Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the government should reduce the migration program to help ease housing pressures throughout the country.

“There are supply factors and there are demand factors. And one thing the federal government could do that would ease some of the demand pressure is to scale back immigration at least until land release and infrastructure can keep up,” Abbott told reporters on Monday night. “And frankly, there is nothing sacrosanct about any particular immigration number. The Howard government scaled back [on] immigration [in] its first few years for a whole host of reasons.”

Australia’s permanent migration program currently sits at 190,000 places a year, and is mostly made up of skilled workers under the age of 50. Immigration accounts for approximately 55% of the nation’s population growth, and the general consensus among experts is that it does increase the cost of housing.

“High rates of immigration put upward pressure on land and housing prices in Australia's largest cities," the 2016 Productivity Commission report into migration intake said. The report also said that poor urban planning and zoning laws made the problem even worse.

Accessing super to pay for housing

With the federal government busy finalising its housing affordability package ahead of the May budget, Abbott also endorsed a proposal that would allow people to access their retirement savings to pay for a housing deposit.

He said he felt “quite a bit of sympathy” for the superannuation access idea, which is reportedly being considered by the Turnbull government.

“In the end you want your money to be as useful as it can be. And superannuation is not the government’s money, it’s the people’s money. And if people would prefer to use it to put down a deposit on a home rather than saving it up for 30, 40 or 50 years’ time, why not? So I think this is a good idea,” he said.

Critics say people should not be allowed to chip away at their savings as it is needed to fund their retirement.

“It takes a very special plan to actually drive up housing prices by increasing demand as well as undermining Australia’s retirement income system,” Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen told ABC.

Bowen is especially critical of Treasurer Scott Morrison, as he was “flailing around trying to find some answer on housing affordability when he refuses to use the main lever at his disposal: negative gearing reform.”