Robin Bowerman, you are a cynic. How else could you imply – when moderating a panel discussion titled ‘Policy certainty for SMSFs: Are we there yet?” – that we might all be back here next year, asking the same question?

Bowerman’s panel featured Bernie Ripoll, former Parliamentary Secretary for Small Business and Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, now managing director of Fresh Advisory, and famed for the eponymous Report; Jordan George, head of policy at the SMSF Association; and Kevin Davis, Professor of Finance at both Melbourne and Monash universities, and research director of The Australian Centre for Financial Studies.

Certainty – well up to a point, Lord Copper. “We have the new superannuation rules coming into effect on July 1, and we don’t think they’ll go back to super tax any time soon,” said George. “We were disappointed in some of it, and we’re still talking to the government about elements such as the wording of the objective of superannuation. But you still can’t find a better tax-effective structure, with concessional tax treatment up to $1.6 million – at least we have certainty on that front.”

But with a new budget coming up, it was unlikely that change was complete, he said. “Wealth is in the government’s sights, and when the focus is on budget repair, we may find that sacred cows – like capital gains tax (CGT) discounts – are not all sacred,” said George.

Davis agreed that CGT was a likely focus in the budget, especially in light of the legislation allowing super funds to reset the cost base of assets that are reallocated from the retirement phase to the accumulation phase, prior to 1 July 2017. “With the funds resetting the cost base this year, it’s the obvious time to make a change,” he said.

George said the SMSF Association had not given up on the wording of the legislated objective of superannuation. “We’ve supported enshrining the objective of superannuation in legislation, it gives policymakers a baseline, but still we believe it is essential that the concept of adequacy be included in the superannuation objective to help ensure that people have a secure and dignified retirement, because the current wording leaves it open to a future minister to argue that any support over the pension is too much.”

George said the SMSF Association did not have a view that ‘adequacy’ should be based on replacement rates, or a targeted level of income. “We accept that there is no agreement. But we’re still encouraging the Minister to look at the concept of a level of savings in super adequate for a secure and dignified retirement. If ‘adequacy’ is too hard to define, well, that’s what we elect a Parliament to do,” he said.

From his post-politics standpoint, Ripoll agreed that ‘adequacy’ was an “essential concept,” but also felt it was too difficult to have an absolute definition in terms of a dollar amount. “It should be somewhere along a line. We need broad agreement, but it will also involve things such as social security, health and work assistance,” he said.

Davis felt the problem with defining ‘adequacy’ was that it was all part of social policy. “Superannuation is only one part of that – super, health and living standards are all part of it. Is it better to have a more general statement, around adequate living standards?” he asked.

Bowerman made the point that no-one could consider the settings certain, because the inquiries still continue: most notably, he said, with the Productivity Commission well into its three-part review of the competitiveness and efficiency of the super system, and APRA looking closely at smaller funds.

“The Productivity Commission is going to be an increasingly influential policy-setting body, looking closely at the superannuation system, and whether it met the best interests of members. The only thing we can be certain about is that there is going to be significantly more policy debate,” he said.

George concurred. “We have certainty on the tax arrangements, but not on the shape of the system. We’re working with the PC, because efficiency and competitiveness – and whether the system is meeting members’ needs – could be significant findings for the SMSF sector. It’s not only about costs and returns, it’s about people having greater choice, and people need to understand the ramifications of that,” he said.

As the super system moves toward the net drawdown tipping point, focus inevitably intensifies on that aspect of super. “The consultation on ‘MyPension’ is still live,” said Ripoll. (The government proposes to label the ‘comprehensive income products for retirement,’ or CIPRs, recommended by the Murray Inquiry, ‘MyRetirement products’ as a more consumer-friendly and meaningful label.) Advice is a major focus of that: advice is critical in the drawdown phase, and in many ways that was what the whole professional standards debate was leading to,” said Ripoll.

In many ways, the SMSF sector is already where the rest of the industry is talking about going, said George. “We have 94 per cent of SMSF drawdowns go into income stream products, we think that’s sustainable, but we can’t be complacent. The challenge for our sector is to advance the thinking around the drawdown piece.”