The prime minister says he expected there would be a negative reaction to his government’s first budget but the tough decisions had to be made.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott is confident people will rally behind his government’s tough budget, even if they do so reluctantly.
A week after it was handed down, Mr Abbott was on Tuesday continuing his bid to sell the budget to Australians as opinion polls showed many weren’t impressed and thought it was bad for the economy.
Measures include cuts to family benefits, pension indexation, a tougher welfare regime, a $7 co-payment to visit the GP and plans to reduce health and education funding for the states by $80 billion over the next decade.
Mr Abbott said he expected a negative reaction to the budget but the government was implementing “tough decisions with a purpose” after six years of Labor.
“We have a plan to fix the problem, Labor doesn’t have a plan to fix the problem and that’s why I’m confident that over time, however reluctantly, people will rally behind it,” he told Fairfax Media’s 2UE radio station.
Mr Abbott said the job of government was to explain to people “patiently and carefully” the reasons for its decisions.
“When you make changes, everyone who’s unhappy with a whole lot of things tends to focus in their unhappiness on the most recent changes,” he said.
“The job of government is not to tell people what they want to hear.”
Mr Abbott also appeared to rule out negotiating exemptions for the $7 GP co-payment for low income earners or pensioners when the legislation goes to Senate.
“This GP co-payment is exactly the same principle as the pharmaceutical benefits scheme co-payments,” he said.
Meanwhile Treasurer Joe Hockey concedes some might call the proposed $7 charge a tax but argues it’s a “payment” because doctors don’t receive tax revenue.
“You want to call it a tax, you can call it anything you want, you can call it a rabbit,” he told ABC’s Q&A program on Monday night.
Queensland Liberal senator Ian Macdonald said the government failed to consult with its MPs and voters over its tough-love budget, which “left a bit to be desired”.
The senator said the coalition could have come up with better solutions to pay down the nation’s debt.
“Clearly there are some issues with the budget that I think could have been better addressed and better resolved,” he told ABC radio.
“One of the regrets I have is that the public, through elected members of parliament, didn’t have a lot of consultation prior to the budget.”
Senator Macdonald said the federal coalition should follow the lead of Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, who has gone directly to the state’s voters to ask them how they believe Queensland’s debt problems should be addressed.
He wouldn’t say if he believed the prime minister and treasurer had misled voters by saying theirs would be a government of no new taxes, but did argue Labor had hidden the true state of the nation’s finances before the election.
“I think it would be irresponsible for a government to see the real situation and then not be doing anything about it,” the senator said.
“If that had to involve a different arrangement than what was spoken about before the election, then so be it. It had to be done.”