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Government, Labor prepare for budget

Labor and the coalition have laid out their battlegrounds before the pre-budget parliamentary break.

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The planning comes as an average of the three latest Morgan, Essential and Newspoll surveys puts Labor ahead of the coalition 53.7-46.3 in two-party terms.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Tuesday’s coalition party room, the last before the May 12 budget, that the government had made “pretty good progress”, especially over the past six weeks.

Six weeks ago the prime minister survived a Liberal Party room spill motion 61-39, leading to a number of unpopular policies being ditched.

Mr Abbott said Labor leader Bill Shorten had put off voters with his “litany of screeching complaints”, while the government had responded directly to voter concerns.

Mr Shorten on Tuesday launched a new campaign in the lead-up to the budget using the theme: “Mr Abbott – Don’t Pocket our Pension”.

Labor MPs will spend the next six weeks pushing the message that the Abbott government wants to make budget savings by cutting pensions and raising the pension age to 70.

Mr Shorten said the failure of the first coalition budget was not because Labor had been negative, but because it had “won the argument in the community”.

He challenged Mr Abbott in parliament to rule out cuts to pensions, just as the government had on Monday ruled out adding to its $11 billion in cuts to foreign aid.

Mr Abbott told parliament pensions rose last week, by $78 a fortnight in the case of a married couple.

“This is a government which is putting pensions up and this government will put pensions up twice a year, every year,” he said.

Labor families spokeswoman Jenny Macklin said the opposition stood by the policy of pensions rising by the higher rate of CPI, the pension index or male total average weekly earnings.

She insisted independent research had shown over the next decade $23 billion would be taken out of the pockets of pensioners.

Such messages have made coalition MPs jittery about the potential for the May budget to be as badly received as Treasurer Joe Hockey’s first budget.

To answer their concerns, Mr Hockey gave a 15-minute presentation to the party room on Tuesday in which he said this year’s budget would focus on small business, child care, infrastructure, free trade agreements and integrity in the tax and welfare systems.

Any savings in the budget to offset spending would be “responsible and fair”.

The government has been blaming the “feral” Senate for blocking much of its agenda, but crossbench senator Ricky Muir said it was merely reflecting the public’s view.

“Generally what I hear … is thank God you’re there, thank God there is actually scrutiny over the current budget proposals,” he told ABC radio.

 

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