Treasurer Joe Hockey has signalled the Abbott government will not back down on the introduction of a GP fee, but the actual price to be paid at the doctor could be up for negotiation in order to push the measure through the parliament.
The government is facing a tough battle to implement its controversial $7 co-payment with Labor and the Greens both indicating they are opposed.
Mr Hockey has stared down his opponents, telling Sky News’ Australian Agenda on Sunday: “I don’t think we should compromise, in order to make the system sustainable we need to have a co-payment.”
Joe Hockey: 'welfare reform is never finished'. Photo: Brendan Esposito
But he indicated there could be some leeway on the government’s preferred $7 fee when asked if the figure was set in stone.
“Well that will be up to the parliament,” he said.
He added that the government had given “a coherent argument” for setting a $7 fee with every dollar to be reinvested in the proposed medical research future fund.
“Now I say to you emphatically, if the independents and the Labor Party want to have a medical research future fund there has to be a co-payment,” Mr Hockey said.
“You cannot have both.”
Mr Hockey has stared down his critics, declaring that he, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and “the team” are “absolutely committed to doing what is right”.
Despite a disastrous two weeks trying to sell his agenda of cuts and reforms to welfare, higher education and Medicare, the Treasurer said on Sunday the government had laid down its best policies and had the courage to see them through “because we must”.
“This is not about popularity, self-evidently it’s not about popularity, it is about doing what is right for the nation,” Mr Hockey told Sky News' Australian Agenda.
“If we do not do this now then the pain in years ahead will be fair greater.”
Mr Hockey said he was undeterred by criticism and the government had years ahead of it to promote its structural reforms.
Despite a collapse in the polls, Mr Hockey expressed his conviction that voters would not accept the Labor opposition and independents blocking parts of the budget in the Senate.
“We’re prepared to negotiate on key issues with the Senate but if the immediate answer of everyone in the Senate is no, then I think the Australian people will have a low, low tolerance for that,” he said.
“They expect their government to be able to get on with its agenda, they also expect that people will be able to sit down and negotiate where appropriate.”
He also indicated there could be further reforms to come to the disability support pension, stating that “welfare reform is never finished” and repeating the government’s desire to see more people move into work.
The Treasurer would not be pushed on whether he would have preferred to have seen Family Tax Benefit B payments abolished altogether and stated simply that the reforms the budget proposed for now are “what is right”.
Mr Hockey was also questioned on the disarray inside the New South Wales Liberal Party and the future of Senator Arthur Sinodinos, who stepped aside as the federal assistant treasurer while he appeared before ICAC.
Despite speculation the government has canvassed possible replacements, Mr Hockey said he was confident Senator Sinodinos would return to the front bench.
“We look forward to Arthur coming back,” he said.