Tony Abbott has clashed with Scott Morrison over his superannuation changes, labelling them “deeply unpopular” with the Coalition’s base, as support builds for the Treasurer to increase the cap on after-tax contributions to $1 million.
In a “tetchy” private meeting with a group of Liberal and Nationals MPs in Parliament House on Thursday, Mr Abbott confronted Mr Morrison and Minister for Revenue Kelly O’Dwyer about their proposed $6 billion super package. He argued the government was wrong to offer super concessions to low-income earners.
The former prime minister argued against plans to offer super concessions to low-income earners and called for the Coalition to dump its proposed cap on post-tax contributions during the Thursday meeting, The Weekend Australian reports.
“(Mr Abbott) went in there looking for a fight; he wasn’t interested in information, he wasn’t interested in listening to his colleagues, he wanted to have a fight,” one MP present at the meeting told the newspaper. “He kept interrupting and he wanted to derail the discussion.”
Mr Abbott also argued for the government to abandon its proposed cap on post-tax contributions.
As Mr Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull seek to reach a consensus with backbench MPs on the contentious election policy, the report revealed that doubling the lifetime cap on non-concessional contributions to $1m would hit the budget bottom line by $750m.
MPs at the meeting said they were “aghast” that Mr Abbott had proposed hitting low-income earners — particularly working mothers — to benefit the wealthy, whom the former leader accused Mr Morrison and Ms O’Dwyer of abandoning.
Mr Abbott is understood to have argued that the Coalition should represent lower taxes and smaller government, prompting a retort from Mr Morrison about policies Mr Abbott had put in place while leader that had increased taxes. Amid a series of tense exchanges with the man he believed betrayed him in last year’s leadership spill, Mr Abbott said the super changes announced in Mr Morrison’s first budget in May “sent the wrong message about aspiration” and he argued that there should be no cap on after-tax contributions.
When he was prime minister, Mr Abbott ruled out changing superannuation, saying it was not a “piggy bank” to be raided.
Increasing the lifetime cap on non-concessional contributions to $750,000 is understood to cost the budget $250m. Removing the retrospective elements but keeping the $500,000 cap would cost $540m. Raising the cap to $1m would cost $750m, but the Treasurer did not present costings for abandoning the non-concessional cap, as advocated by Mr Abbott.
Sources at the meeting say Ms O’Dwyer took aim at Mr Abbott for suggesting the Liberal Party should only look after a narrow base of wealthy constituents, suggesting he had forgotten about the “Howard battlers” and reminded him that the Liberal Party was “not just the party of the privileged”.
On the Low Income Superannuation Tax Offset, which benefits those earning less than $37,000, Mr Abbott is understood to have criticised Mr Morrison for wanting to restore the measure that he had scrapped in 2014 when the mining tax was repealed.
“Tony argued that we had suffered political pain for getting rid of it and we won’t get any credit for putting it back,” a source said.
Another said Mr Abbott “was basically arguing that the lowest paid should subsidise the wealthy”.
One female regional Liberal MP who was at the meeting of about 10 MPs, was one said to be “shocked” at his proposal to scrap the policy. Sources said she pushed back against Mr Abbott, saying the policy benefited women and part-time workers, and the government would suffer enormous political damage if it cut the $1.6bn policy to help wealthy superannuants.