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The Politics of Retirement Savings Taxation: a Trans-Tasman Comparison

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posted on 2023-03-14, 23:24 authored by Marriott, Lisa

The thesis makes two primary contributions. The first is in the provision of a comprehensive historical account of the events, personalities and environment that formed the policy for the taxation of retirement savings in New Zealand and Australia. This historical account is analysed through institutional frameworks to explain the antecedents that have resulted in the retirement savings taxation policy outcomes that exist in the two countries at the present time. The second key objective of the research, in using institutional theory to assist with the first objective, is to provide some insights into the utility of institutional theory, and historical institutionalism in particular, in this comparative case study. The different retirement savings policies that were implemented in the mid to late 1980s in New Zealand and Australia have resulted in substantially different levels of retirement savings in each country. New Zealand s retirement savings figures and participation in occupational superannuation are among the lowest in the OECD. Conversely, Australia now has the fourth largest managed fund pool in the world, and the largest in Asia. Australian retirees can expect to have an income of 70 - 80 per cent of their final retirement income, after 40 years of Superannuation Guarantee participation. Retiring New Zealanders, assuming National Superannuation continues unchallenged, will receive a minimum of 60 - 65 per cent of the average wage. The difference in standard of living that these amounts will support is significant. Retiring Australians will be advantaged with some relationship between their pre-retirement and retirement income. This is a benefit many retiring New Zealanders will not receive. The research findings indicate that the key independent variables highlighted in this research (the environment, institutions, power and ideas) contribute a contestable explanation to the policy directions adopted in each country. The thesis argues that the concept of ideas is the key dimension that shaped the retirement savings taxation policy in the 1982 to 1992 period in New Zealand and Australia. The use of a coherent ideology facilitated the communication of a consistent world view in both countries, and provided a set of established ideas to support the direction adopted. This assisted with validation for trade-offs incurred in the policy process. The investigation of institutional factors highlighted the lack of potential for interest groups to make their voices heard. Conversely, the privileging of certain interest groups, those aligned with the prevailing ideas, was also prevalent. The institutions with the strongest influence on the policy process were those that, through historical events or historical opportunity, had preferences that were aligned with the state. This case study indicates that historical institutionalism has less utility for the study of a more detailed component of policy, rather than broader structural policy reform, as typically used in other studies. Thus, it is suggested that the utility of historical institutionalism may be reflected by the level of detail both undertaken in the research and desired from the research output. The indication that historical institutionalism may have greater utility for larger case study analyses may have application for future research.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Accounting and Commercial Law


White, David; Holmes, Kevin