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What is superannuation in Australia?

Get to know the basics on superannuation with Mercer Super. Learn why it's compulsory in Australia, how super works, your employer requirements, and more.

The basics of superannuation

The Australian superannuation system was introduced in the 1990s to reduce reliance on the age pension and encourage working Australians to save for their retirement. 

Typically employers are required to contribute a minimum of 11% (this will progressively increase up to 12% by 1 July 2025) of an employee’s income to a superannuation account.

This is known as your ‘superannuation guarantee’ (SG).

In most circumstances your employer will pay you super if you’re:

  • 18 or over, or
  • under 18, and work more than 30 hours in a week.

This applies whether you work casual, part-time or full-time hours, and even if you’re a temporary resident.

For more information on super contributions and employer requirements go to Superannuation Guarantee contributions.

Why superannuation is compulsory

In 1992 the Australian Government made superannuation compulsory for most employed Australians to help them save for retirement.

Employers are required to make regular contributions into employee's super accounts. The policy was introduced due to concerns that the government age-pension payments would overwhelm the country’s economy unless there was a system to encourage higher retirement savings.

By coupling consistent contributions with strategic investment choices and compound interest, your super can grow significantly over many years.

How superannuation works

Once contributions are received, your super fund then invests your money in assets like shares and property to help grow your balance over time. The amount of super you’ll end up with when you retire depends on several factors, including how much you contributed, how long you’ve been contributing for, your investment returns, and the amount of fees you pay.

In addition to employer contributions, you can also make additional contributions into your super account. Although there are a number of different contributions you can make, they are typically classed as concessional or non-concessional.

Concessional contributions come out of pre-tax pay and usually are taxed at just 15%, which is much lower than the marginal rate of tax for most employees. Non-concessional contributions are made from your after-tax pay, with no further taxes being applied. Both of these contribution types have limits on how much you can contribute each financial year – these are known as contribution caps.

Superannuation is designed to fund your retirement, so it’s important to remember you can only withdraw your super when you meet a condition of release, such as turning 65, reaching preservation age and retiring, or under the transition-to-retirement rules while you continue to work.

As well as being a vehicle to save for your retirement, insurance cover usually sits within your super, and it’s important to know what it is.

The cover could include life insurance, income protection or disability cover to help if you pass away or become disabled and are unable to work.

The cost of superannuation

All superannuation funds can charge a range of fees for management of the fund and investments. If applicable, fees are regularly deducted from your account balance depending on the particular investment or service. As the amount of fees charged can impact your balance over time it’s important to understand and check the fees you’re paying.

For further information on fees, please see Understanding your Mercer Super Trust fees.


Disclaimer: Information current as at  1 July 2023. It has been prepared on behalf of Mercer Superannuation (Australia) Limited (MSAL) ABN 79 004 717 533, Australian Financial Services Licence 235906, the trustee of Mercer Super Trust ABN 19 905 422 981. We recommend you seek professional advice from a licensed, or appropriately authorised, financial adviser if you are unsure of action to take. The value of an investment in the Mercer Super Trust may rise and fall from time to time. Neither MSAL nor Mercer (Australia) Pty Ltd (Mercer) guarantees the investment performance, earnings or return of capital invested in the Mercer Super Trust. Past performance should not be relied upon as an indicator of future performance. ‘MERCER’ and Mercer SmartPath are Australian registered trademarks of Mercer ABN 32 005 315 917. Copyright 2023 Mercer LLC. All rights reserved.