Joe Hockey deliverers his post budget address at National
Press Club in Canberra yesterday. Photo Getty
Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey should never have allowed
himself to be photographed puffing on a cigar just before he
brought down his first Budget.
And dancing in his office to the tune of Best Day of My Life
as he was leaving to present it did not help either.
Yesterday morning the nation's first impressions were shaped
by cartoons depicting the Treasurer as a cigar-smoking
capitalist fatcat in guises ranging from a medieval
executioner to the Texas chainsaw murderer and 19th century
serial killer Sweeney Todd.
The bulk of the reaction to the Budget was barely kinder.
While business has generally welcomed its measures, Hockey
has been condemned by health advocates, doctors, nurses,
specialists, welfare and community organisations, pensioners,
unions, indigenous groups, the housing industry, local
government, bus companies ...
Even the big Liberal states of New South Wales, Victoria and
Queensland hit out, warning that A$80 billion ($87 billion)
in cuts to health and education funding would seriously
undermine their hospitals and schools. Queensland Premier
Campbell Newman called for urgent national talks on "unfair
and unreasonable" cuts.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has chosen a high-risk path.
In the Senate, Labor, the Greens and mining magnate Clive
Palmer's Palmer United Party - which will hold the balance of
power there after July - will also vote against key measures.
The Government is already trailing badly in the polls and is
expected to do worse now its economic strategy is out in the
open. With some key measures not to come into force until
after the next election, Abbott is betting that by then
voters will have forgotten, or at least forgiven.
But across a broad spectrum of Australia, forces are massing
against the Budget. And on the Ten network yesterday morning
Abbott came face to face with public anger. He was confronted
by 85-year-old Vilma Ward, who described the Prime Minister
as a "comedian".
"I have never heard such rubbish in all my life," she said of
his justifications. "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."
But Abbott continues to deny he has broken any promises,
despite his election pledges of no new or higher taxes, no
changes to the Medicare universal healthcare or pensions, and
no cuts to state broadcasters ABC and SBS. All were dumped in
"I think we have fundamentally kept faith with the Australian
people," he told the ABC yesterday morning. "That is the
ultimate bond which should exist between citizens and their
leaders: can you trust them to do the right thing by their
country? And the answer, based on last night's Budget, is
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said that while tough
decisions had to be made, he did not accept that families,
schools, the sick and motorists should pay for Abbott's
failure to design medium-term structural changes.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen described the Budget as an "act
of mass deceit".
Greens leader Christine Milne said it was a "divisive and
brutal Budget, written in the boardrooms of big business".
Her spokeswoman on family and community services added: "Tony
Abbott is completely out of touch with people trying to live
on payments like Newstart or Youth Allowance. These cuts will
fundamentally damage our society."
Abbott's claims that the Government was faced with a budget
and debt emergency have been dismissed almost universally.
Commonwealth debt is among the lowest in the OECD, the
deficit is considered a medium-term problem rather than a
crisis, and all three major international credit-rating
agencies have given Australia an AAA pass.
Despite this, Abbott has used his claims to attack support
and services to the nation's most vulnerable, including
Medicare, family benefits, pensioners, the homeless and the
young unemployed. Health and medical advocates said the new
charges for GPs and diagnostic services were an attack on
universal healthcare that would push it beyond the reach of
The Australian Medical Association said health cuts would
overwhelm public hospitals, with longer waits for patients.
The Consumers Health Forum said : "The Government has traded
the Medicare card for the credit card."
The Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association said its
services would be put further out of reach for those most in
need and the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine
warned the Medicare changes would disproportionately affect
the elderly, low-income earners and those with chronic
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation described the
looming impact on healthcare as "devastating".
The Budget has also been slammed for cuts to family benefits.
Labor frontbencher Jenny Macklin said that, combined with GP
charges and the fuel excise hike, a single-income family with
two children earning less than A$50,000 a year would have
almost A$5000 slashed from their income.
The housing industry and the poor will be hit by the end of
Labor's national rental affordability scheme to provide cheap
housing. Real fears are held for the young unemployed -
already facing high jobless rates - by changes that will
restrict or deny dole payments.
Australian Council of Social Service chief executive
Cassandra Goldie said those who carried the greatest burden
from spending cuts in the Budget were those who could least
St Vincent de Paul Society chief executive John Falzon said
the Budget could only be described as "tough but cruel. There
are measures in this Budget that rip the guts out of what
remains of a fair and egalitarian Australia."
Hockey has made it clear this was just the start, with more
cuts to come.