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Hockey's car crash

Treasurer Joe Hockey has been forced to apologise for suggesting the "poorest people either don't have cars or actually don't drive very far" after Prime Minister Tony Abbott and cabinet colleague Christopher Pyne distanced themselves from the comments.

Saying he had ''no evil intent'', Mr Hockey used the words ''sorry'' and ''apologise'' eight times in an interview with friend and 2GB broadcaster Ben Fordham on Friday. Hours earlier, Mr Abbott distanced himself from the comments, saying: ''Well plainly, I wouldn't say that.''

Fairfax Media revealed on Friday that Mr Hockey's colleagues and political allies had rounded on him and were questioning his judgment and the quality of advice he has been receiving, while the Treasurer has also been subject to more than 48 hours of sustained criticism from the opposition, welfare groups and economists.

Finally, the pressured Treasurer completely withdrew the comments in an interview with ABC Brisbane. In an emotional backdown, Mr Hockey said he was ''really genuinely sorry that there is any suggestion, any suggestion at all that I or the government does not care for the most disadvantaged in the community".

"I'm sorry about the interpretation, I am sorry about the words,'' he said. "All of my life I have fought for and tried to help the most disadvantaged people in the community … for there to be some suggestion that I have evil in my heart when it comes to the most disadvantaged people in the community is upsetting.

''But it's more upsetting for those people in the community. So I want to make it perfectly clear … that if there's any suggestion that I don't care about you or that I have evil

intent towards you, I want to say that couldn't be further from the truth and I'm sorry for the hurt.''

The Treasurer said he had not been asked to make the apology. ''I thought about it this morning and I thought I don't want to hurt people and the words were clearly hurting some people,'' he said.

Mr Hockey conceded that his government's message about the need for budget repair had been lost because of his misstep. "We are trying to deliver a plan for the nation that ensures that those most disadvantaged get the very best we as a community can offer. I'm trying to make the healthcare system sustainable, I'm trying to make the welfare system sustainable and the education system the best it can be,'' he said.

"You can only do that through what we are trying to do in the budget but it has been lost in the last few days and I'm sorry."

Mr Abbott and frontbench colleague Mr Pyne had both offered their ''full support'' to Mr Hockey on Friday. But in an interview conducted before the apology, Mr Pyne had declined to endorse the gaffe six times.

The political misstep had effectively derailed Mr Hockey's attempts over the past two weeks to win support from members of the Senate crossbench for a series of structural reforms contained in the budget, including cuts to health and education, pension changes, the $7 GP co-payment and the resumption of fuel excise indexation.

About $40 billion in proposed savings and revenue measures are yet to be passed by the upper house.

Labor treasury spokesman Chris Bowen said Mr Hockey's initial gaffe had not been a mistake.

''The Treasurer did repeated interviews backing them in, calling those who criticised his comments 'hypocrites','' he said.

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