Prime Minister Julia Gillard
Prime Minister Julia Gillard Inga Williams

Labor eager to focus on disability support, education reform

LABOR has begun the tough task of selling an election-year budget largely devoid of traditional vote-buying sweeteners, asking Australians to instead focus on its multi-billion-dollar investment in disability support and education reform.

The big hitters from both sides of politics began their traditional post-budget media blitzes before the sun had even risen on a cold, rainy day in Canberra.

But no one was busier than Prime Minister Julia Gillard who made no fewer than 10 appearances on TV and radio before 9.30am on Wednesday.

Despite her eagerness to talk about the budget's signature items - DisabilityCare Australia ($19.3 billion) and Gonski ($9.8 billion) - the Prime Minister faced question after question about some of the more contentious features of the budget, including the failure to deliver promised surpluses and axing the Baby Bonus.

The Prime Minister was unapologetic about the final measure, which will save $1.1 billion during the next five years, arguing tough decisions were necessary.

"Yes, I am asking people to make choices: Baby Bonus, better school education? I say better school education," she told Sunrise.

On the issue of scrapping the Baby Bonus, which on balance attracted more praise than criticism in the budget wash-up, shadow treasurer Joe Hockey would not be drawn during his myriad interviews whether the Coalition would support the move.

In October Mr Hockey likened Labor's decision to reduce the Baby Bonus to China's one child policy, although there was no similar rhetoric on Wednesday.

He was more interested in talking about the $19.4 billion (2012/13) and $18 billion (2013/14) deficits revealed in the budget on Tuesday.

It was a theme continued by Mr Abbott, who kicked off question time by asking Ms Gillard how anyone could believe the promises contained in the budget.

Mr Abbott, who will deliver his budget-in-reply speech on Thursday night, made reference to the 165 occasions on which Ms Gillard promised to return the budget to surplus - a pledge that was dumped just before Christmas.

Ms Gillard seized the opportunity to criticise Mr Abbott for a comment he made earlier in the day, in which he said there was "no hope in the budget".

"Go out of Parliament House and meet the families of people who are caring for people with disabilities (and) people with disabilities themselves - ask what they think about this budget," Ms Gillard said.

"Go and walk into a classroom and see what a combination of great teaching and new resources can make to a child's life and tell them that there's no hope in this budget."

Earlier Treasurer Wayne Swan used his annual post-budget address to the National Press Club to defend his sixth and possibly final budget.

Mr Swan said he was "proud" of the budget and would happily be judged by it, arguing it "struck the right balance".

"When it comes to this budget, there is a sweet spot between the austerity freaks who say cut away harder, and the Green types who would see the bottom fall out of the budget," Mr Swan said.

"And just like those last five budgets, this one will turn out to be the right strategy at the right time."



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