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Risk shifting and the decline of defined benefit pension schemes in Australia


Mees, B, Risk shifting and the decline of defined benefit pension schemes in Australia, Accounting History Review, 30, (1) pp. 69-87. ISSN 2155-2851 (2020) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

2020 Informa UK Limited

DOI: doi:10.1080/21552851.2020.1711527


Recent studies of private pension provision have stressed the shedding of risk by employers entailed in the international trend away from defined benefit to defined contribution arrangements. In this critical literature, the widespread development towards defined contribution schemes is seen as an exclusively poor outcome for employees as financial risk is pushed onto the members of pension plans. These criticisms have essentially been ahistorical they are not founded in close analyses of the reforms of the relevant pension arrangements. The first country to undertake a major change from defined benefit (or benefit promise) to defined contribution (or accumulation) plans was Australia. A closer historical examination of the shift suggests that the considerable reforms in occupational pension schemes of the 1980s and 1990s cannot validly be seen, overall, as a regressive outcome for Australian workers. Three fundamental features of the reform of white-collar superannuation emerge from a close historical analysis. First, considerable simplification transpired in what previously had been a largely opaque system of retirement benefits provision. Second, there was a fixing of employer costs in light of the adoption of accrual accounting and an increasing drain on taxpayer funds in public sector schemes. Third, clear evidence of improved financial performance occurred during the reforms.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:pensions, public sector, accounting standards, Australia, industrial relations, defined benefits
Research Division:Human Society
Research Group:Policy and administration
Research Field:Public administration
Objective Division:Commercial Services and Tourism
Objective Group:Financial services
Objective Field:Superannuation and insurance services
UTAS Author:Mees, B (Dr Bernard Mees)
ID Code:137588
Year Published:2020
Web of Science® Times Cited:3
Deposited By:TSBE
Deposited On:2020-02-20
Last Modified:2020-04-24

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