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Treasurer Joe Hockey has bluntly warned Australians that the days of governments saving businesses and jobs had passed, telling them, ''the age of entitlement is over, and the age of personal responsibility has begun''.
The tough comments come as the government braces for further requests for public funds from big employers such as Toyota, and as some within the federal cabinet seek more help for farmers.
With a vicious drought gripping Queensland and NSW, Mr Hockey defended existing ''exceptional circumstances'' assistance and called for a proper debate about ''sustainable farming'' including an honest look at the realities of water usage.
In a pointed message to the Coalition's junior partner, the Nationals, who have started agitating for increased drought assistance for beleaguered farmers, a determined Mr Hockey reaffirmed the government's new determination to resist the usual pressures for governments to rescue unviable businesses.
He said the government must look to longer-term challenges.
Barnaby Joyce and other Nationals want a ''rural reconstruction and development bank'' to help farmers conquer boom-bust cycles of drought and the debt overhang it often entailed.
But in a sign the Nationals have a fight on their hands, Mr Hockey appears to be unmoved by such arguments.
''We always look at these things,'' he said of a likely cabinet submission on new forms of rural assistance. ''But I want to emphasise, the problem with debt is - the answer to the problem of debt is not to have more debt, and interest rates historically now are at all-time lows. If people are having problems coping with interest rates now, then there is a bigger systemic issue at play.''
Just days after the cabinet shocked workers at the Shepparton based SPC-Ardmona cannery by refusing a request for $25 million to stay afloat, Mr Hockey also fired a warning shot across the bows of any companies thinking of putting their hands out.
Describing the SPC decision as a signal to the rest of the country that past practice no longer applied, he said it was up to businesses to take all necessary steps to get their own houses in order before the last resort of seeking a government bail-out.
He said SPC Ardmona was part of a very profitable larger company, Coca-Cola Amatil, so it was not appropriate for taxpayers to subsidise bad decisions.
''Even by their own admission, they haven't run it properly. So they came to us, in fact they came to the previous government and asked for help … so taxpayers' money would be buying new plant and equipment in the SPC Ardmona factory so that Coca-Cola Amatil could make a larger profit,'' he said, campaigning in Brisbane for Saturday's Griffith byelection.
Continuing the government's criticism of SPC's generous industrial agreements, he said companies needed to negotiate agreements with their employees that were sustainable for that business.
''Ultimately it comes down to the partnership between employers and employees, and if that is what they negotiate, then please do not come to the government asking for other taxpayers' money when those agreements fail,'' Mr Hockey said. ''I say to you, emphatically, everyone in Australia must do the heavy lifting now.
''The age of entitlement is over. The age of personal responsibility has begun.''
Mr Joyce has trumpeted a new push to increase drought assistance to farmers to avert what he sees as ''a complete and utter financial meltdown'' in the bush.
But after staring down the pressure to lift motor industry assistance to keep Holden in Australia, a decision that ultimately meant the company announced its departure, and last week's SPC rejection, Mr Hockey made clear he intended to win any showdown in cabinet with the Nationals over farm subsidies.
''We need to have a proper debate about sustainable agriculture in Australia,'' he said.
''Importantly, you can't divorce that from water management, which Barnaby Joyce is very astute on; nor can you divorce it from the massive change in global markets for food and food production.''
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten re-entered the industry debate on Monday after a week-long visit to Europe.
He said the decision to rebuff SPC was typical of a government that knew the price of everything but the value of nothing.
''Joe Hockey and [Industrial Relations Minister] Eric Abetz think that manual labour is a Spanish tennis star,'' he said in Shepparton. ''They have never seen a blue collar job they would ever fight for.
''What is the difference between a Cadbury worker in Hobart and a cannery worker in Shepparton? I'll tell you the difference, Shepparton is a safe [Liberal] seat.
''Here is a message to the Abbott government, stop scapegoating people on $60,000 and $70,000 when you are on a quarter of a million.
''What a cheeky bunch they are.''