Treasurer Joe Hockey has defended a budget speech to the Sydney Institute, saying it is not a sign his government has lost the argument with voters over tough fiscal measures.
As thousands of people joined a union-backed rally in Melbourne to protest against the federal budget, Mr Hockey repeated his assertion the budget was "fair" and again dismissed criticism of his budget strategy as "political in nature".
Thousands attend anti-budget protest
'Bust the budget' was the catch-cry from thousands of workers as they marched through Melbourne's CBD to the Victorian Parliament protesting the federal budget.
In a speech to the Sydney Institute on Wednesday night, the Treasurer said criticism of the budget had drifted into the "class warfare" of the 1970s and opponents were wrong to claim the budget was unfair or disproportionately hurt the poor.
Speaking to reporters in Darwin on Thursday, Mr Hockey was asked whether delivering a speech to argue the budget was fair was a sign the government had already lost the battle to sell it.
"No, no, if I'd lost the argument I wouldn't have delivered the speech," Mr Hockey said.
"The fact is I delivered that speech to prove to the Australian people that the budget is fair, that it provides Australians with a fair go."
Mr Hockey said most people, once they saw the details of the budget, realised they were getting a "fair go" and new opportunities in health, education and infrastructure.
"It is about time, it is about time that the Labor Party start providing an alternative," he said.
He accused Opposition Leader Bill Shorten of returning to the "failed tax policies" of the previous government "as a way of providing some form of alternative to the budget".
"Can I say to Mr Shorten, all of those initiatives that the previous government announced which we have abandoned were undeliverable," Mr Hockey said.
Mr Shorten on Thursday accused the Treasurer on dividing Australians into "lifters" and "leaners''.
''Labor and I reject the cynicism that divides Australia into the so-called lifters - successful businessmen, Coalition ministers, conservative media commentators - and the leaners - the disabled, the disabled pensioners, the people going to the doctor, the fixed-income pensioners and families with children between six and 16 receiving modest payments,'' he said.
In Melbourne, thousands have marched in a "Bust the Budget" rally against hardline budget measures.''They say cutback, we say fight back,'' the protesters chanted.