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Learn more about superannuation

Government funds – also known as public sector funds – are superannuation funds set up for employees working in the public sector. Namely employees in state or federal government.

With the dizzying array of Australian superannuation funds available, public sector employees have an easier task than most of us when it comes to choosing a super fund. Because it’s done for them!

Public sector funds were established for commonwealth, state and territory government employees. And many offer defined-benefit funds and constitutionally protected funds to their members.

For this reason, public sector funds are not available to non-government employees. The following features and benefits can be attributed to public sector funds:

  • Employers may contribute more than the 9.5 per cent minimum
  • Often there’s a limited range of investment choices
  • Long-term members may have defined benefits, whereas newer members are usually in an accumulation fund
  • They offer lower fees, and some offer MySuper accounts
  • Profits are put back into the fund for the benefit of all members

However just because you’re a state or federal government employee, doesn’t mean you’re obliged to invest your super in a public sector or government fund.

The federal government changed superannuation laws in 2005, giving Australian employees the choice of what fund their employer's superannuation guarantee contributions were paid into.

What type of government funds are available?

There’s a range of superannuation funds available to public sector employees, some of which are owned and operated by the federal government for the benefit of federal government employees.

Other funds are offered exclusively to state government employees within each of Australia’s states and territories.

The federal government established the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation (CSC), the trustee responsible for managing the Commonwealth superannuation schemes.

CSC schemes are set up solely to meet the superannuation needs of Australian government employees and members of the Australian defence forces.

Commonwealth superannuation schemes aim to maximise members’ benefits and act in members’ best interests, responsibilities which are protected by law.

The purpose of government funds is to provide a range of superannuation services to public sector employees structured in a way that meet (what can be) complex employment arrangements.

Federal public sector employees who do not have a choice of fund generally will have superannuation provided through:

  • The Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme
  • The Public Sector Superannuation Scheme

Each state government offers its employees a choice of default fund (offered to state government employees only).

An example of the public sector fund for each state and territory is as follows:

  • QSuper is the default superannuation fund for Queensland government employees.
  • Only WA public sector employers can make employer contributions to GESB Super.
  • State Super is the primary fund associated with the NSW state government.
  • Super SA has a range of superannuation schemes for SA public sector employees.
  • VicSuper was originally a Victorian public sector fund, however in July 2000 it became open to everyone.
  • The NT Superannuation Office administers a range of NT public sector schemes.
  • RBF is Tasmania’s public sector superannuation fund and has been Tasmanian-owned since it was established in 1904.

Who benefits from government funds?

State and federal employees benefit from government funds benefit, because these types of superannuation funds have been designed to accommodate their salary and wage structures.

Government and/or public sector funds offer members a tax-effective investment structure designed to assist public sector employees to maximise their superannuation investment.

They operate under a similar premise to industry super funds in that they are not-for-profit entities. So there are no commissions paid, and all net investment returns are passed on to members.

Most superannuation funds available to public sector workers will also provide a salary sacrifice option as well as varying levels of death and total and permanent disability (TPD) insurance.

In some cases, government and/or public sector funds allow members to create an account for their partner. So there are a range of advantages to being a member of a government or public sector fund.  

Can public sector employees invest in other super funds?

As a public sector or government employee, you have the choice to invest your superannuation wherever you want. You are no longer obliged to stick with your public sector fund.

Unless you’re a federal or state public sector employee exempt from choice by law or regulations. If you don’t know whether this is your situation, a quick check with your employer will clarify.

Although, if you’re a long-term government employee, there may be a financial benefit to keeping your superannuation stockpile with your default super fund.

As a public sector employee, you might want to change your super fund because:

  • Your current fund is not available with your new employer
  • You want to consolidate superannuation accounts to reduce fees and paperwork
  • You want a lower-fee and/or better service superannuation fund
  • You simply want a better-performing superannuation fund.

To help you decide, it’s wise to speak with an accountant or financial adviser. Many of the older public sector funds no longer take new members, and only exist for old members.

Some of these older superannuation funds offer members fully defined untaxed superannuation schemes.

Being defined schemes means that your benefits do not depend solely on contributions and earnings. Your benefit may depend on other factors, such as your years of service or average salary.

So before considering changing your super fund, make sure you understand what benefits you may be letting go of in search of a better fund.

Can non-public sector employees invest in government funds?

No, these funds exist to serve state and federal government employees only. However, if low fees is a priority for you – which is a feature of a public sector fund – an industry super fund might appeal.  

Industry super funds are membership-based and do not have shareholders. Most industry super funds exist to benefit members, have lower fees and don’t pay commissions to financial planners. 

On the other side of the coin, a retail super fund might promise better returns even though it does pay dividends to shareholders and may charge higher fees.

If you’re in the expertise and financial resources to consider managing your own superannuation, a self-managed super fund (or SMSF) might be the next step on from your public sector fund.

Or you might want to explore a MySuper account, a low-cost and simple super product that some employers offer as their default super fund.

Before choosing a superannuation fund, you might want to check whether they offer a MySuper account first. A MySuper account offers low fees, simple fee structures and is simple to use.

Super funds that offer a MySuper account, must give you at least one investment option and a standard, default level of life and total and permanent disability (TPD) insurance.

Other features of a MySuper product include:

  • An easily comparable fee structure, with a set list of allowable fee types
  • Restrictions on how advice is provided and paid for
  • Rules governing fund governance and transparency

Frequently asked questions

What is a superannuation fund?

A superannuation fund is an institution that is legally allowed to hold and invest your superannuation. There are more than 200 different superannuation funds in Australia. They come in five different types:

  • Retail funds
  • Industry funds
  • Public sector funds
  • Corporate funds
  • Self-managed super funds

Retail funds are usually run by banks or investment companies.

Industry funds were originally designed for workers from a particular industry, but are now open to anyone.

Public sector funds were originally designed for people working for federal or state government departments. Most are still reserved for government employees.

Corporate funds are arranged by employers for their employees.

Self-managed super funds are private superannuation funds that allow people to directly invest their money.

What superannuation details do I give to my employer?

When you start a job, your employer will give you what’s called a ‘superannuation standard choice form’. Here’s what you need to complete the form:

  • The name of your preferred superannuation fund
  • The fund’s address
  • The fund’s Australian business number (ABN)
  • The fund’s superannuation product identification number (SPIN)
  • The fund’s phone number
  • A letter from the fund trustee confirming that the fund is a complying fund; or written evidence from the fund stating it will accept contributions from your new employer; or details about how your employer can make contributions to the fund

You should also provide your tax file number – while it’s not a legal obligation, it will ensure your contributions will be taxed at the (lower) superannuation rate.

What happens to my superannuation when I change jobs?

You can keep your superannuation fund for as long as you like, so nothing happens when you change jobs. Please note that some superannuation funds have special features for people who work with certain employers, so these features may no longer be available if you change jobs.

What is superannuation?

Superannuation is money set aside for your retirement. This money is automatically paid into your superannuation fund by your employer.

How do you create a superannuation account?

Before you create a superannuation account, you’ll need to check if you’re allowed to choose your own fund. Most Australians can, but this option doesn’t apply to some workers who are covered by industrial agreements or who are members of defined benefits funds.

Assuming you are able to choose your own fund, the next step should be research, because there are more than 200 different superannuation funds in Australia.

Once you’ve decided on your preferred superannuation fund, head to that provider’s website, where you should be able to fill in an online application or download the appropriate forms. You’ll need your tax file number (assuming you don’t want to be charged a higher tax rate), your contact details and your employer’s details (if you’re employed).

How do I set up an SMSF?

Setting up an SMSF takes more work than registering with an ordinary superannuation fund. 

An SMSF is a type of trust, so if you want to create an SMSF, you first have to create a trust.

To create a trust, you will need trustees, who must sign a trustee declaration. You will also need identifiable beneficiaries and assets for the fund – although these can be as little as a few dollars.

You will also need to create a trust deed, which is a document that lays out the rules of your SMSF. The trust deed must be prepared by a qualified professional and signed by all trustees.

To qualify as an Australian superannuation fund, the SMSF must meet these three criteria:

  • The fund must be established in Australia – or at least one of its assets must be located in Australia
  • The central management and control of the fund must ordinarily be in Australia
  • The fund must have active members who are Australian residents and who hold at least 50 per cent of the fund’s assets – or it must have no active members

Once your SMSF is established and all trustees have signed a trustee declaration, you have 60 days to apply for an Australian Business Number (ABN).

When completing the ABN application, you should ask for a tax file number for your fund. You should also ask for the fund to be regulated by the Australian Taxation Office – otherwise it won’t receive tax concessions.

Your next step is to open a bank account in your fund’s name. This account must be kept separated from the accounts held by the trustees and any related employers.

Your SMSF will also need an electronic service address, so it can receive contributions.

Finally, you will need to create an investment strategy, which explains how your fund will invest its money, and an exit strategy, which explains how and why it would ever close.

Please note that you can pay an adviser to set up your SMSF. You might also want to take the Self-Managed Superannuation Fund Trustee Education Program, which is a free program that has been created by CPA Australia and Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand.

How long after divorce can you claim superannuation?

You or your partner could be forced to surrender part of your superannuation if you divorce, just like with other assets.

You can file a claim for division of property – including superannuation – as soon as you divorce. However, the claim has to be filed within one year of the divorce.

Your superannuation could be affected even if you’re in a de facto relationship – that is, living together as a couple without being officially married.

In that case, the claim has to be filed within two years of the date of separation.

Either way, the first thing to consider is whether you’re a member of a standard, APRA-regulated superannuation fund or if you’re a member of a self-managed superannuation fund (SMSF), because different rules apply.

Standard superannuation funds

If your relationship breaks down, your superannuation savings might be divided by court order or by agreement.

The rules of the superannuation fund will dictate whether this transfer happens immediately, or in the future when the person who has to make the transfer is allowed to access the rest of their superannuation (i.e. at or near retirement).

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If your relationship breaks down, you must continue to observe the trust deed of your SMSF.

So if you and your partner are both members of the same SMSF, neither party is allowed to use the fund to inflict ‘punishment’ – such as by excluding the other party from the decision-making process or refusing their request to roll their money into another superannuation fund.

This no-punishment rule applies even if the two parties are involved in legal proceedings.

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Financial consequences

Superannuation funds often charge a fee for splitting accounts after a relationship breakdown.

Splitting superannuation can also impact the size of your total super balance and how your super is taxed.

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How does superannuation affect the age pension?

Most Australians who are of retirement age can qualify for the age pension. However, depending on the size of your assets and post-retirement income, you might be entitled to only a reduced pension. In some instances, you might not be entitled to any pension payments.

What are reportable superannuation contributions?

For employees, there are two types of reportable superannuation contributions:

  • Reportable employer super contributions your employer makes for you
  • Personal deductible contributions you make for yourself

When did superannuation start in Australia?

Australia’s modern superannuation system – in which employers make compulsory contributions to their employees – started in 1992. However, before that, there were various restricted superannuation schemes applying to certain employees in certain industries. The very first superannuation scheme was introduced in the 19th century.

Is superannuation paid on overtime?

As the Australian Taxation Office explains, there are times when superannuation is paid on overtime and times when it isn’t.

Here is the ATO’s summary:

Payment type Is superannuation paid?
Overtime hours – award stipulates ordinary hours to be worked and employee works additional hours for which they are paid overtime rates No
Overtime hours – agreement prevails over award No
Agreement supplanting award removes distinction between ordinary hours and other hours Yes – all hours worked
No ordinary hours of work stipulated Yes – all hours worked
Casual employee: shift loadings Yes
Casual employee: overtime payments No
Casual employee whose hours are paid at overtime rates due to a ‘bandwidth’ clause No
Piece-rates – no ordinary hours of work stipulated Yes
Overtime component of earnings based on hourly-driving-rate method stipulated in award No

Is superannuation compulsory?

Superannuation is compulsory. Generally speaking, it can’t be touched until you’re at least 55 years old.

Can I buy a house with my superannuation?

First home buyers are the only people who can use their superannuation to buy a property. The federal government has created the First Home Super Saver Scheme to help first home buyers save for a deposit. First home buyers can make voluntary contributions of up to $15,000 per year, and $30,000 in total, to their superannuation account. These contributions are taxed at 15 per cent, along with deemed earnings. Withdrawals are taxed at marginal tax rates minus a tax offset of 30 percentage points.

Voluntary contributions to the First Home Super Saver Scheme are not exempt from the $25,000 annual limit on concessional contributions. So if you pay $15,000 per year into the First Home Super Saver Scheme, you have to make sure that you don’t receive more than $10,000 in superannuation payments from your employer and any salary sacrificing.

What should I know before getting an SMSF?

Four questions to ask yourself before taking out an SMSF include:

  1. Do I have enough superannuation to justify the higher set-up and running costs?
  2. Am I able to handle complicated compliance obligations?
  3. Am I willing to spend lots of time researching investment options?
  4. Do I have the skill to make big financial decisions?

It’s also worth remembering that ordinary superannuation funds usually offer discounted life insurance and disability insurance. These discounts would no longer be available if you decided to manage your own super.

Is superannuation paid on unused annual leave?

If your employment is terminated, superannuation will not be paid on unused annual leave.

What is salary sacrificing?

A salary sacrifice is where your employer takes part of your pre-tax salary and pays it directly into your superannuation account. Salary sacrifices come out of your pre-tax income, whereas personal contributions come out of your after-tax income.

Is superannuation taxed?

Superannuation is taxed. It is generally taxed at 15 per cent. However, if you earn less than $37,000, you will be automatically reimbursed up to $500 of the tax you paid. Also, if your income plus concessional superannuation contributions exceed $250,000, you will also be charged Division 293 tax. This is an extra 15 per cent tax on your concessional contributions or the amount above $250,000 – whichever is lesser.

How do you pay superannuation?

Superannuation is paid by employers to employees. Employers are required to pay superannuation to all their staff if the staff are:

  • Over 18 and earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month
  • Under 18, work more than 30 hours per week and earn more than $450 before tax in a calendar month

This applies even if the staff are casual employees, part-time employees, contractors (provided the contract is mainly for their labour) or temporary residents.

Currently, the superannuation rate is currently 9.5 per cent of an employee’s ordinary time earnings. This is scheduled to rise to 10.0 per cent in 2021-22, 10.5 per cent in 2022-23, 11.0 per cent in 2023-24, 11.5 per cent in 2024-25 and 12.0 per cent in 2025-26.

Employers must pay superannuation at least four times per year. The due dates are 28 January, 28 April, 28 July and 28 October.

Can I transfer money from overseas into my superannuation account?

Yes, you can transfer money from overseas into your superannuation account – under certain conditions. First, you must provide your tax file number to your fund. Second, if you are aged between 65 and 74, you must have worked at least 40 hours within 30 consecutive days in a financial year. (Australians under 65 aren’t subject to a work test; Australians aged 75 and over cannot receive contributions to their superannuation account.)

Money transferred from overseas will generally count to both your concessional contributions limit and your non-concessional contributions limit. You will have to pay income tax on the applicable fund earnings component of any money transferred from overseas. You might also be liable for excess contributions tax.

What are government co-contributions?

A government co-contribution is a bonus payment from the federal government into your superannuation account – but it comes with conditions. First, the government will only make a co-contribution if you make a personal contribution. Second, the government will only contribute a maximum of $500. Third, the government will only make co-contributions for people on low and medium incomes. The Australian Taxation Office will calculation whether you’re entitled to a government co-contribution when you lodge your tax return. The size of any co-contribution depends on the size of your personal contribution and income.