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Please explain: Govt asks Abbott to clarify ' -

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Please explain: Govt asks Abbott to clarify 'experience' comments
Sabra Lane reported this story on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 12:20:00

ELEANOR HALL: Some members of the Federal Government say the Coalition Leader is engaging in another gender based attack on the Prime Minister.

The Government is responding to criticism of its latest budget cuts by insisting that a surplus is the best response to the uncertain global economy.

Its proposed changes to the baby bonus are generating the sharpest attacks from the Coalition, with Tony Abbott saying the cut shows the Government does not understand the true cost of raising children.

The Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called on Mr Abbott to explain what he means by that.

Chief political correspondent Sabra Lane.

SABRA LANE: At the start of this month the Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson said it was time for a public debate about the size of government in Australia. He warned there was a big question mark hanging over the sustainability of both federal and state tax systems.

He said the public debate wouldn't be easy - that the discussion should include how government services should be funded, either through higher taxes or more userpay options or by slashing government spending in some areas.

And perhaps now in hindsight, Mr Parkinson was laying the ground work for yesterday's mid-year update.

The Treasurer Wayne Swan revealed the Baby Bonus would be cut from $5,000 to $3,000 for the second and subsequent child, and he explained the reason in this way.

WAYNE SWAN: We believe that these changes to the Baby Bonus will bring it more into line with actual costs of having children. After the first child, you've already bought the cot, the pram and the other items that you can use again.

Now this is a tough decision, but it will help improve the sustainability of the family payments system over time.

SABRA LANE: The Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was asked about it this morning on Channel Seven.

TONY ABBOTT: But often Andrew, one child is still in the cot when the second one comes along. One child is still in the pram when the second one comes along. So you actually need to get an extra cot or a double sized pram.

I think if the Government was a bit more experienced in this area, they wouldn't come out with glib lines like that.

SABRA LANE: Mr Abbott's choice of words prompted some in Labor to wonder what he meant, given many frontbenchers have families. Some thought it was another reference to the Prime Minister.

JULIA GILLARD: Well I think Mr Abbott can explain what he meant by that line.

SABRA LANE: The Trade Minister, Craig Emerson.

CRAIG EMERSON: It's curious isn't it, and I think Mr Abbott does need to explain what he meant by that statement, I thought he was a bit indignant about personality politics over the last few weeks and we thought it was right to get onto a big public policy debate with the release of the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook and Mr Abbott's back in there making inferences.

If he's talking about the Treasurer, well he's got several children, I've got several children, so what's he really on about.

SABRA LANE: Mr Emerson was speaking on Sky.

The shadow attorney general George Brandis says it wasn't a personal dig at the Prime Minister.

GEORGE BRANDIS: These people have no understanding whatsoever of the pressures on ordinary Australian families. To imagine that the Treasurer of Australia could think that the more children you have, the less it costs you - it's unbelievable.

SABRA LANE: On Fairfax Radio Mr Abbott said there wasn't anything sinister in what he'd said.

TONY ABBOTT: In a robust democracy like Australia, everyone in public life has got to expect criticism, but it ought to be fair criticism and this idea that people are off limits because of their gender, their race, their religion - look if people say the wrong thing, they are entitled to expect criticism.

If - but it's got to be fair criticism and I think there's be a lot of unfair criticism bandied around.

SABRA LANE: On the measure itself, it will save the Government half a billion dollars over four years and affect 87,000 families a year.

The Prime Minister says it's an important structural change to the budget, which could help pay for other policies in the future.

JULIA GILLARD: And that's part of a long-term strategy to get our budget in the state that it needs to be, and of course we will be working to fund things that people value. As I move around the country people do talk to me about the quality of their child's school, they do talk to me about a better deal for people with disabilities and we'll want to be making the room over time for those things in the budget.

SABRA LANE: So, watch this space on how the Government might fund the Gonski education reforms and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

On Lateline, the shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said the Baby Bonus cut might affect the country's fertility rate.

JOE HOCKEY: The Baby Bonus actually is one of the initiatives that has helped to make Australia a rare commodity in developed nations, and that is a nation that actually has increased its birth rate over the last few years and does not have a decreasing birth rate.

And now the Government seems to want to penalise anyone that has a second or third child. I think that worked quite well in China didn't it?

SABRA LANE: In case you missed it, Mr Hockey said "it worked quite well in China". The Treasurer, Wayne Swan.

WAYNE SWAN: Well the Opposition is simply all over the place. We've had some pretty moronic statements from Joe Hockey this morning saying this is somehow a China type policy when it comes to families.

I mean this sort of Tony Abbott extremism now permeates all of their commentary on just about every issue.

SABRA LANE: The Government will need parliamentary approval for it. The Opposition says it will make decision on a case-by-case basis, meaning the Government might need the help of the independents.

ELEANOR HALL: Sabra Lane in Canberra.