With the federal budget just four weeks away the Abbott government is being accused of preparing to break election promises on funding for the ABC and the age pension.
And in case those two areas are not politically sensitive enough, the federal Treasurer Joe Hockey suggested workers could be asked to continue working into their seventies.
With speculation intensifying about where the government would find savings, attention has turned to the national broadcaster and the eligibility age and indexation of the age pension, which are both politically sensitive targets.
Mr Hockey discussed the option of indexing the pension to inflation, which would be lower than the current link to male total average weekly earnings.
He said too many people were relying on government payments and the issue needed to be addressed.
“Obviously we’ve got to have a sustainable welfare system and there is a serious question as to whether our current welfare system, which was designed in the 20th Century, is sustainable in the 21st Century when we have significant demographic challenges,” he said.
Retirement age to rise … again?
But changes to the age pension may not be the only reform to affect older Australians, with Mr Hockey suggesting the retirement age could be pushed from 67 to 70.
“It may be the case that my generation has to work for an extra three years,” Mr Hockey said on Sunday.
The previous Labor government raised the retirement age from 65 to 67 from 2023, but the Treasurer said other countries, including the United Kingdom, were already eyeing later retirement.
“It will affect my generation. This doesn’t happen overnight.”
As life expectancy continues to grow so too must time at work to provide financial security in retirement while not draining the country’s coffers, Mr Hockey said.
Shadow treasurer Tony Burke said the government is about to break an election-eve pledge not to change the age pension.
“The promise was – no changes. Full stop. No qualification. No changes to pensions,” Mr Burke said.
“If we go through the budget and in the budget there are no announced change to pensions, then that promise may not have been broken, but that is not the way Joe Hockey is talking today.”
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull refused to rule out media reports the ABC’s budget will be trimmed come May 13.
“You don’t have long to wait – let’s just wait for budget night,” he said.
While he wouldn’t comment on the budget, Mr Turnbull said any business – including the ABC – could “obviously” be run more efficiently.
Labor and the Australian Greens used the budget speculation as ammunition to accuse Prime Minister Tony Abbott of breaking his election vows to steer clear of cuts to the ABC and multicultural broadcaster SBS, and changing the age pension.
Opposition finance spokesman Tony Burke suggested Mr Abbott would face the same heat he put on former prime minister Julia Gillard for breaking a pre-election promise ruling out a carbon tax.
“Brace yourself for the broken promises,” he told Sky News.
Greens leader Christine Milne accused Mr Abbott of breaching the public’s trust when he swore to lead a “government of no surprises”.
“He’s not only a government full of surprises, but he’s breaking promises left, right and centre,” she said.
Mr Hockey has called for a sensible discussion about funding Australians’ future quality of life ahead of the budget.
—with AAP, ABC