Treasurer Joe Hockey has gone on radio to specifically apologise for his comments saying the poorest people either don’t have cars or drive much.
Joe Hockey has attempted to resurrect his derailed budget sales campaign by apologising for his comment that the poorest people don’t own cars.
The remark, meant to bolster the treasurer’s argument for restoring twice-yearly indexation of the fuel excise, sparked a furious public response and annoyed colleagues already unhappy with his performance since the May budget.
Even Prime Minister Tony Abbott distanced himself from the comments.
“I am really genuinely sorry … I’m sorry the words came out as they did,” Mr Hockey told Macquarie Radio on Friday.
“I accept responsibility.”
The apology was proffered two days after he said the poorest people in the community didn’t own cars or, if they did, they didn’t drive them as far as wealthier people.
Mr Hockey was trying to make the point that wealthier households would pay up to three times more in fuel tax than low-income households.
He said his comments “were obviously insensitive”, but there was “no evil intent”.
“What has been said can’t be unsaid. I can only apologise for any hurt I have caused … we are trying to do our best for people who are disadvantaged,” he said.
Earlier Mr Abbott, when quizzed by reporters about his treasurer’s remarks, said: “Plainly I wouldn’t say that.”
Before the apology, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it was probably time the prime minister considered dumping his unfair budget or the treasurer.
Later, he was far from impressed with Mr Hockey’s apology, tweeting: “It took Joe Hockey more than 48 hrs to realise how insulting his comments were. It took the rest of us four seconds.”
It has been a torrid few days for the treasurer in a week that was supposed to be a charm offensive, crisscrossing the country seeking support from Senate crossbenchers for some of his contentious budget measures.
Mr Hockey opted to drive himself to and from the studios of 2GB in Sydney to make his apology, rather than make use of a commonwealth-chauffeured car.
“I am really, genuinely sorry that there is any suggestion … that I or the government does not care for the most disadvantaged,” he said.
The treasurer insisted he hadn’t been asked to make the apology.
Mr Abbott is standing by his beleaguered treasurer, saying Mr Hockey had a plan to ensure all Australians – “rich and poor alike” – were better off in the long term.
Cabinet minister Christopher Pyne was full of praise for the government’s “inspirational” treasurer, but avoided directly backing Mr Hockey’s comments.
Acting Greens leader Adam Bandt said Mr Hockey now needed to apologise for his budget.