Tony Abbott might have done something very different as Prime Minister. Nevertheless, his comments are better late than never.
Sydney Morning Herald, by Fergus Hunter, April 11, 2017:
Former prime minister Tony Abbott says there is nothing “sacrosanct” about Australia’s immigration numbers and the government should reduce the migration program to ease housing pressures.
As the government forms its housing affordability package ahead of the May budget, Mr Abbott also endorsed a proposal that would allow people to access their retirement savings to pay for a home deposit.
“There are supply factors and there are demand factors. And one thing the federal government could do that would ease some of the demand pressure is to scale back immigration at least until land release and infrastructure can keep up,” Mr Abbott told reporters on Monday night.
“And frankly there is nothing sacrosanct about any particular immigration number. The Howard government scaled back immigration its first few years for a whole host of reasons.”
The former Liberal leader said he has “quite a bit of sympathy” for the superannuation access idea, reportedly being considered by the Turnbull government.
“In the end you want your money to be as useful as it can be. And superannuation is not the government’s money, it’s the people’s money. And if people would prefer to use it to put down a deposit on a home rather than saving it up for 30, 40 or 50 years’ time, why not? So I think this is a good idea.”
Critics say people should not be allowed to chip away at savings that could otherwise pay for their retirement.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen told the ABC, “it takes a very special plan to actually drive up housing prices by increasing demand as well as undermining Australia’s retirement income system.”
Mr Bowen said Treasurer Scott Morrison was “flailing around trying to find some answer on housing affordability when he refuses to use the main lever at his disposal; negative gearing reform”.
Crossbencher Derryn Hinch called the idea “crazy”, and said “owning your own home is not an Australian right, it’s a dream and everyone wants to do it”.
Senator Hinch told ABC Radio that people should be more open to renting.
The permanent migration program currently sits at 190,000 places a year, mostly made up of skilled workers under the age of 50. Immigration amounts to approximately 55 per cent of Australia’s population growth and the general consensus among experts is that it does increase the cost of housing.
“High rates of immigration put upward pressure on land and housing prices in Australia’s largest cities,” a 2016 Productivity Commission report into the migration intake said, noting that poor urban planning and zoning laws compound this.
The report said that while increased demand benefited property owners, “it increases costs and thereby reduces the living standards for those entering the property market.”
Mr Abbott first suggested immigration be slashed in February as part of a five-point manifesto for the Coalition to take to the next election.
Michael Sukkar, the Liberal MP charged with addressing housing affordability, said the government was seeking to address the issue in a holistic way, working on both supply and demand.