Labor is confident the Abbott government is gearing up for its first broken election promise, and is fanning speculation that pensioners could lose out in the May budget.
With the budget only three weeks away, the government is fending off claims that it’s considering hiking the retirement age to 70, and could be tightening the rules around disability support payments.
The government insists it will maintain a genuine safety net for those who need it and says it isn’t planning on walking away from its election commitments.
But the opposition is zeroing in on Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s pre-election pledge that no changes to pensions would be made under his government.
“That is a whale of a promise that Tony Abbott is about to break,” federal opposition leader Bill Shorten told reporters in Melbourne on Monday.
“If the Abbott government wants to make other changes (to pensions), he should have that conversation with the Australian people and put it to an election to be decided.”
Mr Abbott has reportedly ruled out tinkering with the asset test for wealthier Australians on a part-pension, because any change could amount to a broken promise.
But shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh said the prime minister had been unwilling to revisit his broader pledge to leave pensions untouched because the budget was proving hard to balance.
“In manufacturing the budget crisis, they’ve now put themselves in a position where they’re really going to struggle to meet their election promises,” he told Sky News on Monday.
The government won’t confirm the rumours about the retirement age, and has only stated it would rather see younger Australians in work earning an income than receiving disability support.
Parliamentary secretary to the Treasurer Steve Ciobo said repairing the budget would be tough, but they wouldn’t walk away from their election promises like their predecessors.
“We will honour our election commitments,” he told Sky News on Monday.
Labor is also ramping up its attack on the prime minister’s paid parental leave scheme, calling the $5.5 billion an “unnecessary extravagance” and evidence of the government’s “twisted priorities”.
“This is a government that are looking to make cuts to areas that affect the most vulnerable in our community, whilst they look after the most wealthy,” Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese told reporters in Perth on Monday.
The government has rejected criticisms of the scheme as scaremongering and class politics.