Prime Minister Tony Abbott was confronted by an angry pensioner on national television. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Federal budget 2014: full coverageMark Kenny: Trust deficit spells death for a salesman
Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey are defending accusations of untrustworthiness, saying their first budget was “fundamentally honest” and drafted in good faith.
But the Prime Minister’s greatest critic on Wednesday morning came from an unexpected quarter and left the Coalition leader momentarily speechless.
During one of a raft of breakfast television appearances, on the Ten network’s Wake Up, Mr Abbott was confronted by an elderly woman, named only as Vilma, who was furious about changes to the age pension and responded to his explanations on broken promises with: ”I have never heard such rubbish in all my life.”
But it emerged later on Wednesday that Vilma is Vilma Ward 85, the president of the Bulimba Senior Citizen’s centre and – according to a media report from 2010 – she served on Kevin Rudd’s election campaign committee in his first run for Federal Parliament in 1998.
‘‘Why don’t you leave the pensioners alone? If we pull the belt any tighter we’re going to choke to death,’’ Mrs Ward said on the TV program. ”Why are you picking on me?
‘‘I challenge you: come out and meet some of the pensioners, they’ll tell you a little thing or two.’’
Appearing distinctly uncomfortable, Mr Abbott told the program’s hosts that he’d been given a piece of Mrs Ward’s 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.
He then suggested to Mrs Ward that it was obvious that she had not voted for the Coalition, to which the indignant Mrs Ward replied ”Excuse me, it’s got nothing to do with who I vote for and who I don’t vote for”.
”Why are you picking on pensioners?” she asked the Prime Minister.
Mr Abbott then said: ‘‘This is a fair budget, everyone is doing his or her bit, including, dare I say, politicians.’’
Mrs Ward laughed and replied: ‘‘You’re a comedian, sir you’re a comedian.’’
Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey repeatedly made a plea for public trust and patience during their respective post-budget media blitzes, each man facing a barrage of questions over broken promises made during the election campiagn.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the budget delivered a large trust deficit for Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey.
“It’s a bad budget, it breaches a fundamental commitment to the Australian people,” he told ABC Radio.
“This government was elected on web deceit; they lied to get into office. This makes cost of living so much worse for Australian families. It is an attack on pensioners, and worst of all, it is the trashing of Medicare.
“This is a massive $80 billion hit cut to schools and hospitals, these are not areas you are able to cut without taking a massive hit to frontline services.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was in lockstep with his shadow treasurer’s assessment of the forward estimates.
“It’s a bad news budget, it breaks promises, it breaks trust and I just wish they had been straight with the families before the election,” he said.
“We oppose specifically, the increase in petrol tax, changes to the pension.
“We are not interested in supporting them gutting Medicare and cuts to education are simply unacceptable.
“Australia doesn’t have the budget crisis to warrant these cuts. We will oppose these measures and we will fight to the end to preserve Medicare.”
On Wednesday morning, Mr Abbott was repeatedly forced to defend the character of his government’s first budget, saying it was ‘‘fundamentally honest’’ and the right thing for the nation.
Conceding many voters would oppose the measures, he stressed the changes were necessary.
”I want to do what’s right for the country, not what’s right for the government,’’ he told the Nine Network.
‘‘We are not going to cook the books, we are not going to make a series of rosy assumptions”, adding that the ”cannot keep using its credit card to pay the nation’s mortgage”.
Mr Hockey mounted a defence of his first budget on Wednesday morning, which 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, and cuts to family benefits, foreign aid and the ABC, saying ‘‘What we’re doing is good policy.”
ACTU president Ged Kearney said she was devastated by the figures in the budget papers, nominating the young unemployed and low paid workers as the biggest victims of the forward estimates.
“This is the end of civil society and the end of the fair go in Australia,” she said.
“Basically, if you are old, if you are sick, if you are looking for a job, if you lose job, if you are young, this government is saying ‘you are on your own’.
Leader of the eponymous Palmer United Party, Clive Palmer tweeted: “This is a heartless and cruel budget that will cause many Australians undue pain and all based on a fairy tale about a debt crisis.”
Greens leader Christine Milne described Mr Abbott as a “warped individual” for his budget priorities.
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