislation and regulations, administered by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), are directed at safeguarding the assets of superannuation fund members and investors. Disclosure legislation and regulations, administered by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), are directed at ensuring superannuation fund members and investors are provided with relevant information by fund trustees to enable them to make a fully informed investment decision. Taxation legislation and regulations, administered by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), are directed at superannuation funds and their members to collect revenue for the Commonwealth.

The main focus of this paper is the taxation legislation and regulations that affect superannuation funds and their members.

Taxation of Superannuation Contributions

This section shows how superannuation contributions are taxed, the maximum amount of tax-deductible contributions that an employer can make and the tax rebates that apply to certain superannuation contributions. A superannuation contribution is a payment to a superannuation fund, which is generally concessionally taxed. A tax rebate is a reduction in tax liability that has the same value to all taxpayers independent of the taxpayer's marginal tax rate.

Age Based Deduction Limits

Contributions made to a complying superannuation fund(3) or Retirement Savings Account(4) (RSA) are fully tax deductible to employers up to the age based deduction limits. 'Self-employed persons' (whose income from an employer is less than 10 per cent of their total income) get a full tax deduction on the first $3000 of contributions plus 75 per cent of the remaining contribution up to the age based deduction limits. The deduction limits are:

Age of employee (years)

Deduction limit

under 35

$11 388

35 to 49

$31 631

50 and over

$78 445

Taxation of Contributions

Employer and tax deductible personal contributions are included in a complying superannuation fund's and RSA's income and are taxed at a rate of 15 per cent.

Surcharge on Contributions

All employer contributions, certain 'golden handshakes' and tax deductible personal contributions made to superannuation funds for high-income earners are subject to a surcharge of up to 15 per cent. The surcharge is currently phased in over the income levels of $81 493 to $98 966 with the surcharge increasing by one per cent for each additional $1165 of income from $81 493. The surcharge may also be payable if a member doesn't quote their Tax File Number to their superannuation fund. For an account which existed prior to 7 May 1997 and received less than the surchargeable contributions threshold of $3105, the surcharge will not be levied merely due to the non-quotation of a Tax File Number in relation to that account for that year.

Low Income Superannuation Rebate

An employee who receives any form of employer superannuation support (but is not a 'self employed person') is entitled to a tax rebate of up to $100 for personal contributions made to a complying superannuation fund, provided the employee's assessable (i.e. gross) income is less than $31 000. The tax rebate is calculated as ten per cent of the lesser of:

  • $1000 reduced by 25 cents for each dollar of the taxpayer's assessable income over $27 000, or
  • the contribution actually made.

Low Income Spouse Rebate

A contributing spouse is entitled to receive an 18 per cent rebate for contributions up to $3000 per annum to the superannuation fund or RSA of a spouse who has an assessable income of $10 800 or less per annum. The maximum rebate phases out on a dollar-for-dollar basis, and is not available when the low-income spouse's assessable income is $13 800 or more per annum.

Regulation of Superannuation Contributions

The level of superannuation support an employer is required to provide to employees is prescribed under Federal and State industrial awards and the Commonwealth's Superannuation Guarantee (SG) scheme.

Under award superannuation, the parties (generally unions and employers) are bound by an industrial agreement (or award) to make superannuation contributions to a superannuation fund nominated in the agreement. The level of support is normally not greater than three per cent of ordinary time earnings (although this varies between awards).

The SG scheme requires all employers to provide a minimum level of superannuation support in each financial year for employees (with limited exceptions). The SG scheme operates in conjunction with award superannuation so that contributions made by an employer in conjunction with an industrial award may be counted towards the employer's superannuation guarantee obligations.

Superannuation Guarantee

The table below shows the minimum level of employer support.


Per cent of ordinary time earnings





2002-03 and subsequently


Maximum Contribution Base

Employers that do not make SG contributions are liable for the SG charge (SGC). The SGC is made up of the employer's SG shortfall (the amount the employee should have received in SG contributions), an interest (or penalty) component and an administration component (to recover costs incurred by the ATO). When calculating an individual employee's SG shortfall, the amount of an employee's salary or wages used to calculate their 'ordinary times earnings' in a contribution period is limited to the maximum contribution base, which is $26 300 for each quarterly period, or $105 200 per annum.

Taxation of Superannuation Fund Earnings

The investment earnings of a complying superannuation fund or RSA are taxed at a rate of 15 per cent. This rate can be reduced through the use of imputation credits. Non-complying funds are taxed at a rate of 47 per cent on their entire assets. Superannuation funds can be non-complying either through choice or through failing to meet the necessary standards and condition required under prudential legislation to qualify for tax concessions.

Taxation of Superannuation Benefits

This section describes the taxation arrangements that apply to superannuation benefits. A superannuation benefit is the amount of money in the superannuation fund or RSA to which the fund member or RSA holder is entitled. Most benefits are payable on termination of employment and will often be subject to preservation (see 'preservation' below).

The taxation of superannuation benefits is complex due to changes made on 1 July 1983 and 1 July 1988. The complexity arises from avoiding retrospectivity by applying new taxation treatment to only those portions of benefits attributed to service after 1 July 1983 and 1 July 1988.(5)

Eligible Termination Payments

Eligible Termination Payments (ETPs) are lump sums usually paid on retirement or resignation from a job and include 'golden handshakes', payments from superannuation funds, approved deposit funds (ADFs), and RSAs. ETPs are taxed differently from other income.

ETPs are comprised of several components (although not all ETPs have every component). Each component of an ETP is taxed in a different manner and may be subject to various rebates.

The various components of an ETP and their respective taxation treatment is provided in the following table:

Table: The various components of an ETP and their respective taxation treatment

Reasonable Benefit Limits

The amount of concessionally taxed superannuation benefits a person is allowed to receive over his or her lifetime is limited by reasonable benefit limits (RBLs). The table below shows the lump sum and pension RBLs. The pension RBL is available provided that at least 50 per cent of the total benefit received by a person is taken in the form of a pension or annuity that satisfies the pension and annuity standards.

Reasonable Benefit Limits


Lump sum

506 092


1 012 181

Bona fide Redundancy Payments

From 1 July 1994 a limit of $5062 plus $2531 for each year of completed service has been placed on redundancy and early retirement payments. Amounts within the limit are exempt from tax.

Death Benefits

All death benefits made on or after 1 July 1994 are subject to pension RBLs. Death benefit payments made directly to the dependants of a deceased member are exempt from tax up to the deceased person's pension RBL. Any amount above that is treated as an excessive component. When paid to a person other than a dependant, death benefit payments become ETPs. The post June 1983 death benefit ETP is taxed at 15 per cent if paid from a taxed source and 30 per cent if paid from an untaxed source.

Pension and Annuity Rebate

Where a person receives an ETP and uses it to purchase an annuity or pension from a taxed superannuation fund and the person is 55 or more years of age, the person is entitled to a tax rebate, at 15 per cent, on the assessable part of the annuity or pension payment that is not in excess of the person's RBL.

Income Tax Rates

Individual income tax rates are relevant to calculating an individual's superannuation entitlement. For example, a fund member that has an ETP that contains a non-qualifying component has taxation levied on that component at the member's marginal income tax rate. In addition, if a fund member has an ETP that contains a concessional component, five per cent of that component is taxed at the member's marginal income tax rate. The marginal income tax rates are in the following table:

Taxable income ($)

Marginal income tax rate (%)

up to 6000


6001-20 000


20 001-50 000


50 001-60 000


excess over 60 000


The marginal income tax rates above apply to Australian residents and do not include the Medicare levy, which is generally 1.5 per cent. A low-income rebate, worth a maximum of $150, can affect the tax paid for lower income earners.

These marginal income tax rates come into affect from 1 July 2000.

GST and Superannuation

This section summarises how the GST is applied to superannuation funds.(6)

The GST is a broad-based value-added tax of 10 per cent on most goods and services supplied in Australia. It is fully effective from 1 July 2000. (Some contracts entered into before that date are affected by the GST.) The GST is payable on transactions where goods and/or services are supplied for consideration (payment). No business is GST free; only certain transactions may be classified as such.

In all countries that have a GST-type tax, financial services are given special treatment. This is because of the difficulty in valuing the service provided when there are sums of capital and interest and other earnings in most financial transactions. It is just too hard and uncertain to unscramble the egg when a fee for service and an interest charge may both be involved in a transaction. Accordingly, financial services are 'input taxed'.

Superannuation funds are financial supplies,(7) meaning the provision, acquisition, or disposal of an interest in or under a superannuation fund, scheme, ADF or RSA or in or under an annuity or allocated pension, is a financial supply. Accordingly, no GST is payable by superannuation funds in respect of contributed capital and related fees paid by members or employer sponsors as the consideration for the rights or interests of the members in the fund or scheme.

Most of the services provided by superannuation funds are free of GST; that is, they are 'input taxed financial supplies'. This means that superannuation funds pay GST on many of their purchases (e.g. computers), do not levy GST on the supplies they makes to their ultimate customers (i.e. on benefits paid to fund members), and are input-taxed (i.e. they are not able to obtain input credit for the GST levied on the goods or services they purchased).

Nonetheless, in some circumstances superannuation funds are eligible for reduced input tax credits. For example, superannuation funds are eligible for reduced refunds of the GST they paid for administration and legal services. In addition, superannuation funds also have to levy GST on their non-'input tax financial supplies'. For example, superannuation funds are required to levy GST on the supply of premises to commercial property tenants. If a superannuation fund's turnover (which excludes input taxed supplies) exceeds $50 000 per year, it must register with the ATO for GST purposes. The Government is also encouraging people who manage their own superannuation funds to apply for an Australian Business Number (ABN) to assist with the administration of their fund. Possession of an ABN does not necessarily mean that a superannuation fund is registered for the GST.(8)

Preservation Rules

Preservation refers to the prudential regulatory requirement(9) that certain superannuation benefits be maintained either in a superannuation or rollover fund or RSA until permanent retirement or after the member reaches preservation age.

New Preservation Rules from 1 July 1999

New preservation rules, administered by APRA, took effect from 1 July 1999. Under the new regulations, all superannuation contributions (including member contributions) and superannuation fund investment earnings, from that date forward, will be preserved till the member's preservation age. Pre-1 July 1999 non-preserved components of a member's superannuation entitlement generally retain their non-preserved status.

New Preservation Age from 1 July 1999

Preservation age is the age at which a fund member can gain access to benefits that have accumulated in a superannuation fund or RSA, provided the member has permanently retired from the workforce.

The Government announced in the 1997 Budget that the preservation age would be increased from 55 to 60 years on a phased-in basis. By 2025, the preservation age will be 60 years for anyone born after June 1964, with the age 60 years preservation age being reduced by one year for each year that the person's birthday is before 1 July 1964. This means that persons born before 1 July 1960 will continue to have a preservation age of 55. The following table summarises the phase-in schedule:

For a person born

Preservation age (years)

before 1 July 1960


1 July 1960-30 June 1961


1 July 1961-30 June 1962


1 July 1962-30 June 1963


1 July 1963-30 June 1964


1 July 1964-30 June 1965


Under the new preservation rules, a person will continue to be allowed to have early access to preserved benefits where the benefits are taken in the form of a non-commutable lifetime pension or lifetime annuity on termination of gainful employment, subject to the governing rules of the fund or RSA. Preserved superannuation benefits can be accessed on compassionate grounds and severe financial hardship.


  1. This paper has been prepared as a briefing and reference tool only and is not intended for use in a providing financial advice. The author disclaims any liability in relation to any financial decision taken which may be influenced by the content of this paper.

  2. Indexed thresholds were obtained from the following sources:
    Commissioner of Taxation, Superannuation Guarantee Determination, SGD 2000/1
    Commissioner of Taxation, Superannuation Contributions Determination,SCD 2000/1
    Commissioner of Taxation, Superannuation Contributions Determination,SCD 2000/2
    Commissioner of Taxation, Superannuation Contributions Determination,SCD 2000/3
    Commissioner of Taxation, Superannuation Contributions Determination,SCD 2000/4, and
    Commissioner of Taxation, Taxation Determination, TD 2000/23.

  3. A complying superannuation fund qualifies for concessional tax rates. It is regulated under the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993.

  4. RSAs are simple low-cost, low-risk superannuation products offered by life insurance companies, banks, building societies and credit unions. They are regulated under the Retirement Savings Account Act 1997 and have the same tax treatment as superannuation.

  5. For more information on the evolution of the taxation of superannuation, refer to Michael Reid, 'Supercalifragilisticexpiannuation-A Plain English Guide to Australian Superannuation Arrangements', Background Paper No. 23 1994, Department of the Parliamentary Library.

  6. For more details see the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia and the GST Start-Up Office, The Goods and Services Tax and the Superannuation Industry, January 1999, website at: .

  7. This is set out in Regulation 40-13 of A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Regulations 1999.

  8. See The New Tax System Advisory Board media release, Self Managed Super Funds Should Apply for an ABN Now, 28 May 2000.

  9. These prudential regulatory requirements are set out in the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 and the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Regulations.