Pensioner Vilma Ward at her Norman Park home. Photo: Glenn Hunt A screenshot of Vilma Ward’s showdown with Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The woman who slammed Prime Minister Tony Abbott on national television – describing him as a “comedian” – has confirmed her long-standing links to the Labor Party, which included helping Kevin Rudd in his first federal election campaign.
Vilma Ward confronted Mr Abbott on Channel 10’s Wake Up breakfast program on Wednesday, accusing him of “picking on pensioners” by increasing the pension age to 70.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mrs Ward confirmed she had a long association with Kevin Rudd, but denied suggestions that she had been placed as a Labor stooge to embarrass Mr Abbott.
Mrs Ward and her late husband Leonard, a former Transport Workers Union Queensland secretary, helped Kevin Rudd during his first Griffith election campaign in 1998.
“He used to come round for morning breakfast at 6am and have Vegemite and toast sandwiches, and Len and him would talk for hours,” she told Fairfax Media at her Norman Park home.
However, Mrs Ward said she had not been a member of the Labor Party for about 40 years, and when she quit it was because they “told me I should think Labor and act Labor at all times”.
During the interview, she told the Prime Minister: “If we pull the belt any tighter we’re going to choke to death.”
Mrs Ward, who is in her 80s and was made an officer of the Order of Australia in 2009, also described Mr Abbott’s explanation of broken political promises “rubbish”.
The Prime Minister appeared momentarily stunned before declaring that the budget was fair and that Mrs Ward had exercised her democratic right to question him.
Mrs Ward said she was angered when the Prime Minister suggested on-air that it was obvious she was not a Coalition voter.
“It’s my business who I vote for and why I vote for them. His job is to make sure senior citizens are looked after and the country is being properly handled. He’s failing miserably on all points,” she told Fairfax Media.
“He’s big enough and ugly enough to be able to cop the criticism … He was laughing. He thought it was a joke and I wasn’t joking. That showed the calibre of the man.
“He didn’t respect my point of view and he didn’t appreciate me criticising him.”
Mrs Ward is a well-known consumer advocate in Queensland and a regular local media personality for decades.
These days she is the president of the Bulimba Senior Citizens Centre, in the Griffith electorate, and said she would welcome Mr Abbott to pay them a visit and chat to the members.
“We scrape and we save and we sacrifice all our lives, and he’s going to put the aged pension up to 70. That’s what he says now, what’s he got tucked away under his sleeve that we’re going to cop again?” she told Fairfax Media.
While Mrs Ward was enjoying the hype from Wednesday’s interview, she stressed that seniors around the country were doing it tough.
“I went up to see my doctor and there were people sitting in the waiting room saying, ‘Good on you Vilma, you gave it to him,’” she said.
The phone at Mrs Ward’s house was also ringing off the hook on Wednesday, with well wishes coming from friends, family and even Mr Rudd’s Griffith replacement, Terri Butler.
“She said, ‘Vilma it was priceless, you called him a comedian’.”
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