Former Economics Editor of the NZ Herald

Plenty of support for compulsory KiwiSaver

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Labour's policy of making KiwiSaver compulsory will be widely supported, if polling conducted for the Investment Savings and Insurance Association is anything to go buy.

The post-Budget poll undertaken by Horizon Research asked: "Generally, do you think it should be made compulsory for all people in work to save a percentage of their income for retirement, with employers making an equal contribution?"

Most - 68 per cent - agreed or strongly agreed.

When the respondents were broken down by age group, by income band or by how (or whether) they had voted in the 2008 election, all that varied was the size of the majority favouring compulsion.

ISI chief executive Peter Neilson said respondents' comments indicated a sense that the country had missed the bus in 1975, when the Kirk government's scheme was scrapped, and 1997 when Winston Peters' version of compulsory super was rejected by referendum.

There was a sense that Australia, by contrast, had caught the bus 20 years ago and was vastly better off for it. Labour's scheme would not make KiwiSaver membership compulsory (for employees) until 2014. It would leave the minimum employee contribution at 2 per cent but progressively increase the employer's contribution from 3 per cent to 7 per cent by 2022.

"Ideally you would increase the saving rate faster," Nielson said.

"But everyone knows incomes are not going to be growing rapidly over the next couple of years, and there is no way round the fact that saving more means consuming less."

Whether contributions are classified as members' or employers', the economic burden falls on employees; all else being equal, increasing the employer's subsidy only alters how total remuneration is split between tax, super contributions and take-home pay.

Labour's leadership effectively acknowledged this on Thursday, by comparing the 0.5 per cent per annum increase in employer's contributions to the Treasury's forecast in the pre-election fiscal and economic update that wage growth would average 3.8 per cent over the next 4 years.

Under Labour's plan compulsory super contributions will not rise to the 9 per cent Australians currently pay until 2022. The Australians, meanwhile, are increasing their rate to 12 per cent by 2019.

Michael Littlewood of Auckland University's Retirement Policy and Research Centre is not convinced, however, that the Australian model has served them better.

Surveys of household wealth on both sides of the Tasman show Australians have, as expected, a much higher proportion of their wealth (which is a lot larger to start with) invested in superannuation.

But New Zealanders have a bigger proportion - about three times larger - invested directly in businesses, including farms, Littlewood said.

"Do we think that in New Zealand it is better for more money to be in financial assets like superannuation or more money to be in businesses? That's a rhetorical question."

Whether requirement incomes are funded from taxes on a pay-as-you-go basis or from savings, they are claims on the economic output of the day, Littlewood said.

The question was whether prefunding or compulsory saving would increase that output beyond what it would otherwise be.

"There is an assumption that more savings means more investment means more growth. But the links between those three things are questionable." Labour finance spokesman David Cunliffe agrees that increasing the pool of savings would not automatically or necessarily increase the level, or improve the quality, of investment in New Zealand. Labour would put up further policy initiatives to address that, he said.

Nielson said the need to diversify portfolios and pursue the best returns would continue to mean a lot of money entrusted to fund managers would end up invested abroad.

"The counter to that is that there is a clear home bias or preference to invest in your own country."

The problem with an unsustainable taxpayer-funded system, he said, is that generally the taxpayers can leave, while those dependent on their taxes cannot.

All aboard
* Labour's policy would make KiwiSaver compulsory in 2014.
* The minimum employee contribution would stay at 2 per cent but the employer's contribution would be increased progressively from 3 per cent to 7 per cent by 2022, regardless of the employee's contribution.

- NZ Herald

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