The Prime Minister turned to social media on Sunday to launch a series of attacks on the media and the opposition, accusing his targets of spreading false news and lying.
The Turnbull government was later bouyed by the latest Newspoll figures showing the Coalition has regained ground against Labor with a significant rise in support over the past three weeks.
As politicians return to Canberra for the final sitting fortnight before the May budget, Malcolm Turnbull dismissed reports in News Corp newspapers that his government was looking to scrap all welfare payments below $20.02 a fortnight, a change targeted at aged pensioners.
Mr Turnbull said the report was “false” and he “outright” rejected it.
“I can assure all aged pensioners the measure reported will NOT be in the budget,” he tweeted.
In another tweet he said he had assured the author of the story this was the case, “but she insisted on writing the story”.
He then turned his attention to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten: “And sadly, I can assure you that you can always rely on Bill Shorten to lie”.
Mr Shorten said Mr Turnbull’s personal attack on him in his “tweet meltdown” is the way he ends every public conversation these days.
“I’m starting to feel sorry for Mr Turnbull,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Melbourne.
“Mr Turnbull, I think, is showing signs of pressure. He can’t cope with the pressure.”
He said Mr Turnbull should focus on the needs of everyday Australians instead of blaming Labor.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the newspaper article, which cited a departmental document, was “wrong”.
“Such a proposal would not be fair to pensioners and any such measure will NOT be in the budget,” Mr Porter said in a statement.
The proposal referred to in the article was nothing more than a suggestion put forward by a department and immediately rejected by the government, as the journalist responsible for the article was advised, he said.
Sunday night’s Newspoll, taken after Mr Turnbull’s announcement of his Snowy River hydro upgrade plans, shows Labor’s two-party preferred lead cut from 52 per cent to 48 per cent.
Mr Turnbull’s personal rating, meanwhile, surged to 43 per cent compared to 29 per cent for Mr Shorten.
The Coalition’s primary vote rose from 34 per cent to 37 per cent in the three weeks since the previous poll, while Labor’s primary vote fell from 37 per cent to 35 per cent.
Back to business
With two sitting weeks ahead, politicians will debate two keys themes of this parliamentary year. Labor will mount its case on penalty rates and wages, while the Coalition will talk about the cost of living.
“I and Labor will fight tooth and nail this week to ensure that we stop the cuts to penalty rates,” Mr Shorten told reporters on Sunday after addressing a union rally in Melbourne.
“No doubt this week Mr Turnbull and his Coalition will try every distraction under the sun to stop us talking about penalty rates.”
Mr Shorten will introduce a bill to Parliament on Monday to stop a decision by the Fair Work Commission to cut Sunday penalty rates for some hospitality, retail and fast food workers.
The commission is still considering how to implement its decision and minimise the impact on take home pay, and Mr Turnbull argues its independence and well-researched findings should be respected.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham said Mr Shorten likes to talk big about easing cost-of-living pressures on families and the government is offering him a chance to do something.
“We have comprehensive solutions to fix the price pressures in child care and all we need is the Labor Party and the Senate to come on board,” he told reporters in Adelaide.
Labor, the Greens and many crossbench senators are baulking at passing the changes because the government has tied them to cuts to family payments in an omnibus bill.
An inquiry report on the bill is due to be tabled on Monday.