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Scott Morrison refuses to say if he’ll stand down if he loses election

Mr Morrison was spruiking his plan at a housing estate west of Brisbane on Monday. Photo: AAP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to say if he will stand down if he loses Saturday’s election after spending the day defending a controversial housing plan the day after launching it.

During an interview on the ABC’s 7.30 program Mr Morrison played a dead bat to questions about whether he would resign if the government was not returned at the May 21 election.

“That is not something I’m contemplating,” he said.

Earlier on Monday, just a day after he officially launched the Coalition’s  campaign, the Prime Minister faced intense scrutiny over a government proposal to let first-home buyers draw on superannuation.

Mr Morrison talked up the policy during a visit to a housing development in the marginal seat of Blair in Queensland.

“What this does is ensure that you don’t need to go and knock on that door,” he said.

“You can go and knock on your own door.

“What could possibly be wrong with letting Australians use their own savings to buy the most important asset they will ever own in their lives?”

The idea of using superannuation has long had the backing of free marketeers in the Coalition party room.

But leaders have declined to adopt the idea and current frontbenchers Peter Dutton and Sussan Ley have criticised it publicly.

But on the ABC Mr Morrison said his ministers were criticising a different kind of policy, one without provisions requiring any capital gains made on a house to be reinvested into superannuation.

Economists warn the plan could hike house prices by almost $100,000 in some capital cities, while former prime minister Paul Keating, the architect of the universal super guarantee, said it amounted to “no more than another frontal assault by the Liberal Party on the superannuation system”.

On Monday evening Mr Morrison said the policy would affect only 1 per cent of a $687 billion annual housing market.

“The suggestion this will have any sort of significant impact, I don’t think bears up to scrutiny,” he said.

But it has also invited questions about how much help it will offer those seeking a start in the property market.

The average Australian first-home buyer is 34 years of age, past data from the statistics bureau says. 

At this age, the median superannuation balance for men is less than $39,000 and $32,000 for women, industry research in 2019 found.

Under the government’s plan, that would amount to a withdrawal of not much more than $15,000 for men, or $27,000 for a couple.

The median price of a home in capital cities is now more than $1 million.

The weighted cost of homes in capital cities grew more than 20 per cent last year. 

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Superannuation Minister Jane Hume was forced to concede the policy would likely bring them higher, with a “a bump in house prices” caused by enabling people to buy sooner.

Mr Morrison declined to quantify the plan’s effect on prices but said the impact was “quite marginal” and that his minister was referring to the proposal in isolation, and not the total effect of a series of measures.

“When taken together, Jane was referring (to the housing superannuation policy) in isolation … and when you look at the proportion of first-home buyers of the entire real estate market, it’s quite marginal,” he said.

“This policy, the downsizing policy, the HomeBuilder policy has all been about increasing and supporting that supply, and that’s what can put down the pressure.”

But the Prime Minister did not respond to repeated questions asking whether the Coalition had modelling that predicted how the policy would affect house prices.

He did deny that there would be a “negative impact”.

“These same criticisms have been levelled at every single housing policy I have been bringing forward, and on every occasion they have proved to be wrong on those criticisms,” he said.

“I’m not about now to go and give them currency.”

Although the policy is targeted at young prospective home buyers, Mr Morrison spent Monday afternoon spruiking it to voters on the opposite end of the age spectrum, attending an afternoon tea hosted by the Cairns Independent Retirees’ Association.

“When you go into retirement, you want to be owning your own home. You don’t want to have to be paying rent,” he told the association’s members.

“The best way to ensure that people own their own home when they go into retirement is if they got that chance when they were in their 20s, or in their 30s, or even in their 40s or 80s … to be able to access their own money.”

But Labor leader Anthony Albanese says he is spoiling for an election fight over the policy, which he labelled an “attack on future generations”.

“The government in desperation has come up with a thought bubble yesterday that according to itself has not been modelled,” Mr Albanese said in Perth on Monday morning at a press conference alongside WA Premier Mark McGowan.

“The superannuation system was designed to give people a comfortable retirement.

“If you gut people’s super savings that means down the track, more people dependent upon the pension, more pressure on budgets in the future.

“That’s what this debate is about.”

With four days left of campaigning before Saturday’s election, Mr Albanese will start Tuesday with a business breakfast while continuing his campaign in Perth, where he is expected to announce a $1.5 billion commitment to support the development of medical manufacturing in Australia.

The fund, Labor says, will find ways to use the government’s economic power to create opportunities for the local production of medical supplies, medicines and vaccines.

The Labor leader argues Australia’s capacity to do so was shown to be limited during a pandemic scramble to secure the supply of vaccines and rapid antigen tests.

Money for the fund comes from Labor’s previously announced policy to shore up Australian industry, the national reconstruction fund.

Meanwhile, Mr Morrison will spend the morning campaigning in Darwin in the marginal electorate of Lingiari, which the Coalition hopes to wrest back from Labor from its current 5.5 per cent margin.