Tim Wilson’s latest attempt at throwing things at the wall to see what sticks is also one of his most bizarre.
Media reports indicate that Australia’s most strident superannuation critic has a hot new idea – banning superannuation funds from investing in property.
“If Big Super can make you a serf to your own super by buying houses you can rent off them, then you should be able to use your super to buy your own house. The law should empower citizens, not capital. That’s why it should be home first, super second,” Tim Wilson said.
New powers under the Your Future, Your Super laws – which allow the government to prohibit any investment or payment made by a super fund, regardless of whether it’s in members’ best interests – could conceivably be used to bring this about. Why the government would want to do that is not clear. An intervention of this scale would fly in the face of the LNP’s, and Mr Wilson’s, alleged maniacal devotion to free markets.
Exactly what super funds would be banned from investing in is also unclear. By way of example, $134-billion Aware Super is not tipping member money into a nice little fixer-upper with a bit of backyard space close to a good school. It’s building what it describes as “key worker affordable housing”, offered at a 20 per cent discount to market – something Mr Wilson should, if we understand his position correctly, support.
There’s a second part to this argument, of course. Mr Wilson believes Australians should be allowed to access their superannuation to pay for a house. That’s an idea for which there is some support, given the number of retirees whose pension and savings are eaten up by rent, but not one that actually then justifies banning funds from investing in property.
Of course, unlike some of his colleagues, Mr Wilson is not actually stupid. He has a keen understanding of both superannuation and the political opportunities created by painting it as a bogeyman out to rort Aussie battlers. Unfortunately, most of the Morrison government hasn’t matched his zeal. The Retirement Income Review provided the perfect opportunity to make sweeping changes to superannuation, but senator Jane Hume struck a more even tone, noting that while the industry is “frustratingly partisan” (correct) the increase to 12 per cent was legislated – and that’s that.
From the outside, there does not appear to be much appetite for wholesale changes to the superannuation system ahead of an election that is already shaping up to be fought over industrial relations. That’s something else Mr Wilson knows.
This harebrained idea isn’t about improving retirement outcomes for workers or creating an even playing field between young Australians and billion-dollar instos – both noble goals. It’s about raising Mr Wilson’s political profile. That would be better accomplished by using his position as chair of the standing committee on economics to continue uncovering wrongdoing and false advertising within the superannuation sector rather than tilting at windmills (or rather, apartment blocks).