After widespread outrage at his government’s first effort a year ago, Tony Abbott has offered more soothing words before the May 12 budget.
With speculation mounting about an election later this year following a budget firmly targeted at families, the Prime Minister announced on Sunday $840 million in preschool funding as part of the government’s more family-oriented focus – and promised people will feel happier after Treasurer Joe Hockey’s second budget.
“Our country is coming back. Our economy is strengthening and I think people will be more confident and optimistic on budget night,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney.
But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is unconvinced after what he calls last year’s “bad, bad, bad” budget of broken promises.
“So far it seems to most Australians that … this year’s budget is all about Tony Abbott trying to keep his own job,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
If the PM turned around the government’s fortunes with this year’s budget, some believe he may use the fresh momentum to send the nation back to the election box.
A government minister told News Corp on Saturday that an early election was “not beyond the realms of possibility” while another government insider said Mr Abbott believed a four-point deficit to Labor in the polls would translate to election victory.
However, Mr Abbott denied the reports, saying he was intent on seeing out his full term.
“It is my firm intention to deliver on the mandate that the public gave us and when the public elected us, they expected us to govern for three years and that is absolutely what we intend to do,” he said.
Kitchen table politics
The families package and a small business and jobs package are central to this year’s budget.
Families earning up to $165,000 a year will be the biggest winners from the reforms, according to reports on Sunday.
“What you’ll see from this government is more affordable and more accessible childcare,” Mr Abbott said in Sydney, while refusing to pre-empt a more detailed announcement expected in the coming week.
“We’ll have some very good announcements to make in the budget which I think the Australian people will welcome.”
It’s expected the new system will pay a single means-tested subsidy directly to childcare centres, with the rate tapering down in line with family incomes.
Labor’s social services spokeswoman Jenny Macklin reminded the government of the vast range of people’s working situations.
“We want to make sure that the parents who’ve got a very part-time or casual job, parents who are looking for work, are able to get access to high quality child care,” she said.
The government has said family benefits cuts held up in the Senate are needed to pay for childcare subsidies.
Ms Macklin reiterated Labor’s opposition to changes which would lead to single-income families losing up to $6000 a year when their youngest child turned six.
To the polling booth?
Although Mr Abbott says he wants to go the full three-year parliamentary term there is speculation he will use the budget as a platform to call an election this year rather than wait until 2016.
Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen says Labor is ready for anything.
“If the Prime Minister is so panicked that he wants to call an election this year and he thinks that’s a sensible strategy, we’re ready,” he told Sky News.
He says a Labor government would take a decade-long focus on fixing the budget, taking the advice of Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens and former Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson that there shouldn’t be a “head-long rush” to get back to surplus in the next couple of years.
“It wouldn’t be possible or feasible, nor would it be advisable,” he said.