Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he is only warming up after the Coalition "saved the country" in the pandemic, and has promised to unlock superannuation for people trying to buy their first home, in a major pitch to voters days from the election.
However Labor, and one of its former prime ministers Paul Keating, have blasted the Coalition's plan to let homebuyers use their superannuation for deposits.
The Coalition officially launched its federal election campaign at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on Sunday, leaning on its pandemic record but also promising a new phase of economic growth and "better days" if the government was re-elected.
"I'm seeking a second term because I'm just warming up," Mr Morrison said.
"As a prime minister, you pour your heart and soul into this job every single day. You do all you can to help Australians achieve their aspirations. You don't get everything right. I've never pretended that I have. But I tell you what, I never leave anything on the field.
"I'm seeking a second term to ensure that we can take this to the next level, to those better days."
Mr Morrison dramatically pivoted back to his pandemic record at the campaign launch, recounting how he and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg responded to warnings of skyrocketing unemployment levels.
A video played before Mr Morrison's speech played clips promoting his handling of COVID, including closing the international border in 2020.
"I had one focus as your Prime Minister, save the country. And we did, and we did," Mr Morrison told party members at the launch.
"As a leader, this was a time for strength. It was a time for pushing through.
"We stood on the edge of an abyss, and as we stared into it, Josh and I were confident of one fundamental truth. If we backed Australians, Australians would prevail.
"It's been one of the most challenging times we have ever known. But I'm here to tell you today that despite what we have faced, we have remained true to the promise of Australia and Australia has prevailed."
Mr Morrison also referred back to his 2019 election pitch, invoking his promise to "quiet Australians" that year, while also repeating his initial pitch to Australians when he first became Prime Minister following Malcolm Turnbull's ousting.
"At that time, I spoke to you about the promise of Australia and how I plan to keep it as Prime Minister, a promise that allows Australians quietly going about their lives to realise their simple, honest and decent aspirations, where you're rewarded and respected for your efforts and your contribution. I said if you have a go, you get a go."
Mr Morrison is hoping to force a momentum change as polls indicate Labor is on track for victory on election day.
Mr Morrison promised to address the nation's growing barriers to home ownership for first home buyers by letting them use a portion of their superannuation savings to purchase a property.
However Labor has attacked the proposed scheme, saying it would only further increase house prices and only benefit sellers and higher income earners.
The Coalition promise, countering Labor's recently announced plan to share equity with people buying a home, would apply to both new and existing homes.
"Whatever amount is invested will be returned to your super when you sell the home including the share of the capital gain from the sale of that home," Mr Morrison said.
The maximum amount that would be invested under the plan would be the lower of $50,000 for each individual or 40 per cent of their total superannuation balance.
"Superannuation is there to help Australians in their retirement," the Prime Minister said.
"The evidence shows that the best thing we can do to help Australians achieve financial security in their retirement is to help them own their own home. You can already use your super to purchase an investment property, but not your own home.
"This is about increasing the choices available to you within your super."
Mr Morrison said there would be no limit on who could use their superannuation to buy their first home, and the policy would not negatively impact long-term retirement savings.
"This will responsibly ensure that the majority of your super remains in your existing fund and maintains the diversification of your savings.
"But this will be a game changer for thousands of Australian families who sit and look at that money on their balance, and go 'if only I had that to help me now'."
The Coalition says the policy, called the Super Home Buyer Scheme, would start in July 2023 and would reduce the time taken to save a deposit by three years, on average.
There would be no income or property caps, and eligibility would be restricted to first home buyers who had already separately saved 5 per cent of the deposit.
Mr Morrison made the Coalition's housing pitch a direct retort to the shared equity scheme announced at the Labor campaign launch, framing the different policies as competing visions of government.
"Labor always wants to put the government at the centre of everything," he said.
"We want to put you and your family at the centre. We want Australians to own their own home, not the government."
The Coalition's scheme rapidly drew fire from former Labor prime minister and architect of Australia's superannuation system, Paul Keating, who accused the government of being "intellectually corrupt".
Mr Keating said the plan was an assault on the superannuation system, and that tax concessions for superannuation existed to produce a retirement income for people.
"Its key is preservation. Accumulated funds preserved to age 60 so working people secure the power and benefit of compounding," he said.
"Preserved, superannuation savings double roughly every eight years. Over a 40-year working life, at 12 per cent contributions, savings should accumulate to approximately $2 million in today's dollars."
Mr Keating said the Liberals hated the superannuation system and were planning to let people "pilfer" their super away "in the supposed good cause of housing deposits".
"If the public needs yet another idea to put this intellectually corrupt government to death, this is an important offence - and with the government, its unprincipled Prime Minister."
Labor campaign spokesman Jason Clare rubbished the Coalition's new housing policy, saying the idea had been dismissed previously by Liberal figures including Mr Howard, Mr Turnbull, Peter Costello and Mathias Cormann.
Mr Clare said the scheme would not help lower-income people buy a home, because they had lower super balances. It would also make house prices higher, putting home ownership further out of reach, he said.
"The people that really win out of this are the people selling the home because the prices go up, and the banks that get to lend more money," Mr Clare said.
"What we saw today was the last desperate act of a dying government.
"You shouldn't have to raid your super to buy a home."
Mr Morrison also used the campaign launch to announce a new policy designed to entice empty-nesters to downsize and free up larger homes for young families.
The Coalition would grow the program by expanding eligibility from July to people aged 55 and over.
Mr Morrison also pledged $375 million to establish a new comprehensive cancer centre in Queensland, combining research, diagnosis, treatment and care.
Mr Frydenberg earlier received a standing ovation from Liberal supporters.
"I wish I got that reception in Kooyong," Mr Frydenberg said, a light-heartened reference to the challenge he's facing to hold onto his prized Melbourne seat.
Mr Frydenberg attacked Anthony Albanese at the launch, saying the Labor leader had shown himself to be "completely out of his depth" in the election campaign and unfit to lead a government.
He lampooned Mr Albanese's claim to be qualified to be Prime Minister partly because he had acted in the role for two days in the Rudd government.
"I never thought I would ever say it, let alone at a Liberal party meeting, but thank you Kevin Rudd for making it only 48 hours," Mr Frydenberg joked.
"Change the government, and you change the economy, and the economy is fundamental to everything.
"This election is not a time to risk Labor with a weak and unproven leader."
Dozens of unionists and workers gathered outside the convention centre ahead of the event, chanting anti-Scott Morrison slogans and holding "Don't Let Him Fail Us Again" placards.
Former Liberal prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott attended the campaign launch, drawing applause from party members. Senior Coalition government ministers were also in the audience.
Just over a week out from polling day last Friday, Mr Morrison sought to reposition himself with the public by making a critical concession to his unpopularity with voters, admitting he is seen as a "bit of a bulldozer" and promising to change the way he governs if he is elected.
The Coalition is behind in the polls while the Prime Minister is widely regarded as losing the last leaders' debate to Mr Albanese. The Canberra Times understands there is also unfavourable Liberal party polling circulating for the Morrison government.
Mr Morrison late last week blamed the COVID pandemic for appearing too strong and not empathetic or consultative.
"Over the last three years, and particularly the last two, what Australians have needed from me going through this pandemic has been strength and resilience," he said.
"Now, I admit that hasn't enabled Australians to see a lot of other gears in the way I work.
"And I know Australians know that I can be a bit of a bulldozer when it comes to issues and I suspect you guys know that too."
Mr Morrison explicitly offered to change, if elected.
"As we go into this next period on the other side of this election, I know there are things that are going to have to change with the way I do things," he said.
"Because we are moving into a different time. We are moving into a time of opportunity and working from the strong platform of strength that we've built and saved in our economy in the last three years we can now take advantage of those opportunities in the future."
Before the campaign launch on Sunday, Coalition government ministers talked up Mr Morrison's pandemic leadership while backing his promise to change if re-elected.
Mr Albanese is positioning himself as a "builder" and declared, if elected as Prime Minister on May 21, he will "build things in this country".
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