Prime Minister Tony Abbott is being urged to “correct” his Treasurer Joe Hockey, who has said the Labor opposition should pass stalled budget measures if it is “honest” about supporting the Iraq mission and its associated costs.
Mr Abbott on Thursday was asked several times whether he backed Mr Hockey’s comments, but he declined and instead praised Labor’s leader Bill Shorten for his bipartisan approach to the military action against Islamic State extremists.
Treasurer Joe Hockey in Washington: “We will spend what we need to spend to defend the nation.” Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick
Mr Shorten said he was “extremely disappointed” Mr Hockey had “chosen to make the Iraq intervention a source of political point-scoring”.
“I would ask the Prime Minister to correct the Treasurer, because the Treasurer has made a dreadful statement today,” he said in Melbourne.
“Joe Hockey thought he was probably being clever creating this political issue – well it’s not. Every time Joe Hockey opens his mouth now he says something silly.”
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen: “Just when you think Joe Hockey can’t stoop any lower, there he is.” Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Speaking earlier in Washington, Mr Hockey said the Australian government would reveal how it would fund the Iraq mission, which is estimated to be roughly $500 million a year, in the December budget update.
However, the Treasurer said if Mr Shorten was “honest” about his promise of bi-partisan support for Australia’s mission in Iraq, he would pass budget measures currently stalled in Parliament.
“We will spend what we need to spend to defend the nation,” Mr Hockey said.
“Given that we spend tens of billions of dollars each year on defence we have the capacity to deliver what we say we are going to deliver and it’s another good reason for Mr Shorten to immediately pass the remaining measures in the budget.
“Everything comes at a cost and if Bill Shorten truly is honest about his commitment to deliver bipartisan support in relation to our defence efforts in the Middle East he’ll provide bi-partisan support to pay for it,” he said.
While Mr Abbott on Thursday declined to back his Treasurer’s call, the opposition’s treasury spokesman Chris Bowen attacked the tactic as “disgraceful” and “blackmail”.
“Just when you think Joe Hockey can’t stoop any lower, there he is. Australians won’t be blackmailed into supporting this unfair budget,” Mr Bowen said.
“It is simply disgraceful that Joe Hockey is trying to link his failed budget with national security. Under no circumstances should our international obligations be used to justify the cuts or taxes in this budget,” he said.
Mr Shorten said Australians would “see through this political game”.
“Under no circumstances should our intervention be used as a source to justify hurting Australian people through this unfair budget and the cuts and raised taxes which flow through it,” he said.
Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek also said it was “incredibly poor taste” that the Treasurer had attempted to politicise the bipartisan mission.
Speaking a short time after Mr Hockey’s media conference, Mr Abbott thrice declined to back his Treasurer’s call and said Labor should devise its own budget strategy if it wanted to continue rejecting the government’s.
“To his great credit Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has been very, very bipartisan on this,” he said on 3AW.
“I’ve had numerous conversations with Bill about this and he is an Australian patriot.
“I want our budget measures to be passed by the Parliament, I accept that the opposition is absolutely entitled to come to its own position on our budget measures…if the Labor party doesn’t want to support our budget measures I think they should come up with their own alternative measures.”
He also failed to endorse the Treasurer’s call during a later press conference in Sydney.
Mr Abbott earlier this week ruled out introducing a tax to pay for the Iraq mission.