One of the golden rules of politics is to never let a crisis go to waste. And the previous Morrison government adhered to it with gusto, when at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic’s first wave, it spotted an opportunity to put a dent in the compulsory, default superannuation system seen as a landmark Labor achievement. 

As part of its stimulus response, the government extended the longstanding ‘early release’ scheme allowing those in serious financial hardship to tap their super to pretty much anyone feeling the punch during the pandemic. The measure was fiercely opposed by the super industry and many experts and led to a flurry of headlines about superannuants frittering their retirement savings away on the pokies or day-trading meme stocks in the feverish coronavirus bull market. 

But for many other recipients, the cash injection was a welcome salve in an uncertain time. And more importantly for the Coalition, three million working Australians, for the first time, held their super savings in their hands in the form of cold, hard cash, reminding them that it is, indeed, their money. 

Multiple Coalition MPs have publicly denied there was any political strategy behind the move, swearing it was nothing more than a prudent pandemic response. But political observers widely suspect there was a deeper motivation and possible benefit: to test the idea of a more flexible super system in which individuals, and not trade unions, employers or governments, have sovereignty over their super. 

If true, then clearly the Coalition feels ‘early release’ passed that test, because it is doubling down on flexibility with its contentious ‘super for housing’ policy, which, as Glenda Korporaal recently reflected on in this publication, has gone from being a hare-brained scheme from then-backbencher Andrew Bragg to being official party policy and a central plank of the Coalition’s election pitch.   

Empirical evidence 

Thus far, lobbyists for the super industry have attempted to respond with facts, with the Super Members Council rolling out modelling suggesting it would counter-productively push up house prices, while many others have attempted to explain the long-term detriments that even relatively minor withdrawals may have on a nest egg at retirement. 

Most economists and experts seemingly agree. But while these arguments may well be evidence-based and accurate, they appear somewhat weak in the midst of such an emotive campaign. 

And moreover, it cannot be denied that the industry – though its pushback may be well-intentioned – is incentivised to keep its assets under management large and growing. Any opposition to a policy that potentially diminishes the size of that pool of assets will at least be perceived as, if not actually be, self-interested. 

Plus, let’s be honest, many of the experts and industry executives pushing back against ‘super for housing’ are statistically very likely to own their own homes – and in relatively swanky suburbs at that!