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You've got to hope Bill Shorten isn't a liar

Peter Switzer
26 April 2019

There are four more Saturdays until we choose between Scott and Bill as our national leader for the next three years and the latest word from the bookie’s favourite (i.e. Shorten) is that Labor will work with business “but not for it.”

And in an exclusive interview with the AFR today, he says he won’t be pushed around by the trade union movement.

When you read this, you have to hope that Bill isn’t a liar because there’s a fair bit of fear that Bill’s dancing to a tune being played by Sally McManus, who’s one of the toughest ACTU bosses in living memory.

To date, Bill has looked like he has been influenced by the trade union movement with his policies on penalty rates, superannuation, the ban on retirees receiving a tax refund from investments and negative gearing all having favourable implications on trade union-related interests.

I was thinking about penalty rates yesterday when I saw a lot of cafes closed in a tourist town in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney. And Bill’s play to restore penalty rates is clearly pleasing the unions and the half million workers apparently affected by the changes.

And for a politician, 500,000 potential voters is something few could ignore. But this is hardly an example of a leader working with business. I researched the changes to penalty rates wondering why so many businesses were not open after the Anzac marches were over.

The ABC website summed up the changes:

  • For full and part-time workers for example, Sunday hospitality pay rates will be cut from 175% of their standard wage to 150%. Public holiday rates will fall from 250% to 225%. 
  • In retail, Sunday wages will fall from 200% of the standard rate to 150%. On public holidays, the penalty rate will fall from 250% to 225%. 
  • Night-time workers have copped changes. The 10% evening work penalty for fast-food workers will apply from 10pm to midnight, instead of from 9pm. The 15% after midnight penalty will apply to hours worked between midnight and 6am, instead of 7am.

One publican I talked to last night said “business was good but the 225% penalty rates take a bit of the cream off the cake.”

To super and many of Bill’s policy ideas have a positive impact on industry super funds, which are overly dominated by the trade union movement. I must reveal a conflict of interest because I like industry super funds and have often written how well they’ve performed and their costs are very fair.

However, they have lost well-heeled customers to self-managed super funds in recent years, who often took the simple option to buy dividend-paying stocks. These generated a tax refund via the franking credits and meant lots of retirees were better off taking this option rather than being in an industry or retail (i.e. banking or insurance company) super fund.

If these tax refunds are denied to self-funded retirees not receiving a pension, they could easily just say “this is becoming too hard, so I’m going back to Australian Super.” Bill is doing industry super funds an enormous favour with this policy.

Bill will also kill borrowing inside a super fund, which means those Aussies who don’t trust stocks as a retirement vehicle and instead borrow to buy property will be denied this option. This will be a plus for industry super funds as well because if a stock-hater can’t buy property, then he/she will probably rely on a professional to pick the shares they’ll have to risk their retirement with.

Bill’s negative gearing policy, which is bound to discourage property investors opting for real estate plays, and is also bound to help buyers over sellers of bricks and mortar assets, will again be a boost to industry super funds.

You see, over the years when dinner party friends or family asked me how they build their wealth, I’d say that if they pay a lot of tax, then maybe an investment property could be considered.

I’ve always liked paying off the loan on a principal property because it was long run tax-effective because there’s no capital gains tax on your home (yet!). I liked adding more to super via salary sacrifice because it’s tax-effective and so are investment properties currently for the same reasons.

Sure, you still have to buy good capital-gain assets but being a landlord often paid off nicely. If you make property investing less attractive, it’s good news again for industry super funds.

And while on capital gain, as Bill is reducing the capital gains tax discount from 50% to 25%, it makes buying assets that grow in value less attractive after January 1. As alternative investments to super become less tax-effective, I’ll could be telling friends, family and clients that super is their best bet.

Of course, the private sector won’t lay down and be screwed. Financial institutions and financial advisers will have to create better products to compete with industry super funds, which is great for consumer/super trustees. So Bill’s black cloud might have a silver lining for some.

As you can see, Bill has already done a lot for trade unions so his ‘promise’ that he won’t be pushed around by them as PM might be because he’s tired of being pushed around already.

To date, Bill has said tax relief for small business will match the Coalition’s tax cuts. But to date, his credentials as a champion of the sector haven’t been historically memorable. However, here are his offerings ahead of the May 18 poll:

  • Support the corporate tax rate for small businesses reducing to 25% by 2021-22.
  • Support increasing the instant asset write-off threshold from $25,000 to $30,000.
  • Provide an Australian Investment Guarantee for all businesses that will allow all businesses to immediately deduct 20% of any new eligible asset worth more than $20,000.
  • Ensure small businesses are supported to defend themselves against anti-competitive conduct by improving access to justice – Labor worked hard to legislate this from Opposition.
  • Legislate to establish a new position of Second Commissioner (Appeals) within the Tax Office to ensure small business disputes are given the care and attention they deserve.
  • Protect small businesses by making unfair contract terms illegal and punishable with multimillion dollar fines.
  • Implement a Tradie Pay Guarantee, a Tradie Litigation Fund, and a series of reforms to detect, deter and punish fraudulent phoenix operators hurting honest small businesses and employees.

So that’s the pre-election pitch and I guess it’s only sensible for me to repeat: “I hope Bill’s not a liar.”

If you liked this article you'll love the Switzer Report, our newsletter and website for trustees of self-managed super funds. Click here for a FREE trial and to hear more of Peter’s expert commentary and advice.

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