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The Government 'Super For A Deposit' Scheme
BY MAT SPASIC - 18/04/2017 | VIEW MORE ARTICLES BY THE DAILY RECKONING

In the great pantheon of slapdash ideas, letting younger Australians access their superannuation for a house deposit occupies a special place.

Not because it’s a terrible idea. In fact, elements of it make perfect sense. But there are glaring flaws which, hard as we try to overlook, make the proposal a tough sell.

To be sure, giving more Aussies greater control over their super is something worth supporting. Having to contribute a 10th of your pay packet to superannuation every year is partly the reason why many people find saving so difficult.

But the problem with this idea is that it doesn’t go far enough. And what it does try to do, it does so in a way that would only worsen the problems it’s attempting to fix.

Under the proposal, young Australians would divert super contributions into an account for three years. On a $75,000 wage, which includes a dollar-for-dollar post-tax co-contribution, it would roughly equate to $45,000 worth of savings.

While sound in theory, the idea’s shortcomings are all too evident when you peek below the surface.

The first problem is figuring out what exactly constitutes a young Australian.

It’s all very well and good giving twentysomethings better opportunities to save a deposit. But whatever age group the government arbitrarily ends up making eligible would probably only anger the almost-certainly larger group that misses out.

You don’t need a degree in political science to see why this is rife with issues, and why it could translate poorly at the polls.

The only way the government could appease everyone is if it opened up the scheme to anyone over 18 and not in retirement. Yet, considering this proposal is targeted at ‘young’ Australians, that would be a non-starter.

But even the question of eligibility would be a minor hurdle compared to how this proposal would impact the housing market.

In theory, the government wants to improve housing affordability for younger Aussies. Yet it would be wise to remember that making it easier for more people to obtain home loans is the very reason the nation has a housing affordability problem in the first place.

As more buyers enter the market, the effect this has on demand, and the knock-on effect on prices, are clear for all to see. We know prices would go up, because we’ve lived with chronic interest rate cuts pushing up demand (and prices) for over a decade.

And though it might make it easier for first-time buyers to enter the market, it still wouldn’t solve the housing affordability problem. In fact, it’d make it worse by pushing up prices even higher. That would make it more difficult for Australians not included as part of this scheme to enter the market.

Not only that, but even those eligible would be racing against time. After three years of diverting money to a deposit fund, they may find their savings woefully short of what’s needed to buy into the market. That would certainly be the case in Sydney and Melbourne. Buyers there would be at a disadvantage to their peers around the country, where price growth is slow, stagnant or declining.

At best, a $45,000 sum would be enough for a 5% deposit in inner-city Melbourne. That’s nowhere near the recommended 20% deposit. And with prices in Melbourne rising 10% in the past year, you could be chasing your tail trying to catch up. Assuming you had a $45,000 deposit, you’d be no better off than when you started if prices continue rising as they have.

The real reason for the government’s super-deposit pitch

In truth, this proposal has little to do with housing affordability. The government seems more concerned about ensuring the property market continues to fly high.

And it’s no surprise they’d feel that way, considering how important the property market has become to economic growth. Rising house prices are one of the main reasons households feel comfortable about consumption spending. It’s certainly not because of rising wages, which are growing at the lowest rate in two decades.

If not for house price growth, the nation simply wouldn’t feel as prosperous as it does.

Because of this, the government needs to keep the ruse going. That is, it needs to ensure house prices keep rising. Otherwise, economic growth could stall, as it’s already starting to.

Looking at the latest economic data, you can see why the government is in desperate search of a short-term fillip.

The Westpac Consumer Sentiment Index fell again in April, the fifth straight month that it’s tracked below a reading of 100 (where pessimists outnumber optimists). What’s more, the ‘time to buy a dwelling’ index is down 20% since 2015.

Obviously, the government is keen on reversing that. Much more so than making it easier for young people to buy homes. The government knows what makes people feel rich and, more importantly, what keeps them spending.

Without growth in productivity gains, the government is pinning its hopes on the next best thing — trying to lift consumer confidence.

Unfortunately, if that’s how the government sees things, it has mistaken a bucket of oil for a bucket of water as it stands atop a burning fire.

Any proposal that increases the number of homebuyers with smaller (and riskier) deposits jeopardises the future of the economy at large. In the event of a housing crash, the economy, and the younger Australians that could benefit from this proposal — were it to see the light of day — would, to put it mildly, be left in a spot of bother.

Instead of trying to boost demand in the property market, we suggest the government focuses on what it’s good at ­— wasting taxpayer money. The housing affordability problem will sort itself out in time. Whether that comes in the form of a gradual downturn or a massive crash, we can’t say.

Either way, the last thing the government should be promoting is policies that expose an ever greater number of Aussies to an overvalued asset.

 



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