The budget delivered by Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan could be reasonably described as anti-climactic in many respects. It comes as no surprise therefore that the budget was devoid of any attempt to genuinely work towards true reform of the overall tax system (rather than periodic band-aid measures) to adequately face the challenges of the 21st century.
Many key announcements were made pre-budget and confirmed by the government in the budget papers, including:
- wide-ranging changes to the superannuation system such as the 15% tax on certain earnings in the pension phase, the increase in the concessional contribution cap to $35,000 for older Australians and the changes to the excess contribution tax regime;
- the deferral of tax cuts due for the 2015-16 year which were to be funded out of carbon tax receipts;
- the abandonment of proposed increases in Family Tax Benefit - Part A payments; and
- an increase in the Medicare levy of 0.5% to contribute to the cost of the proposed National Disability Insurance scheme (NDIS).
Announcements which were unexpected and which will have a significant impact on middle-Australia were:
- The removal of the baby-bonus, to be replaced by a significantly reduced payment which will only be available to taxpayers who qualify for Family Tax Benefit - Part A; and
- The phase out of the net medical expense offset (which will in fact be immediate for some taxpayers).
An announcement of interest from the Assistant Treasurer was titled "ATO taskforce to target trust misuse." It is to be hoped that the activity undertaken by the taskforce is targeted at what would be considered by a reasonable person as "misuse" (which should not be tolerated) and not merely the use of trusts as part of ordinary family or commercial dealings.
Given that a federal election is imminent it is hardly surprising that the most obvious pain arising from the budget is likely to be felt by the corporate sector, in particular multi-nationals. The government has announced a focus on:
- Anti-profit shifting measures, in particular the operation of the thin capitalisation rules;
- Restructuring arrangements which have a profit manipulation intent; and
- Reducing the tax concessions available for depreciating assets used in exploration activities.
The government has presumably concluded that not a lot of voters will be conscious of, or understand, measures of this type!
The expected major "social reform" initiatives, the NDIS and the Gonski education measures, were announced but the funding in the long term appears brittle and the extent of implementation and funding will no doubt be influenced by the accuracy of cost estimates and projected government revenues.
Whilst some Australians will be impacted by budget measures in the short term, for the majority it is likely to be a case of roll on to the federal election!