Bitcoin and Taxing Unrealised Gains

Bitcoin and the Controversial Unrealised Gains Tax in SMSFs

Bitcoin, has been a rollercoaster of highs and lows over the past decade. Australia's recent proposal to tax unrealised gains on superannuation balances over $3 million has stirred significant debate. This change could have profound implications for those holding Bitcoin in their Self-Managed Super Funds (SMSFs).

The Albanese Government's Stance:

Under the leadership of the Albanese government, the controversial plan to tax unrealised gains on superannuation balances exceeding $3 million has been firmly upheld. Despite industry experts and the opposition voicing concerns and criticisms, the government appears resolute. The draft legislation, released recently, confirmed that the measure would not be indexed, potentially affecting a broader Australian demographic than initially indicated by Labor.

The New Tax Proposal:

If passed, the legislation would introduce a 'division 296 tax liability', imposing an additional 15% tax rate on the earnings of super accounts over $3 million. This rate would be proportionate to the amount by which their balances exceed the $3 million threshold.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers defended the proposal, labelling it as "modest" and in alignment with the government's objective to render the superannuation system more "equitable and sustainable". However, industry insiders, such as the SMSF Association's chief executive Peter Burgess, have expressed concerns, particularly regarding the government's approach to measuring earnings.

Differential Impact Based on Asset Liquidity and Implications for Bitcoin HODLers:

Bitcoin, unlike many traditional assets, has cultivated a unique investment philosophy among its adherents. A significant portion of Bitcoin investors abide by the "HODL" mantra, a deliberate misspelling of "hold," signifying a long-term commitment to the asset irrespective of market volatility. For these investors, Bitcoin isn't just another asset to trade; it's a long-term store of value, and many believe in its potential for significant appreciation due to its finite supply.

This HODL mindset complicates the proposed tax on unrealised gains. Many Bitcoiners have no intention of selling their holdings, making the idea of liquidating even a small portion to cover tax liabilities unpalatable. Given Bitcoin's capped supply at 21 million coins, there's a genuine concern about future supply squeezes, which could lead to dramatic price surges. In such scenarios, the tax implications of unrealised gains could be profound.

Furthermore, the adage "time in the market beats timing the market" holds particular resonance for Bitcoin investors. While some assets might be traded frequently to capitalise on market fluctuations, many Bitcoiners believe the real value comes from long-term holding, especially given the asset's historical trajectory.

In contrast, those with non-liquid assets, such as farms or family-owned businesses, face their own set of challenges. An appreciation in these assets could compel some to liquidate to meet tax obligations, jeopardising their livelihoods or long-term family wealth. The UK's inheritance tax serves as a stark reminder of how tax policies can force the sale of cherished family assets, leading to fragmented generational wealth.

In essence, the proposed tax changes, while aiming for equity, inadvertently underscore the complexities and sentiments tied to different asset classes. For Bitcoin enthusiasts, the policy could be seen as penalising their foresight and commitment to an emerging asset class. It's crucial for tax policies to be nuanced, recognising the unique challenges and philosophies of various investor groups.

Broader Impact than Anticipated: 

While the initial prediction estimated that the tax would affect 80,000 Australians in its first year, the lack of indexation means this number could be much higher. Taylor criticised this approach, suggesting that the policy change is "deliberately deceptive" and could impact younger Australians in the future.

Tax Planning and Strategy: 

With the potential introduction of taxes on unrealised gains, SMSF holders with Bitcoin investments would need to be proactive in their tax planning. Given the volatility of Bitcoin's price, it's crucial for investors to stay informed about market trends, regulatory changes, and potential tax liabilities.

Regular consultations with financial advisors, tax professionals, and staying updated with SMSF audit requirements can help in navigating the complexities of such a tax landscape and ensuring compliance.

The Albanese Government's Tax Proposal:

Targeting unrealised gains on superannuation balances over $3 million, has stirred debate across Australia's financial landscape. While some view it as a step towards a more equitable superannuation system, others see it as a move away from capitalist principles, potentially underscoring Labor's socialist leanings.

The proposed tax changes by the Albanese government could be seen as an encroachment on the principles of capitalism and individual financial autonomy. While the government may argue for a more equitable superannuation system, such interventions often stifle innovation, deter investment, and can lead to inefficiencies in the market. Historically, heavy-handed government interventions have not always yielded the desired outcomes and can sometimes exacerbate the very issues they aim to address.

For Bitcoin investors in SMSFs, these changes could represent not just a financial burden but an ideological shift away from the free-market principles that many believe are at the core of Bitcoin’s ethos. 

It is also currently unclear what happens in the scenario when you do sell assets whether having previously had to pay tax on unrealised gains you would have to pay capital gains tax and what this unrealised tax does to the cost base of your asset? Clearly lots of questions to be answered.

Furthermore, should such heavy-handed tax arrangements become law, there's a real risk of jurisdictional arbitrage. Sensible tax systems in other countries could become more appealing, attracting Bitcoin investors and leading to capital flight from Australia. This potential exodus of capital and talent could have long-term implications for the country's financial landscape and technological innovation.


While the proposed tax on unrealised gains is a significant departure from the norm, with no other country adopting such an approach, which underscores the potential challenges and unpopularity of such a policy. However, it's essential for investors to remember that until this legislation becomes law, it's premature to make any definitive decisions regarding SMSF investments, especially with assets as dynamic as Bitcoin.

Bitcoin, often hailed as one of the most asymmetrical investment opportunities, offers potential rewards that far outweigh its risks. Regardless of legislative changes, the inherent value proposition of Bitcoin remains. For many, the act of investing in Bitcoin is not just a financial decision but a belief in a decentralised future where traditional financial systems are challenged and redefined.

In the long run, the resilience and potential of Bitcoin might well overshadow any short-term policy-induced hurdles. It's our hope that policymakers will recognise the broader implications of their decisions, ensuring that Australia's financial landscape remains conducive to innovation and growth. The essence of a free market lies in preserving individual rights and economic freedoms, and it's imperative that Australia continues to champion these principles on the global stage.