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Labor does not understand cost of raising children: Abbott

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Abbott baby comment backfires

Was Opposition leader Tony Abbott referring to PM Julia Gillard when he accused the government of inexperience in caring for babies?

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Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says his comments today about the government's inexperience on family matters were not a reference to Prime Minister Julia Gillard's childlessness, but says he will apologise "if she would like me to say sorry''.

Ms Gillard earlier called on Mr Abbott to explain a comment he made, interpreted as a thinly veiled reference to the Prime Minister's lack of children, in the mid-year budget debate.

This followed comments from Treasurer Wayne Swan yesterday when he announced a raft of budget cuts including plans to cut the baby bonus from $5000 to $3000 for the second and each subsequent child.

''We believe that these changes to the baby bonus will bring it more into line with actual costs of having children.  After the first child you've already bought the cot, the pram and other items you can use again,'' Mr Swan explained.

In criticising the government's plans to cut the baby bonus, Mr Abbott told Channel Seven this morning: ''[Often] one child is still in the cot when the other one comes along, one child is still in the pram when the second one comes along, so you actually need to get an extra cot or a double-sized pram.''

In comments that have been been perceived as a reference to Ms Gillard, Mr Abbott added: ''I think if the government was a bit more experienced in this area, they wouldn't come out with glib lines like that.''

This morning, Ms Gillard would not specifically address Mr Abbott's comment.

''I think Mr Abbott can explain what he meant by that line,'' she told ABC Radio.

Following Ms Gillard's response, Mr Abbott explained to Fairfax Radio that his comment referred to his own experience with his daughters Louise and Frances and that he was not in any way referring to the Prime Minister's lack of children.

''If she wants to take offence, of course I'm sorry about that. And if she would like me to say sorry, I'm sorry."

Mr Abbott said he thought "a lot of people" were very ready to read far too much into entirely innocent comments. "And this was as innocent as a comment can be," he said.

Trade Minister Craig Emerson said the Opposition Leader's comment was "curious".

"Mr Abbott does need to explain what he meant by that statement," he told Sky News.

"He was a bit indignant about personality politics over the last few weeks ... but Mr Abbott's back in there making inferences."

Dr Emerson said he and Mr Swan each had several children.

"So what's he [Mr Abbott] really on about to suggest this government isn't experienced at having children?"

Mr Abbott said that his daughters, Louise and Frances, were only 15 months apart and needed a double pram. He also maintained that the Gillard government was "out of touch" when it came to families.

"The idea that you can have second and subsequent children on the cheap is just wrong," Mr Abbott said, adding that Labor should have been upfront about the cuts to the baby bonus when it was discussing its carbon tax compensation.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said Mr Abbott's remarks were not directed at Ms Gillard, but at ''the whole government''.

''If they had more experience on a range of different areas, they would understand the pressures,'' Mr Hockey told reporters in Melbourne.

Mr Hockey accused Labor of being over-sensitive.

''This is pathetic. This whole rhetoric is pathetic,'' he said. ''If we're at the point now where we can't refer to the Government and families in the same breath, surely the debate has got to an absurd point.''

Shadow attorney-general George Brandis said Mr Abbott's comment about inexperience wasn't a personal dig at Ms Gillard.

"You wonder what planet some of these people come from when you have a Treasurer who is able to say ... that the more children you have, the less it costs you," Senator Brandis told Sky News.

But the Prime Minister said the government was making a ''structural save on the baby bonus, that's absolutely true'' for the long-term health of the budget.

Ms Gillard added that the government was working with Australian families on cost of living pressures, citing the example of the Schoolkids Bonus.

The Coalition says it needs more time to consider the government's "vicious and savage" cuts - which also include changes to private health insurance and company tax - but has warned Labor faces a battle ahead to negotiate the changes with the crossbenches.

''I think much of these changes will be opposed by the crossbenches, delayed," manager of opposition business Christopher Pyne told ABC Radio this morning.

Independent Queensland MP Bob Katter does not look likely to support the baby bonus cut. He said he was "tenaciously opposed" to any cuts to the payment.

"Those poor struggling little mothers, they can't get men to shoulder their responsibilities," he said.

But fellow independent Tony Windsor said the baby bonus had been a badly designed policy from the start, arguing there were better ways of helping parents.

Mr Windsor - who along with other independents and the Greens was first briefed about the mid-year budget update last week - told ABC Radio he would now look at the detail of all the mid-year budget measures.

Ms Gillard said the government needed clarity from the opposition on its position.

The Prime Minister said that while the Coalition was full of its usual  negative ''huff and puff'', they had a track record of ending up supporting budget measures in the Parliament.

In light of the public focus on Ms Gillard's ''misogyny'' speech earlier this month, she was asked if she regretted using the term.

Ms Gillard admitted she was a ''bit taken aback by the dimension of the public reaction'' both in Australia and overseas, but said she meant every word of the speech.

''I stand by every word that I put in the Parliament,'' she said.

A Fairfax/Nielsen poll released yesterday found 42 per cent of respondents thought Mr Abbott was sexist, while 17 per cent said the same of the Prime Minister.

with Dan Harrison, AAP

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