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Superannuation sharing can help bridge the gender divide

Women are often left behind in the super stakes. Kicki

19 April 2014. Anyone who has been married knows there is a lot of compromise involved. Each party gives up something in order to get the benefits which can arise from sharing. Nobody get exactly what he or she wants: there is a lot of give and take.

One major area of compromise involves having children. Inevitably it’s the woman’s career that is interrupted, even if only for a short time. The norm whereby people have multiple children means women will normally expect to have more than one such career interruption. And when partners decide to have children close together it simply compresses the disruption to one long period rather than multiple shorter periods.

The end result is lower lifetime earnings, and because we are living longer a situation where women are left with significantly less superannuation than men in retirement.

The official data is somewhat dated but it shows that about two-thirds of the total superannuation pool is “owned” by men, one-third by women. Some of the imbalance will be the result of a couple acknowledging that their individual savings will eventually be pooled so it may not matter whose name is formally on the account.

But much of the imbalance arises from the fact that females receive lower pay than males even for equivalent skills. While this is deplorable, it is not a problem we should be looking to the superannuation system to solve.

The wage bias against women is clearly a much broader issue than superannuation. It impacts all of the savings and consumption decisions of single women, over all of their lives, and potentially impacts those of partnered women as well. While women do have the advantage of living longer than men, in a savings context it probably means they should work for more years in order to fund consumption in those extra years of life – as well as fighting for appropriate wages when they work.

We have however taken a few good steps towards addressing the gender imbalance.

The fact that superannuation privileges flow between partners on the death of one, is one step to address the issue. If one partner saves more than the other, it does not matter too much if finally their savings are pooled. Much of their expenditure during their lives will also have been pooled. The extension of these rights across a variety of relationships has been an important step towards social equity.

Divorce law too has recognised the issue. Divorce, or other termination of a relationship, provides the other major event which leads to concerns about the equitable sharing of joint accumulated savings. It seems clear that Australian courts and legal processes are recognising the importance of superannuation in asset allocations after the break-up of relationships.

Superannuation assets are treated similarly to any other financial asset when a partnership breaks down.

So is there a problem waiting for a regulation to address it?

Splitting the spoils

In its “Investing in Care” report, the Human Rights Commission says taxpayers should make contributions (“carer credits”) into the superannuation accounts of individuals with parental care responsibilities. To the extent that this is raising the tax of other taxpayers in order to provide a subsidy towards people who are voluntarily spending time outside the workforce, it seems very hard to make a case for it.

It seems more sensible to look to a voluntary solution. If a couple decides that a female partner should have time out of the paid workforce to have and rear a child, then we should expect the couple to share income, share expenditure and to share savings. Essentially part of the deal should be for the partners to split contributions.

There are already rules around superannuation splitting. These seem largely sensible, with the right to split (most of) both superannuation guarantee payments and any voluntary contributions. The big stand-out however is that the amount being split must be less than the individual concessional contribution caps. Essentially, by deciding to take time off work, the pair is foregoing not just income but also the tax advantages implicit in having access to two concessional contribution caps.

Maybe that is fair too.

So the institutional structures involved in sharing lifetime savings accrued through superannuation seem largely to be in place. Where a couple makes a voluntary decision for one partner to take time off work for children, they have the structures which allow them to share access to their savings. Part of the deal in having kids, should be sharing many things, including superannuation.

Rodney Maddock

Vice Chancellor's Fellow at Victoria University and Adjunct Professor of Economics at Monash University

This article was republished with permission from The Conversation

Ukraine Agreement: 'Propaganda' and Low Expectations?

USA 18 April 2014. Kerry’s allegations [about East Ukraine anti-Semitism] sound like propaganda to me given...all the anti-Semitic statements coming out of Kiev and the warning by the [Ukrainian Chabad Chief] Rabbi Reuven Azman of Kiev [for Jews to leave Ukraine]. 

So it does not sound to me as if Kerry is proceeding in good faith here, which is a bad sign.

Even if they have agreed upon what Lavrov said they agreed upon, how are they going to get the people on the ground on either side to comply?

Boyle is a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law.

His books include Foundations of World Order (Duke University Press: 1999) and Tackling America’s Toughest Questions (2009).

He said today, "Ukraine did not commit itself to constitutional reform and it was very cleverly and deviously drafted language. So no agreement upon this issue. It says nothing about Ukraine staying out of NATO; and it is not a good sign that this was not a joint [media] conference by Lavrov and Kerry.

BBC reports:"Russia, the U.S. and the European Union have said that all sides have agreed to steps to "de-escalate" the crisis in Ukraine. ...

"Following the Geneva talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said there was agreement that all illegal military formations in Ukraine must be dissolved, and that everyone occupying buildings must be disarmed and leave them."

MIKHAIL BEZNOSOV, [in Ukraine] This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , skype: mikhailb1966
Head of the governing board of the East-Ukrainian Society for International Studies, Beznosov is now an associate professor in sociology at Kharkiv National University. He received his PhD in political science from the University of Arizona, where he continues to be an adjunct professor. He said today, "The proposed plan is the only option to resolve the crisis in its current state. I am still skeptical though, that this is going to release the tensions in the short run. The problem is that Kiev authorities do not control all neo-Nazi or radical nationalist groups who refused to disarm when the government officials demanded disarming. It is also not clear how the disarming will be accepted now by the protesters in Eastern Ukraine, when they saw that this did not work previously with their main adversaries. The other problem is that many of those radical nationalist (neo-Nazi) fighters, who acted for several months in Kiev and now are being used to suppress the protest in the east and the south of Ukraine, were co-opted into the newly formed National Guard of Ukraine and other semi-legal armed 'militias.' I do not really see how these problems will be resolved at this point, but with the political will that the three major players put into pressuring the Kiev authorities, perhaps, it can be done eventually."

Regarding the BBC report where "Mr. Kerry said the extent of the crisis had been highlighted in recent days by the 'grotesque' sending of notices to Jews in eastern Ukraine, demanding that they identify themselves as Jewish," Beznosov said, "I think that this is the typical example when the information is not confirmed but used at such a serious forum. Now we can see the attempt to attach the 'anti-Semitic' label to anti-fascist protesters in eastern Ukraine, when in reality the anti-Semitism is a part of the ideology of such groups as 'Right Sector' or the political party 'Svoboda,' that represent the spectrum of political forces fighting against the protesters in the east and the south of Ukraine."

JOHN QUIGLEY, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Professor emeritus of international law at Ohio State University, Quigley dealt with the Crimea issue following the breakup of the USSR, at the request of the U.S. Department of State, which was working through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on the issue. Today, he said, "It is a move in the right direction if Mr. Kerry is agreeing to forego new sanctions on Russia. Those sanctions would not have served a purpose in any event."

STEPHEN COHEN, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Cohen is professor emeritus at New York University and Princeton University. His books include Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War. He was interviewed on Democracy Now! this morning.

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Avram Reisman, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

A fine balance: disability, discrimination and public safety

The university was worried the student would not practice medicine safely even if she completed her degree. Jack Hynes

Australia 17 April 2014. A recent discrimination case has highlighted the difficulty of balancing the rights of disabled medical students with the rights of the community to safe medical and health care. In the BKY v The University of Newcastle, a New South Wales tribunal found the university had discriminated against a medical student by refusing her an extension to complete the five-year medical course beyond the usual maximum of eight years.

Under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), it’s unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against anyone on the basis of disability. The student claimed she had been subject to discrimination based on the fact she had bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and severe psychosocial stressors. She had attended a psychiatrist regularly throughout her previous nursing degree, while employed as a nurse, and during her medical degree.

She had self-reported her conditions to the NSW Medical Board in 2008. And during the medical program, she worked part-time in the John Hunter Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.

What the tribunal heard

BKY had reached the three-and-a-half-year mark of her degree after eight years of study. In that time, she had passed 13 courses after repeating eight of them, failed four and been awarded withdrawal without penalty for five courses.

But the university had not asked her to show why her enrolment should not be cancelled on the basis of her unsatisfactory academic performance.

The dean of medicine’s evidence included his view that BKY was unlikely to complete the degree even with extra time; that further study would injure her health; that the currency of BKY’s knowledge was questionable; that there was a risk she would perform poorly in clinical rotations because of her anxiety; and that there was a risk she would not practice medicine safely even if she completed the degree.

BKY’s psychiatrist stated her disorders were characterised by performance anxiety around exams and consequent avoidance behaviour, although she had the ability to complete exams later, a poor sense of self-worth, and fear of failure resulting in an inability to study. She had only completed a nursing degree when directly faced with the prospect of not finishing. The psychiatrist considered it unlikely her symptoms would disrupt effective functioning as a medical practitioner.

The tribunal’s findings

The tribunal found “the psychiatric conditions affected the applicant’s thought processes, emotions or judgment and resulted in disturbed behaviour.” It concluded that this was a disability under the Anti-Discrimination Act and found the student had been treated less favourably than someone without the disability in the same or similar circumstances. This conclusion was reached by comparing her case with another student who had also sought, and was granted an extension on the basis of poor academic progress.

The tribunal identified a probable connection between the decision not to grant BKY an extension and her psychiatric condition, because any concern regarding currency of knowledge should also have applied to the other student making the same application. BKY’s psychiatric condition should have been considered as extenuating circumstances, it said, and favoured the psychiatrist’s opinion over the medical dean’s on whether BKY would complete the course.

The tribunal also found the dean’s decision had depended on the alleged effect on BKY’s health of her continuing study and his opinion concerning her suitability to practise safely, which should have been irrelevant to his decision.

What it means

Educators are becoming increasingly concerned that some students should not be admitted to professional degrees, due to conditions that impede academic progress and suggest the possibility of later unsafe practice. The clinical features of BKY’s conditions are good examples of such grounds for concern.

The tribunal’s legal task was not to determine if BKY would be fit to practise safely. That’s the responsibility of the NSW Medical Council. But the stark demarcation between the student and practitioner jurisdictions is problematic because of potential implications for more extreme cases.

Universities have a duty not to discriminate against students, but they also have duties to the communities that support them. The psychiatrist’s opinion that BKY’s symptoms were unlikely to disrupt effective practice will be of concern to many doctors and medical educators, given the nature of the conditions and the experience of medical regulators with doctors with these conditions.

The required registration of medical and other health practitioner students with the relevant boards under the National Registration and Accreditation scheme may go some way to addressing educator concern, given the boards monitor impaired students and doctors in relation to any risk posed to public safety.

But exemptions to discrimination provisions under federal and state statutes might also be considered in more extreme cases, allowing universities to participate more actively in ensuring they graduate safe practitioners.

Malcolm Parker

Professor & Head of Ethics, Law and Professional Practice at University of Queensland

This article was republished with permission from The Conversation

Vitamin supplements for kids: what are we really treating?

Vitamin jubes contain quite small doses of vitamins and up to 50% sugar. Ethan Hurd

April 15, 2014. Australian parents spend $40 million each year on vitamin supplements for their children. It’s a big number; much smaller is the number of children who actually need them.

In 2009, a large American research survey found that, in industrialised countries, the children most likely to be given vitamin supplements were the ones least likely to need them.

Supplement use reflected parental anxiety about kids’ eating habits rather than any real nutritional deficit.

Why worry?

But where does this anxiety come from? Can we blame manufacturers' marketing strategies? It’s quite tempting, given the increase in provocative products such as vitamin jubes, which contain quite small doses of vitamins and up to 50% sugar. Note that this doesn’t need to be stated on the label if the product is a “therapeutic good” (such as a vitamin jube).

It seems processed food companies have successfully convinced a lot of people that they don’t have time to cook real food, and supplement companies capitalise on this by piquing anxiety about the nutritional fallout.

A vitamin supplement might provide reassurance for parents in the short term, but the real issues for kids' health in Australia are the longer-term ones about the food and activity behaviours they learn. These become habits – the habits of healthy eating and enjoying regular vigorous physical activity, or dietary short cuts and sedentary behaviour.

Consider the long-term behaviours children are learning when we encourage them to pop a pill or a jelly lolly, instead of eating well. Clearly, confectionery with vitamins in it fails in more than one way!

No need for pain

Healthy eating doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated, and it doesn’t have to involve force-feeding anyone brussels sprouts if they don’t like them.

You can meet the vitamin needs of a primary-school child with simple meals such as an egg-and-lettuce sandwich with an apple; a bowl of cereal with milk and sliced banana; baked beans on toast; or a chop with potato, carrots and peas and a tub of yoghurt.

Key behaviours that really make a difference to nutrition are avoiding snack foods in favour of fruit, vegetables or dairy food, sticking to just water or milk for drinks, and keeping fast foods and confectionery as occasional treats.

Consider the long-term behaviours children are learning from their parents. David/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Nuggets, fries and a soft drink aren’t a meal, and adding a vitamin lolly to the lot doesn’t change that. And because nutrients work together as a team, they’re best consumed as food where the whole team is assembled, rather than in supplement products that have handpicked individual players.

Hidden problems

Apart from being a bit pointless in most cases, vitamin supplements can be risky, particularly if people think more means better. This is less likely to occur with vitamin lollies unless the child consumes the whole bottle, as the dosage in these products is usually low.

But other products could easily go over recommended limits. The daily requirement for vitamin C, for example, is only 35 milligrams, while most supplements, even those targeted at children, start at 100 milligrams.

The water-soluble vitamins (B group, C and folate) aren’t stored in the body, and excess is excreted in the urine, but long-term large doses can cause problems if they’re suddenly stopped.

The fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) can be toxic in excess as the body isn’t able to get rid of them easily. Symptoms of toxicity aren’t trivial – for vitamin A they include headache from increased brain pressure, muscle pain, blurred vision and loss of bone strength.

Most vitamin products don’t have sufficient warning about these risks as their labelling and advertising is poorly regulated.

The real issue

Supplements for children are definitely cheaper than anxiety drugs for their parents, but there is a real problem with Australian kids’ nutrition, and it’s increasing.

This one is about excess rather than a deficit: the 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey found children were generally meeting recommended levels of intake for the kinds of vitamins found in supplements, but exceeding recommendations for salt, sugar and saturated fat.

More Australian children are overweight and obese than ever before – over one in five, in fact. If they’re missing anything, it’s physical activity. Most already exceed the daily recommended limit of two hours’ screen time.

I’m not advocating a ban on vitamin supplements for kids: there are lots of children with chronic diseases, intestinal failure, or autism-related food issues, who genuinely rely on micronutrient supplementation in order to maintain good health.

But until we have a delicious chewy product that somehow boosts the daily exercise quota, supplements should be off the shopping list for all other children.

Suzie Ferrie

Clinical Affiliate at University of Sydney

This article was republished with permission from The Conversation

Superannuation is too costly, so bill me

Superannuation: you give, they take. Paul Kelly/Flickr

14 April 2014. The main reason superannuation costs are too high in Australia is both simple and horrendously complex: it’s the only service we buy where we give the service provider our money to look after.

It’s true that we also give our money to banks, but mostly, especially when we’re young, the banks give us money as loans.

The fact that super funds, and the investment managers and wealth advisers who run them, hold our money for us allows them to simply take some of it every month as their fee.

Everyone else has to send us a bill.

This might sound too obvious to even bother mentioning, but that system has two very powerful hidden effects:

  1. The providers of investment services get to charge a percentage of the money, and almost nobody understands percentages and even fewer understand the power of compounding;

  2. Since the fee is usually a fixed percentage of the client’s account balance, it increases at the same rate as the balance, which is in turn being fed by the sum of investment returns and all contributions – mandatory and voluntary.

Compounding fees

As a result, super and investment fees compound at several times the rate of inflation but the customers barely see what’s happening, and those that do, don’t understand it.

Say you’re 25, earning $50,000 and you start with $1000 balance in super. And say the fee is 1% (actually by the time you add in advice and investment management it’s probably more like 2%, but let’s stick with 1% for simplicity).

That 1% produces a $10 fee. In the following 12 months you contribute 9% of your salary, or $375 per month. On top of that the fund manages a return of 10% on the average balance.

At the end of the year your balance will be $5950 – marvellous. New fee: $59.50 – a six-fold increase.

Next year you got a pay rise of 5%, which means your contributions increase to $393.75 per month, or $4725. Once again the fund earns you 10%, so at the end of the year your new balance is $11,506. New fee: $115.06 – nearly twice last year’s fee.

Obviously that escalation in fees is dramatic because the balance started from a low base. That means, by the way, that people with low balances who are just starting out are subsidised by those with more money in their accounts, and that’s the best thing about the percentage fee system.

So let’s look at the same metrics for someone more established in the workforce, with $100,000 in super and a salary of $100,000 a year.

First year fee is $1,000 (1% of $100,000). Next year, assuming 9% of salary in contributions and a 10% return on the average balance, the fee is $1,194.50 – an increase of 19.45%.

Next year’s fee, assuming a 5% salary increase and another 10% investment return, is $1336.25, 12% more than last year. And the year after you get a promotion! Salary goes to $120,000 and contributions to $10,800 for the year. Your new super balance is a very healthy $158,270. New fee: $1582.70 – an 18% increase over last year.

And yet we comply…

Do you ring and complain about being gouged? Well, no, because the fee is still 1% – it hasn’t changed. And you’re feeling good about the rising balance, so why complain? And anyway, you probably don’t even know. The fee statement is there somewhere, but you never pay much attention to it.

There are two things to think about here. First, your salary is increasing by 5% so it’s a fair bet that the super fund’s staff are also getting the same sort of pay rises, possibly less.

Yet the fees are increasing at 2-3 times that rate because the law requires us to contribute 9% of salary and because investment returns usually average about three times the inflation rate as well, simply as a result of the rising stockmarket (not the super fund’s brilliance). That’s the whole point of investing in shares – they return 2-3 times inflation over time.

Second, with $150,000 in super you’re probably paying 2% in management and adviser fees (not 1%), which is $3000 a year, or $250 a month. Some people have account balances of $500,000, especially when they retire, and pay fees of $10,000 a year, or $833 a month.

Think about how many services you pay $800 a month for, month after month, year after year, or even $250 a month for that matter.

What can be done?

Super funds hate this description, but superannuation is a utility, like gas, electricity or the phone; in fact it’s more so - a government-mandated utility.

What’s more you don’t get much for the money – basically super funds put the money into large companies and ride the market up and down. This year’s winner is next year’s loser, and vice versa, and there’s no way of telling the difference between them.

Yet not only is it almost certainly the most expensive service you buy, the cost of it compounds at several times the inflation rate every year and the providers don’t have to send you a bill like the other utilities – they just quietly take some of your money each month.

And remember that the prices charged by gas, electricity and communications companies are regulated by the ACCC, which actually determines what return on capital they’re allowed to make. Super fees are not regulated at all.

So to control the ballooning cost of super, three things should happen:

  • super funds and their advisers must be told to stop skimming the accounts for their fees, and to send a bill instead that we have to actually pay

  • the costs of compliance and regulation need to be brought down, which the government is trying to do

  • the fees that super funds charge, and the profits they make, should be regulated, just as other utilities are regulated.

On second thoughts, perhaps only the first of those would be needed.

If we started getting a bill for $500 a month from our super fund, the price would quickly come down because customers wouldn’t pay it … especially when the share market was falling and along with it all the account balances.

Yes, stop making the super funds disclose the fees they skim, make them send us a bill instead.

Alan Kohler

Adjunct Professor of Business at Victoria University

This article was republished with permission from The Conversation

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The recent crash of popular bitcoin exchange MtGox has given some commentators the opportunity to... Read more

Time for the G20 to invest in gender equality

Time for the G20 to invest in gender equality

IMF chief Christine Lagarde left Sydney commenting that the “two genders” will have to contribut... Read more

Putin calling all the shots in Ukraine: what next for relations between Russia and the West?

Putin calling all the shots in Ukraine: what next for relations between Russia and the West?

After days of heightening tensions and increasingly aggressive rhetoric, Russian president Vladim... Read more

The Square Documenting Egypt’s revolution

The Square Documenting Egypt’s revolution

The Square, a documentary about Egypt’s January 2011 uprising, provides glimpses of most of the ... Read more

Qantas workers will be joining a growing job queue

Qantas workers will be joining a growing job queue

The exact nature and location of the job cuts announced yesterday at Qantas are still sketchy, bu... Read more

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