Debate over pensions and superannuation has been boosted in a high-profile intervention by Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson.
Lifting the age at which retirees can get their superannuation seems inevitable.
The Abbott government is under siege from Labor, the Australian Greens and welfare groups over its budget decision to lift the pension age to 70 in 2035 and change pension indexation.
Superannuation is also in the spotlight after Treasurer Joe Hockey raised the prospect of a rise in the age at which super can be accessed, known as the preservation age.
Treasury boss Martin Parkinson added fuel to that fire on Tuesday when he told a business lunch in Sydney that change to the preservation age – which for those born after June 30, 1964 is 60 – was inevitable.
“I think it is inevitable that pressure will build for changes in that area,” Dr Parkinson said.
“We have to get a bit more sensible about the way we talk about and think about retirement incomes.”
The overall issue of retirement and the ability of people to work until they are 70 needed to be broadly discussed.
“(We) need to start to think more seriously about how people manage different careers throughout their life and how we manage the transition – we can’t realistically expect a bricklayer to become a brain surgeon.”
Mr Hockey indicated on the ABC’s Q&A program on Monday the government could change the age at which people can access their retirement savings.
“It is on my mind, and it’s on Tony Abbott’s mind,” Mr Hockey told the program, saying the issue of retirement savings could be addressed in this term rather than later.
But Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Tuesday the government would fulfil its election promise not to make any adverse changes to superannuation in its first term.
“A period of stability in respect of super is right and proper,” the prime minister said.
Mr Hockey later backed up Mr Abbott.
“My personal view doesn’t matter in this particular point,” he said.
“What matters is the policy of government – we’re not changing super in this term of government.”
The government expects the latest Intergenerational Report – the first since January 2010 – to drive the debate when it’s released at the end of 2014.
“(It will) look at the long term, even the very long-term challenges associated with things such as government expenditure or how do we fund our retirement savings,” Mr Hockey said.
The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia believes the preservation age should be set at least five years lower than the age pension eligibility age.
Industry Super Australia says raising the preservation age should only be looked at after other steps are examined, such as improving consumer protections.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Mr Hockey should keep his hands off superannuation.
“In a breathtaking act of arrogance he says this super may be your money, but now I’m going to make you wait longer to get your own money,” Mr Shorten said.