Poor dears

Lobbyists can be pretty shameless – from hyperbole about the ‘unintended consequences’ of some legislative or policy change they don’t like – to arguments which would shame a beginner debater.

The Association of Independent Retirees and National Seniors Association, who have both warned that self-funder retirees have been ‘forgotten’ during the pandemic, might have set new records in both categories.

Wayne Strandquist, Independent Retirees President, said before the Budget that the two million “self-funded retirees are the forgotten people who had received little help from the government or the Reserve Bank at a time of historically low interest and deposit rates.

“There have been dramatic falls in the stock market, cuts to dividends and property income reductions with rent squeezes and rent reductions and lack of evictions,” he said.

Commenting after the Budget he said self-funded retirees were disappointed after being more or less ignored in the federal budget. His concern is understandable given all the benefits the Coalition has lavished on the group over the years but possibly welcome to those who have seen the government give the group such unwarranted priority for so long.

He was also critical of the fact that age pensioners and senior health card holders had received two $750 assistance payments for which self-funded retirees were ineligible.

In doing so he undermined one of the key defences self-funded retirees offer for the largesse they receive – that they are not a drain on the age pension system.

National Seniors Australia Chief Advocate, Ian Henschke, said: “There have been no specific measures of support other than lowering the draw-down rate, which only assists those who can afford to do that.”

The double act of asset manager Geoff Wilson and Tim Wilson Liberal MP attacking Labor’s dividend imputation policy reforms in a pre-2019 Federal election travelling circus was very effective in creating fear about the policies which many self-funded retirees love.

The most memorable example of its impact was a  vox pop with an older man in the street who, when as asked why he wouldn’t vote Labor replied, “I don’t want to lose my dividend imputation credits.” When the interviewer followed up by asking what shares the man owned the reply was “None.”

The reality is that self-funded retirees generally have a combination of share portfolios, property investments built up with the booster fuel of negative gearing and cash deposits all on top of a family home exempt from any asset tests. They don’t get the pension – although some manage to game the system enough to do so – for the simple reasons that they have lots of assets.

Most of them have sufficient assets to see them through retirement and the beneficiaries when they die will be offspring who may face some capital gains tax bills but will still do very well simply because they were smart enough to choose the right parents.

Meanwhile the bequests will perpetuate and exacerbate existing societal inequalities.

Which, given the Coalition’s usual priorities, is an understandable source of anger from the Independent Retirees and surprise from the rest of us amazed at the Coalition for passing up an opportunity to distribute more corporate and middle class welfare.

But then, given the massive corporate welfare gift to companies in the tax elements of the Budget, some of the benefit left over after executive remuneration may well trickle down to self-funded retirees through dividends.