The Politics    Monday, May 16, 2022

The loosest unit

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison after the Liberal Party campaign launch in Brisbane yesterday. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Prime Minister Scott Morrison after the Liberal Party campaign launch in Brisbane yesterday. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

The Coalition doesn’t know how much its superannuation housing policy will raise prices, nor does it care

How much thought did the Coalition put into its eleventh-hour “Super Home Buyer” scheme? The idea of raiding superannuation to buy a house has long been opposed by high-profile Liberals, from John Howard to Peter Dutton, based on the obvious fact that it will drive up prices. (They have now “clearly” changed their minds, the PM insisted today.) It’s an odd policy to have brought in so late in the election campaign, with 2.5 million votes already cast and housing affordability having been a key issue for weeks now – though no doubt Scott Morrison wanted to keep something up his sleeve for yesterday’s launch. The policy seems designed to mirror Labor’s “Help to Buy” scheme, setting up a “five-day housing showdown” in which the Coalition can repeatedly declare that Labor wants to own part of your home. But the Coalition’s scheme doesn’t even seem popular with its target demographic, with young people responding disdainfully to the idea (some have argued it isn’t pitched at them at all). In fact, the entire policy comes across as a headline-grabbing stunt from Morrison, a last-ditch attempt to save his government with a long-rejected, ill-thought-out proposal. Talk about a loose unit on the economy.

It’s ironic that Morrison last week made such a fuss of Anthony Albanese being a “loose unit”, criticising the Labor leader as someone who made “reckless” announcements without considering the flow-on effects. (“It is like he just unzips his head and lets everything fall on the table,” Morrison said at the time.) It’s ironic because it has become increasingly obvious that Morrison has no modelling for this proposal and no idea what it would do to house prices (not to mention the fact that a recent parliamentary committee chaired by one of his own MPs did not recommend it). Pushed several times today on what such a policy would do to the market and what modelling had been done (a question he repeatedly ignored), Morrison argued that price impacts would be “mitigated” by the Coalition’s downsizer policy. This makes little sense, considering downsizers would be competing for similar housing stock to first-home buyers. It is also something that was contradicted by Superannuation Minister Jane Hume, who conceded on RN Breakfast that the policy would likely cause a “temporary” bump in prices, with many people bringing forward their decision to buy. (She didn’t have modelling either, incidentally.) When Hume’s concession was later raised by a reporter, Morrison insisted that “Jane” was talking about the policy in isolation, not in combination with other policies. But it’s clear that the Coalition hadn’t even lined up its talking points.

“We have felt… felt… thought very carefully about this policy,” the PM said, when asked how carefully the government had considered the idea. But that fumble paled in comparison to his opening slip, in which he declared his last-ditch idea to be a “well-calibrated scream”.

Indeed, this does feel like something of a desperate howl from an increasingly desperate government, throwing populist policies at the wall to see what will stick. But it’s young people and others priced out of the market who should really be screaming here. Once again, a “house buying” policy is being proffered with little attention paid to addressing the root of the problem, which is that prices are out of control. Both major parties’ schemes would likely push up prices, experts have noted. But it’s the Coalition’s that could seriously hurt young people’s retirement prospects.

There’s no doubt that the Coalition was eager to announce a scheme that might neutralise Labor’s housing policy (which will really only help a handful of buyers anyway), even if it meant rifling through the pile of rejected policies. But did they even think to test this one with their intended audience? Little thought, it seems, has gone into how this might impact the housing market, and even less into what young people might think of being told to “fuck up [their] retirement to prop up the housing market”. The absence of modelling is a strong indication that the government doesn’t really care about spiralling house prices. And it’s one of the strongest indications yet that it doesn’t really care about young people.

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Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.

@rachelrwithers

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