Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says Prime Minister Tony Abbott will not be brave enough to call a double dissolution election if the Senate refuses to pass the government’s budget bills because voters will desert him.
Mr Shorten, who will give his budget-in-reply speech to Parliament on Thursday night, said Mr Abbott would not pull the trigger to go to the polls because his budget was "bad for the country" and “ridiculously unpopular” with the Australian people.
The government is facing a tough battle to pass many of its budget measures, with Labor, the Greens and crossbenchers attacking plans to impose a $7 GP co-payment, cut health and education spending, and change the indexation of pensions.
Mr Abbott has warned against attempts to frustrate the government but has indicated he is willing to negotiate over details in an effort to pass the budget overall.
Labor has vowed not to support changes to Medicare that will force patients to hand over a $7 payment when they visit the doctor, nor will it back increased indexation of the fuel excise or changes to the pension.
But the opposition has left the door open to supporting a deficit levy on incomes above $180,000, cuts to family tax benefits, and new restrictions for young people who want to receive the dole.
Mr Shorten told the ABC’s Radio National on Thursday that there was ''no chance'' Mr Abbott would call an early election.
“He knows his budget’s ridiculously unpopular because it’s bad for this country,” he said.
Mr Shorten said the Prime Minister’s pre-election “halo” as a leader who would not break promises had slipped.
He also called out Mr Abbott for castigating the previous Labor government for dealing with the crossbench while the Prime Minister was in opposition.
“Now we’ve got this bloke in power he’s happy to horse trade,” he said.
In an interview with Sky News on Thursday, Mr Abbott would not declare a willingness to take Australians back to the polls.
Instead, Mr Abbott said he expected the opposition and crossbenchers to “expeditiously” pass his government’s measures.
“I want to go on with giving this country good government and good government means not continuing to pay the mortgage on the nation’s credit card,” he said.
“Good government means the government putting its budget into the Parliament as we will [and] the Parliament dealing expeditiously with these measures and in the end passing these measures.”
The Prime Minister said he would not be "unreasonable" and he intended to be "respectful towards the Parliament and the Senate" and negotiate.
But he declared budget measures such as the GP co-payment were "right and proper" and reforms.
Treasurer Joe Hockey told the ABC on Thursday that if there were parts of the budget the government could not pass through the Senate, such as a deficit levy, it would just mean additional savings would have to be found elsewhere.
But he added: “I don't think anyone is eager to have yet another election in Australia.”
He said Australians were eager to see the government fix the budget.
Labor finance spokesman Tony Burke said he’d welcome an election fight over the Abbott government’s first budget.
‘‘How unbelievably arrogant of Tony Abbott, for him to think he can pick and choose who would be hurt in a new election after a budget like that,’’ he told Sky News on Thursday. ‘‘And if his view is he wants to go to people again, well the opposition, we’re not going to be saying ‘please don’t go to the people’.’’
Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer has called on the government to take its harsher budget measures to an election.
He declared the GP co-payment and pension changes were not matters for negotiation and there was no chance his party would support them.
In an interview with ABC TV on Wednesday, Mr Palmer also predicted that the Prime Minister would not call an election if he could not pass his budget measures.
“Before we had this budget, in Western Australia the Liberal Party vote was down to 33 per cent. They had a seven per cent swing against the Coalition. They lost two per cent to the National Party, lost two per cent - the Liberal Party lost five, so I don't think he would go to an election,” he said.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne has been given the job of with dealing with Mr Palmer to try to capture his support for the government’s policies.
Mr Pyne said on Thursday that he found Mr Palmer “a very easy person to deal with”, but it was Senate Leader Eric Abetz who would be responsible for negotiations with the three incoming PUP senators.
“By and large, we have a mandate to do most of these changes and I think the Senate will recognise that,” he told the ABC.
“We can't have a situation in Australia where we're ungovernable and I think the Senate knows that but I think Mr Palmer is well aware of that.”