- Joe Hockey says super should be used as 'shock absorber'
- All government MPs failed to sell budget: Malcolm Turnbull
Senior ministers in the Abbott government have distanced themselves from Treasurer Joe Hockey's suggestion young first home buyers be allowed to use some of their superannuation to purchase their first house.
Fairfax Media has also confirmed the idea has not been put to the expenditure review committee or cabinet, with one colleague describing it as a "thought bubble" and several emphasising that it was not being seriously considered as the government prepares its second federal budget.
On Thursday senior ministers Julie Bishop and Josh Frydenberg both said they welcomed debate on the topic but did not endorse the proposal, while Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull doubled down on criticism of the proposal after initially calling it a "thoroughly bad idea".
Ms Bishop emphasised that "this is an idea that the Treasurer Joe Hockey has raised".
"It is a debate, it is an idea, and I think that we should be open to discussions, the political discourse in this country should not be closed to ideas," she said.
"I think there should be more informed debate on superannuation generally."
Mr Frydenberg said of the proposal, "It's totally appropriate for the Treasurer to raise this issue and say it's a conversation we would like to have, as a number of other countries allow access to superannuation before retirement".
"However, as the prime minister has said, we have no plans to change the rules in this regard."
Another minister said that, in part, Mr Hockey's call to consider changes to how, when and for what super could be accessed had been sparked by a proposal from John Adams. Mr Adams, a former policy advisor to Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos, has suggested the Abbott government allow former tertiary students to use their superannuation accounts to repay their HELP debts.
That minister said it was a "bit unfair" to call Mr Hockey's proposal a "thought bubble" but said it was not being considered by the government in any serious way.
Mr Turnbull stressed the idea was not Coalition policy but "an idea that gets kicked around from time to time" and that "my view is that it is not a good idea because the superannuation system is designed to ensure that people have the money and resources to support them in retirement".
He said the housing market faced supply, not demand problems and that "the answer is to build more dwellings".
Earlier this week, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann made the same point as Mr Turnbull as he pointed out that house prices were set by the laws of supply and demand and "what we have to be careful of is that we actually fix the problem and don't exacerbate the problem. By increasing demand, in the end with supply staying the same, you will be at risk of pushing up prices further."
Former Treasurer Peter Costello and former Prime Minister Paul Keating have both lambasted the proposal.
Choosing his words carefully, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the proposal was a "perfectly good and reasonable idea," but cautioned the government did not plan to introduce it.
Mr Hockey's enthusiasm for the proposal appears undimmed, though on the ABC's Lateline program he did concede that "ultimately, Malcolm Turnbull was absolutely right; the best thing you could do for the housing market is to increase supply".
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the proposal was short-sighted and would "put even greater pressure on the age pension over the coming decades".
"While ministers squabble around the cabinet table about how to further undermine superannuation, the decisions of this government are already hurting retirement savings," he said.