LABOR is vowing to try and block key measures of the Abbott government’s first budget.
As Prime Minister Tony Abbott began defending his government’s unpopular first budget, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten confirmed Labor would vote against the Coalition’s move to introduce a $7 Medicare co-payment, as well as plans to hike the fuel excise and change the pension age.
“Putting up everyone’s petrol bill we think is a bad idea in the current circumstances,” Mr Shorten told the Nine Network on Wednesday.
“We will fight – and I don’t know if we’ll win the arguments against Tony Abbott and their bad budget – but we will fight and fight and fight for Medicare.
“We get that you’ve got to improve the health system and make it more cost effective but you don’t do that by stopping people at the door of the doctor’s surgery.” But Mr Shorten refused to confirm whether the party would support the deficit levy on high income earners.
“What we think is it is a broken promise,” Mr Shorten said when asked about the Coalition’s plan to hike tax on people earning more than $180,000 a year.
Mr Bowen later signalled that Labor would not stand in the way of the government’s deficit levy.
“When this was first leaked it was going to apply to people over $80,000. Now that’s not a high income earner,” he told the Nine Network.
“We still don’t like it, we still don’t think it’s a good idea, but it’s not now a priority for us.
“Our priority is defending Medicare, defending pensions, defending family payments.”
Mr Shorten said the Abbott government was trying to return the budget to surplus with “broken promises and by slugging ordinary people”.
“First of all Tony Abbott said no new taxes under a government he leads … he said no nation ever taxes its way to prosperity. It was a lie.”
However, Mr Abbott said the budget is “fundamentally honest” and the right thing for the nation.
Beginning his post-budget media blitz, the prime minister has conceded voters won’t like a lot of the measures.
But they are necessary, he says.
“I want to do what’s right for the country, not what’s right for the government,” he told the Nine Network in his first comments since the budget was handed down on Tuesday.
The government was being upfront with the Australian people about the state of the nation’s finances.
“This is a fundamentally honest budget,” Mr Abbott said.
“We are not going to cook the books, we are not going to make a series of rosy assumptions,” he said.
The government cannot keep using its credit card to pay the nation’s mortgage, he said.
The budget includes a $7 charge for GP visits, lower pension rises and hikes in the fuel excise and income tax for people earning over $180,000.
It also includes cuts to family benefits, foreign aid and the ABC.
But Mr Abbott is keen to stress the budget also contains “hope for the future” with its record infrastructure spending and a $20 billion medical research fund.
Asked repeatedly whether the budget broke his key election promises, he told Network Ten: “I think we have kept faith with the Australian public.” But he acknowledged:
“Some people will be disappointed, some people will feel let down.”
Meanwhile Treasurer Joe Hockey has indicated that changing the GST rate isn’t out of the question if that’s what the states want.
He has made no apologies for his decision to push funding for schools and hospitals back on to the states.
The states have been hugely disappointed with the decision in Tuesday’s budget to cut direct funding, with Queensland, NSW and Victoria saying they will fight the changes.
Mr Hockey says the commonwealth would sit down with the states to work through the details, but says it is the “same taxpayer” funding hospitals and schools.
When asked if it could lead to an increase in the GST rate, Mr Hockey said the government wouldn’t move on the 10 per cent rate without taking it to an election.
But if the states wanted more money from the GST, “it’s up to them to argue the case to change the GST”, he told ABC radio on Wednesday.
Mr Hockey said the commonwealth had always funded those services at base levels, but the Rudd and Gillard governments went on a “spending spree” with no plan to pay for the increases in funding for schools and health.
Abbott said the states should take more responsibility for public hospitals and schools.
“We make no apologies for wanting the states to be grown-up, adult governments that take responsibility,” he told ABC radio. Asked if a GST increase could be on the table, he said: “That’s not something that the commonwealth is planning.” But he echoed Mr Hockey’s comments that it’s up to the states to argue for change if they want it.
“We are not touching the GST without the unanimous agreement of the states,” Mr Abbott said.
During one TV interview, Mr Abbott was confronted by an elderly woman angry about changes to the age pension.
“If we pull the belt any tighter we’re going to choke to death,” she said.
“I challenge you: come out and meet some of the pensioners, they’ll tell you a little thing or two.” Mr Abbott said he’d been given a piece of her mind.
“Fair enough, that’s your right in a democracy, to be able to tell the prime minister exactly what you think of him,” he said on Ten.
“This is a fair budget, everyone is doing his or her bit, including, dare I say, politicians.” The pensioner laughed and said: “You’re a comedian.”
Source: The Australian