Millions access super, tax office doubts gambling claim

Millions of Australians are taking advantage of early access to their superannuation, with $13.2 billion paid out to date.

The government is allowing people to take up to $20,000 out of their superannuation - $10,000 before July 1 and another $10,000 after - to help them through the coronavirus crisis.

The Australian Financial Reviewreported on Thursday that it is being used to gamble, with the paper quoting an anonymous source familiar with bank records saying people had blown the entire amount on online gambling.

But Treasury head of retirement income policy Robert Jeremenko dismissed the claim, telling a Senate coronavirus inquiry on Thursday that not too much should be read into an anonymous report.

"I would be very surprised if this is widespread, the vast majority and I am surmising here but the vast majority of those 1.6 million people who have applied for the early access of super would have a story of hardship behind them so they would not be spending it as that article suggested on gambling," he said.

The Tax Office was analysing applications and hoped to gather some information on how it was being spent, he said, predicting that work would demonstrate that, if true, the claim it was being spent on gambling was "an extremely isolated instance and most people are using it to get them through this economic crisis".

"It is my personal view that you are now obstructing the committee," he told Treasury secretary Stephen Kennedy, threatening to start using freedom-of-information laws to access the information.

"All the modelling your department does is done on the public coin and for public purposes," he said. "The public has a right to see what it is that your department has done and I think it is disrespectful for Treasury to withhold the information from the public."

Dr Kennedy said he was acting on advice from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet that the documents were cabinet in confidence.

Asked whether Australia was heading for a depression, Dr Kennedy said it was "well past" recession. The global outlook was much worse than the earlier International Monetary Fund prediction of 3 per cent, and was likely to be about 7 per cent in the United States and Europe.

But it was a different kind of shock to a long-drawn-out depression.

"The way we entered this and the nature of this shock gives me some hope that if governments respond well, particularly through their fiscal levers, that we needn't have what's called the L-shaped economy, and I guess that's what people would think more of as depression-type economics."

  • Correction: Robert Jeremenko is Treasury head of retirement income policy. An earlier version of this story described him as tax office head of retirement income policy.

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Treasury secretary Stephen Kennedy. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Treasury secretary Stephen Kennedy. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

This story Millions access super, tax office doubts gambling claim first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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