Scott Morrison uses Liberal party campaign launch to set up housing battle with Labor

Scott Morrison has promised Australians a “new era of opportunity” if re-elected, while pitching a fight with Labor over a centrepiece housing policy to allow first home-buyers to tap into their superannuation savings.

Setting up a contrast with Labor for the final week of the election campaign, the prime minister used the Liberal party’s official campaign launch to promise a new super home buyer scheme that would allow people to access up to $50,000 of superannuation savings for the purchase of a first home.

He said the super scheme would be a “game changer” for people entering the housing market and that Labor’s alternative housing policy of a shared equity scheme wanted to “put the government at the centre of everything”.

“This is about increasing the choices available to you, with your super. It’s your money,” Morrison said.

“This will be a game changer for thousands of Australian families. They sit and look at the money on their balance and go: if only I had that to help me now.”

But the super for housing scheme was immediately attacked by the former Labor prime minister Paul Keating, who said the idea was “another frontal assault by the Liberal party on the superannuation system.”

“The Liberals hate the superannuation system – they object to working Australians having wealth in retirement independent of the government,” Keating said in a statement.

“The Libs believe ordinary bods should be happy with the age pension. Let them know their place.”

“If the public needs yet another idea to put this intellectually corrupt government to death, this is an important offence – and with the government, its unprincipled prime minister.”

Industry groups had mixed views on the scheme, with the Housing Institute of Australia saying it would help Australians get into the property market, while the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia said it would not do anything to address housing affordability and would undermine retirement incomes.

Labor’s campaign spokesman Jason Clare savaged the policy using criticism put forward by “big brains” in the Liberal party, including Malcolm Turnbull, John Howard and Mathias Cormann.

“(They) all reached the conclusion that this policy won’t work, that it would only push up prices and mean that Australians retire with less not more,” Clare said.

“You shouldn’t have to raid your super to buy your own home, and you won’t under Labor.”

He said the policy would “supercharge” property prices and would not help the people most in need to enter the property market.

“It makes it harder to buy, not easier to buy,” Clare said.

Along with the new super for houses policy, Morrison also announced on Sunday an extension of a retiree housing policy to encourage downsizing, a new $375m cancer centre for Queensland and a $450m boost to defence.

Urging voters to stick with the Coalition as Australia emerged from the pandemic, Morrison promised a “big plan” for the next term of government that was about unlocking the aspirations of Australians.

“I’m seeking a second term because I am just warming up,” Morrison said.

He spoke about his belief that the country was moving to better times ahead after enduring “one of the most challenging times we have ever known”, acknowledging it had been an “exhausting time” and people were over politics.

Morrison said that the nation, after standing on the edge of an “abyss” when gripped by fear and uncertainty during Covid, was now ready to “put this pandemic behind us”.

“We’ve been building a bridge to the other side economically in a time of global uncertainty, and here we are. We now stand on a different edge to the one that I spoke of before: one where fear doesn’t dominate, but aspiration – something we know a lot about as Liberals and Nationals – for the Australian people.

“This requires a very different approach from us as a government to the mode we’ve had to be in over these many difficult years, but it’s also been one that we have been preparing for and we are ready to get on with.

“We stand on the edge of a new era of opportunity; better days now are ahead, but we cannot take them for granted. As a government, we have the higher gears to secure that opportunity and I know our economic plan is working because Australians are working, and we are heading in the right direction.”

The pitch for a better future comes as Morrison seeks to recast his image in the final days of the election campaign. On Friday, he acknowledged that he had been a “bulldozer” at times, and was now ready to shift to a different gear in the wake of the pandemic.

Morrison’s unpopularity has dominated much of campaign. There is particular concern among MPs in so-called teal seats that his poor standing among voters will lose the Coalition previously safe Liberal-held electorates.

The prime minister said on Sunday that while he had not got everything right, he had poured his “heart and soul into this job every single day”.

“You do all you can to help Australians achieve their aspirations. You don’t get everything right. I’ve never pretended that I have. But I tell you what, I never leave anything on the field,” he said.

“It’s a great privilege to serve in this role. It’s the great professional privilege of my life and I’m seeking a second term to ensure that we can take this to the next level, to those better days.

“We have worked so hard together, friends, to get to where we have needed to get to. We have worked so hard and our plan will take us … to where we have been working hard to get to.

“Our team will continue to put it in every single day because we all love our country and we love our fellow Australians.”

The first part of Morrison’s speech focused on the government’s pandemic response, with the prime minister talking up the role played by Australians to get through the pandemic – and the interventions, such as jobkeeper, that the Coalition had introduced.

“We kept our head in the crisis,” he said.

“We made sure we got it right as best as we could, but we weren’t perfect. And not everything went to plan but you know, when it didn’t, and while others were criticising, we just worked feverishly to turn it around and make it up.

“What followed was the largest economic and public health response in Australia’s history,” he said.

“We gave our fellow Australians that assurance in those very difficult times that tomorrow would be OK, so they could say the same thing to their children, to their employees, and I’m quite sure, indeed, to themselves.”

He said that at this point he had needed to display “strength” and push through.

“I had one focus, as your prime minister: save the country.”

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