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Super changes positive first step: Grattan

AAP logoAAP 4/09/2016 Colin Brinsden, AAP Economics Correspondent

If the Turnbull government can't get its superannuation reforms passed by parliament, there is little hope for either budget repair or wider economic reform.

That's the view of John Daley, head of the Grattan Institute think tank, who thinks the winding back of super tax breaks will be an acid test for the Australian political system.

In a new analysis released on Sunday, the institute supports the government's proposed changes, saying not only do they trim overly generous super tax breaks enjoyed by the top 20 per cent of income earners, they would save $800 million a year.

"It's a first stride but the reality is there is still some way to go," Mr Daley told AAP.

The proposals would affect around four per cent of superannuants, almost all with sufficient income and assets to have a comfortable retirement without the need for the age pension.

One issue that has riled both Labor and others, including Prime MInister Malcolm Turnbull's own backbench, is putting a $500,000 lifetime cap on after tax super contributions going back to 2007, saying it would be retrospective.

But Mr Daley disagrees, saying many reforms affect investments made in the past and no one suggests they are retrospective.

However, there is little else Labor disagrees on, and the opposition's additional proposals would save more than $2 billion a year - little reason why a deal can't be struck between the two major parties.

Not only that, it is electorally popular.

"This is about as good as it gets," Mr Daley said.

"In these circumstances, a failure to get reform would signal there is little hope for either budget repair or wider economic reform," he said.

But even after these reforms, super tax breaks will still overwhelmingly flow to high-income earners and further reform needs to be done in the future.

He believes a $500,000 cap is a sensible step, but it is still too high and should be limited to $250,000.

Retirement incomes should be taxed at 15 per cent the same as earnings before retirement and the proposed overall super balance cap of $1.6 billion - both pre- and post- tax contributions - where tax would kick in was also too high.

"Allowing retirees to amass four times the amount needed for a comfortable retirement and not pay a cent of tax is unacceptable," he said.

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