Treasurer Joe Hockey has lashed out at critics of his first budget, saying claims his policies are ''unfair'' are reminiscent of ''class warfare'' from the 1970s.
In a spirited speech at the Sydney Institute, Mr Hockey on Wednesday night said the view that his budget would exacerbate inequality was unfounded and criticism of his budget strategy was ''political in nature''.
Mr Hockey has also defended some of his budget's most controversial measures - such as the $7 GP co-payment and unregulated university fees - saying they do not spell the end of universal healthcare or restrict access to education.
''The government is open to criticism and debate about our budget. However, we owe it to the community to set the facts straight and articulate the reasoning behind our decisions,'' the Treasurer said.
''Criticism of our strategy has been political in nature and has drifted to 1970s class warfare lines, claiming the budget is 'unfair' or that the 'rich don't contribute enough'.
''I would argue that the comments about inequality in Australia are largely misguided, both from an historical perspective, and from the perspective of the budget.''
But his message will be challenged by Labor when Opposition Leader leader Bill Shorten renews his attack on the Coalition government's ''unfair cuts'' at a welfare conference on Thursday.
Mr Shorten will tell an Australian Council of Social Services conference in Brisbane that the Coalition's budget is puts big business before individuals.
He will accuse the government of allowing multi-national fims to evade tax in Australia. ''This lax approach to tax evasion is especially galling at a time when the government is making cruel and unfair cuts to our pensioners, our schools and our hospitals,'' he will say.
And Greens senator Rachel Siewert has also hit back at Mr Hockey's claims, tweeting that the budget was ''blatantly unfair''.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said on Thursday that Mr Hockey had a ''massive credibility problem''.
''It was a pretty pathetic attempt to defend a pathetic budget,'' he told ABC radio.
Mr Hockey is introducing a ''massive social welfare scheme'' through the paid parental leave program contradicting his rhetoric about reducing government handouts, Mr Bowen said.
Responding to Mr Hockey's speech on Thursday, Australian Medical Association president Brian Owler took issue with the Treasurer's assessment that Commonwealth spending on health was unsustainable.
''Back in 06-07 the proportion of the federal budget spent on healthcare was about 18.1 per cent. This year it's down to 16.1 per cent. So federal government expenditure on health is not unsustainable, in fact it’s actually been falling,'' he told reporters in Canberra.
Mr Hockey said concerns about the demise of universal healthcare or higher education accessibility invoked mantras that reopened debates ''that were had, and lost, 30 years ago.''
''Universal healthcare has not been free to the consumer since before I was born,'' he said.
''Higher education has not been free since Labor introduced fees in 1987.''
The Treasurer said his first budget was based on the premise that it is fair to expect those who have the capacity to pay should accept more personal responsibility for their cost of living, the cost of raising their children, their health services and their education.''
''And it is unfair to keep a system intact that is clearly not encouraging participation and personal responsibility.''
Mr Hockey said the OECD says income distribution from taxpayers to tax receivers in Australia was more comprehensive and broader ''than any other country in the world''.
He highlighted Youth Allowance, the Age and Service pensions, and the disability support pension as four payments that contributed to this culture of welfare.
''[And] it should not be taboo to question whether everyone is entitled to these payments,'' Mr Hockey said.
It was not the job of government to pursue equality of outcomes but equality of opportunities, he said.
''It is not the role of government to use the taxation and welfare system as a tool to 'level the playing field'. We must use the levers of government to help those who are vulnerable and frail.
''But a just and fair society must not seek to penalise those who aspire to be better. We must reward the lifters and discourage the leaners,'' he said.
''This is what the budget sets out to do and this is what the government is determined to achieve.''
The story Calling budget unfair is like 'class warfare', says Joe Hockey first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.