Former federal Labor leader Mark Latham has ridiculed claims that a family earning $250,000 a year in Sydney's west could be classified as "struggling", saying he had lived in the area on that amount and it was "paradise".
Mr Latham poured scorn on Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon's definition of what constitutes a wealthy Australian, saying the former chief whip had proved last week that he was "not very good with numbers" during the botched move against Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Mark Latham: says Joel Fitzgibbon is "not good with numbers". Photo: Quentin Jones
In comments that have ignited debate about wealth in Australia, Mr Fitzgibbon told Fairfax Media that he was concerned about the prospect of taxing the superannuation earnings of the wealthy.
"In Sydney's west you can be on a quarter of a million dollars family income a year and you're still struggling," Mr Fitzgibbon said.
"Coal miners in my electorate earning 100, 120, 130, 140 thousand dollars a year are not wealthy."
"You can be on a quarter of a million dollars family income a year and you're still struggling": Joel Fitzgibbon. Photo: Brockwell Perks
He said he would consider changes to the taxing of superannuation at the "very, very, very high end" but would not brook changes that affect "ordinary people like my coal miners living in the Hunter".
But Mr Latham hit back at those claims in an interview with 2UE on Thursday, saying Mr Fitzgibbon clearly was out of touch with the living costs of Australians.
Mr Latham said he and his family had lived recently in Sydney's west on $250,000 a year, and it was far from a struggle.
"It's paradise effectively," Mr Latham said.
"On that level of income in Sydney's west you can buy a house, get the kids a good education, have the odd overseas trip, you know, eat out every now and then, go to the cinema, do all the things that you want to do as a family."
Mr Latham told 2UE's Paul Murray: "We found out with Joel this time last week he's not very good with numbers, Paul, not very good with numbers."
"He was telling journalists that by now Kevin Rudd would be Australia's prime minister. He was going to win a leadership ballot. Rudd would have lost that ballot 60 votes to 40," Mr Latham said.
With the budget approaching, Labor needs to find billions of dollars to pay for programs such as the school funding reforms and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The Prime Minister has refused to rule out the prospect of taxing the superannuation earnings of the wealthy.
Asked about the debate over what constitutes a "wealthy" family in Australia, Ms Gillard said on Thursday "I don't think you can nominate one figure".
"Families are in all different sorts of circumstances, facing different sorts of living pressures. We understand that," she said.
Mr Fitzgibbon's dissenting comments follow those of former resources minister Martin Ferguson, who said Labor needed to stop waging a "class war", and former minister for regional Australia Simon Crean, who said raising taxes on superannuation would amount to "trashing" Labor's brand.
All three men sacrificed their jobs last week by supporting Kevin Rudd as leader over Ms Gillard.
When asked about Mr Fitzgibbon's comments on Thursday, Trade Minister Craig Emerson said that he was "not going to get into a debate with Joel [Fitzgibbon] about whether $250,000 is the right line or the wrong line".
The important thing, he told ABC radio, was that the government ensured a sustainable fiscal position for the next 20 years.
With Jonathan Swan