The Federal Government has attacked Tony Abbott for heading “the most obstructionist Opposition in 30 years”, accusing him of economic sabotage and threatening payments to families.
In the wake of the Coalition’s announcement that it would establish a 26-week paid parental leave scheme, Mr Abbott will not say whether the Coalition will support the Government’s own plan, which is due to start next year.
And Mr Abbott is under fire for the Coalition’s refusal to pass several key budget measures, including changes to the private health insurance rebate and youth allowance.
The Opposition has also twice scuttled the Government’s emissions trading scheme and says it will block legislation for the structural separation of Telstra.
Government ministers Jenny Macklin, Penny Wong, Lindsay Tanner, Nicola Roxon and Stephen Conroy fronted a media conference today to brand Mr Abbott as a “just say no” leader who is jeopardising the country’s economic recovery.
They say the Coalition has blocked 41 bills in the past year, which is four times as many as any other Opposition in the past 30 years.
Families Minister Ms Macklin says Mr Abbott is threatening the country’s first ever paid parental leave scheme, which is offering mothers 18 weeks of pay at the minimum wage.
“This would be an enormous blow to Australian families who have been waiting decades for the introduction of a paid parental leave scheme,” she said.
When asked today if the Opposition would support the Government’s scheme Mr Abbott said: “We will be supporting our policy, not the Government’s policy.”
“I think the interesting challenge for the Government is whether they will vote down our parental leave scheme in favour of their Mickey Mouse scheme,” he continued.
“The best way to move forward is for the Parliament to support the scheme that the Coalition embraced yesterday.”
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says Mr Abbott will be punishing young families if he blocks the paid parental leave scheme.
“I would urge Mr Abbott to take a more constructive approach,” he said.
“If Mr Abbott blocks this critical measure of paid parental leave in the Senate just just to make a political point, the people who will suffer from this are working families.”
Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner has urged Mr Abbott to re-think his approach.
“Every time the Liberal Opposition blocks a major budget initiative in the Senate they do damage to that overall package,” he said.
“Tony Abbott’s vandalism in the Senate is a threat to Australia’s economic recovery.
“His irresponsibility in the Senate shows that he and the Liberal Party cannot be trusted to manage Australia’s economy.”
Mr Tanner said it was one thing to act as a “house of review”, but another to “sabotage a broad economic and fiscal strategy”.
The Government now has two double dissolution triggers after the changes to the private health insurance rebate were blocked for the second time last night.
Ms Roxon says the Coalition has now blown a $2 billion hole in the budget.
Greens Leader Bob Brown says Mr Rudd is angling for an early election but he instead needs to learn how to deal with the Senate.
“If you’re going get good outcomes in the Senate, you need a Government that is engaged from the top and I don’t see that happening yet,” he said.
“I do think the Prime Minister has got to recognise that the Senate is an equal house under the constitution.”
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon says Mr Rudd must negotiate more.
“The Prime Minister needs to chose whether he wants to legislate or dictate,” he said.
“The fact is there hasn’t been much negotiation or much dialogue.”
Opposition Senate leader Nick Minchin says the Government’s claims are “a bit rich”.
“They voted against everything at every opportunity [in Opposition],” he said.