Leader's word is no longer law

Mungo Mac Callum. Photo Doug Eaton / The Northern Star
Mungo Mac Callum. Photo Doug Eaton / The Northern Star Doug Eaton

THE most depressing aspect of the very public stoush between cabinet ministers and their claques over house-hunters to access their superannuation for deposits is that it has happened at all.

Malcolm Turnbull made his opinion clear as far ago as 2015 - a thoroughly bad idea, no ifs and no buts - forget it. Of course he was not yet prime minister, and the issue was not considered a vital one - just one of the recurrent thought bubbles the libertarian right puts up when it has nothing more exciting to propose.

But now Turnbull is the leader, and unlike so many of the fervent positions he has been forced to recant to get the job, (perhaps the lunatic fringe forgot to include it in its reactionary manifesto) he appears to be holding on to it: even on part of his passage to India he made it clear that he had not changed his mind - at least, not yet.

It should have been killed off before it even got into the headlines, and if not then, definitely last week after a day-long session of the Expenditure Review Committee - the pre-budget razor gang. And the fact that it wasn't shows just how precarious Turnbull's dwindling authority has become.

Under normal circumstances the leader's word would have been law: the prime minister may tell his colleagues that he is simply primus inter pares among his cabinet, a chairman to mediate the disputes, but in practice it is rare indeed for arguments of this kind to break into the media.

It can happen; the passionate campaign by Paul Keating to impose an consumption tax - the then treasurer's beloved option C - bubbled along for several days, but in the end his Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, kyboshed it, and that was that. Hawke was genuinely attracted to the idea, but in the end it was too electorally fraught.

So Keating backed down, and in the end campaigned equally passionately against what became the GST. But Scott Morrison is quite prepared to break the unwritten rule. He wants - indeed, he desperately needs - a win to give at least some substance to what has become the key budget issue of housing policy.

Morrison's quandary is that he is hopelessly circumscribed by the commonwealth's ability to intervene in the area. Having dismissed the biggest lever available to Canberra, negative gearing, on the grounds that Labor thought of it first, and with the other serious tool, capital gains tax, teetering in the balance because the right hates the idea losing that perk even more than it likes the idea of dismantling superannuation accounts, Morrison is reduced to the prospect of tinkering at the edges, a policy which even he admits is all but pointless.

He is already warning of failure, warning the public that there is no magic bullet, and the process of reform, if it comes at all, will take years - certainly well beyond the next budget. Having discouraged prospective house buyers as far as possible, he goes on to talk about the joys of renting.

This, of course, is hardly compatible with encouraging a premature grab at super; renting is always risky, a lease-to-lease proposition, and it becomes downright perilous when age catches up and retirement looms. When the job ends, the income from super and the pension is generally all that's left to pay the landlord. If it has been spent on a concrete purchase of accommodation, well and good; but if it has just been blown on a deposit with no real prospect of being able to pay off both the interest and the capital, it can be disastrous.

The libertarians do not see that as a worry: as far as they are concerned, people are entitled to use their own money however they like, and if they stuff up, tough titty. After all, superannuation is no more than institutionalised theft - a bit like taxation, really.

But of course it is a bit more complicated than that. Super is supposed to be form of compulsory saving, which means that if it is spent prematurely, not only do the savings dissipate, but the interest on them ceases to exist. Even if super remains untouched for the full period in which it accumulates, it is still mostly considered inadequate for a comfortable to retirement, which is why Keating, who set up the system, has tirelessly argued that the rate should be increased from the current figure of 9.5% to 12%.

However, the current government has deferred any increase until 2025, which will be too late for yet another generation of pensioners - who will, as a result, need topping up from government coffers. This is no doubt one of Turnbull's objections to Morrison's pleas, and it is one which every serious economist supports.

But that means nothing to the ideological right, which is now shamelessly defying Turnbull on every level. Naturally Tony Abbott is front and centre of the rebellion, with most of the usual suspects on the backbench. But what matters is that ministers, both senior and junior, have joined the push, among them Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan of the Nationals and even blow-ins such as Michael Sukkar among the Liberals.

It has has been revealed by the astonishing report that the prime minister has turned to Peter Dutton for support: he has ordered his Treasurer to talk to his Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, who has absolutely nothing to

do with housing policy and, it can be argued, very little to do with anything these days apart from naked ambition.

Pathetic, if not farcical. Or perhaps, once again, simply depressing.

Topics:  malcolm turnbull superannuation

Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Talk to the hand

JUST GO WITH IT: Resistance to the phone and computer update is futile.

You can never win and argument with a computer, they are never wrong

Artful Dodger is a loyal character

COMPANION: Dodger is great with children, but scared of bigger dogs.

Staffy cross kelpie was surrendered to the council

Warm weather brings brown snakes out early

SUNBAKER: Eastern Brown Snake found basking in Spring sunshine.

Spring is when brown snakes are more defensive and territorial

Local Partners

Lismore will turn into a Neon Garden this NYE

TROPICAL Fruits are preparing a "lush and glowy" festival, and they are also looking for a new club manager.

Best of Sydney's comedy on tour

VISITING: South African comedian Dusty Rich.

Four funnymen are the hilarious envoy from the big smoke

Jemma's bewitching voice

STAGE PRESENCE: Suzie Mathers and Jemma Rix in a scene from Wicked The Musical.

Wicked musical theatre star Jemma Rix has released her debut album.

Scottish star brings folk country hits back

POPULAR PERFORMER: Scotland's legendary singer-songwriter Isla Grant, returns to town.

Isla Grant is coming to Lismore

Get a mud trail masterpiece

NORTH ceramacists will share the secrets of their art when they open their studios to the public this weekend as part of the Mud Trail.

Fancy a head full of Coldplay on Samsung VR?

Coldplay will come to you in VR

Supergroup's Chicago show will be streamed in virtual reality

CMC ROCKS: Organisers reveal 2018 festival dates

CMC Rocks will return to Willowbank in March, 2018.

Country music fans mark these dates in your calendar

MOVIE REVIEW: Cinderella story classic comedy of errors

Toni Collette in a scene from the movie Madame.

EVERY time Toni Collette does comedy, a fairy takes flight.

Nikki responds to rumours she’s now dating Richie

Nikki Gogan, Richie Strahan and Alex Nation on The Bachelor.

Bachelor runner-up has responded to rumours she’s now dating Richie.

The Dark Tower review round-up

Idris Elba and Tom Taylor in a scene from the movie The Dark Tower.

Stephen King adaptation disappoints both newbies and fans.

WATCH: Johann Ofner's run on Australia’s Ninja Warrior

Johann Ofner on Ninja Warrior

Ofner’s girlfriend, model Kati Garnett, shared a montage of series

Developer tears up couple's contract for new home

Jade and Edward Roberts were stung by the sunset clause on the first day of their honeymoon.

The developer has the right to do this under the sunset clause

Reports of Ibrahim family connections to farm and food hub

John Ibrahimat Bluesfest 2012.

REPORTS circulate colourful Sydney family have investments on the NR

Stunning, heritage-listed Coast home going under the hammer

STUNNING: Buderim House, a stunning heritage-listed Queenslander estate, is going to auction.

Coast home that played host to royalty is set for auction

Internet king Kim Dotcom house-hunting

Kim Dotcom and his partner Elizabeth Donnelly have apparently been in Queenstown scoping out houses. Photo / Kim Dotcom

Dotcom tweeted pictures and video of himself and partner Elizabeth Donnelly

First home deposits hits $200k for some

Call for Reserve Bank limits to be scrapped for new buyers

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!