Tony Abbott has called a special cabinet meeting ahead of the resumption of parliament in a bid to reboot the government’s floundering budget sales pitch.
The prime minister is expected to tell his colleagues to lift their game and to avoid damaging “thought bubbles”, after a gaffe-prone winter recess.
Crossbench senators expect discussions with the government to continue when parliament returns on Tuesday, although no major breakthroughs are anticipated.
“I get the feeling that this coming week will be a bit like groundhog day,” independent Nick Xenophon told ABC radio on Monday.
The government has raised the spectre of higher taxes if some of its controversial budget measures, such as the GP co-payment, tougher welfare payment rules and university deregulation, fail to clear parliament.
Labor finance spokesman Tony Burke seized on the warning, describing the tax threat as “more about extortion than it is about governing”.
“This (is a) bizarre game, where they’re saying, `if you don’t vote for an unfair budget, we’ll come up with something even more unfair’,” he told ABC radio.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne has refused to rule out cuts to university research funding if proposals to deregulate fees are rejected.
Family First senator Bob Day questioned the government’s tactics, saying they have so far fallen short.
Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm said the government was taking time to learn how to negotiate, with few of its budget measures listed for debate in parliament.
But Treasurer Joe Hockey defended the budget and the government’s sales job, saying savings in health and welfare were modest rather than draconian.
He insisted the budget measures were being put in place “methodically” and “calmly”.
Cabinet minister Barnaby Joyce said the nation’s debt problem couldn’t be fixed without making unpopular changes.
He warned that without structural reform, “chickens would come home to roost”.
“We’ll be closing down hospitals, we won’t have an ABC, we won’t be able to defend ourselves because we will have run out of money,” he told ABC radio.