Joe Hockey
"If the Senate chooses to block savings initiatives,
then we need to look at other savings initiatives that may not require
legislation": Treasurer Joe Hockey. Photo: Ken Irwin

Joe Hockey's threat to bypass the Senate by ordering spending
cuts outside of parliamentary approval has touched off a new Labor
scare campaign and sparked concerns within the government over the
Treasurer's judgment.

With voters offside and crossbench senators showing no signs
of complying with unpopular budget measures, some Liberals complained
that the Treasurer's move had ''predictably'' brought the opposite
effect, branding his threat to cut other spending ''unwise''.

[The threat] was a gift to Labor ... It was an own goal. 

They revealed Mr Hockey's move had not been part of the
agreed government strategy for the day, which had been to press the
opposition exclusively on the carbon tax repeal.

One senior figure asked why Mr Hockey had seen fit to open up
another front. ''It was a gift to Labor … they did what you would do in
that case and started picking us off, demanding that we say where the
cuts will be. We would've done the same; it was an own goal,'' the
frontbencher said.

Another long-time Liberal said the budget was in trouble
because it lacked consistency, with the ''only unifying thing being how
it has unified our enemies''.

The complaints came after Mr Hockey used a series of
interviews on Wednesday to toughen the budget rhetoric. ''If the Senate
chooses to block savings initiatives, then we need to look at other
savings initiatives that may not require legislation,'' he said.

Opposition frontbenchers immediately capitalised on the
threat, issuing multiple press releases on a portfolio by portfolio
basis, challenging the government to expressly rule out further cuts to
services such as health, education, social services and foreign aid.

''Australia's dedicated carers are already facing a real cut
to their modest payments in this budget - with ongoing uncertainty and
continued anxiety because of government's McClure review of the welfare
system,'' opposition spokeswoman for carers and communities Claire
Moore said in a statement typical of other areas. ''Joe Hockey needs to
rule out cutting even more support from our carers.''

In question time Labor called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott
to rule out adopting harsh aspects of its recent commission of audit
report such as an even higher GP co-payment of $15 a visit, the
calculation of the family home in the pension assets test, the scrapping
altogether of family tax benefit (part B), and cuts to hospitals and

Amid the concerns over ill-discipline and mixed messaging,
new Liberal senator James McGrath has set out a radical libertarian
program in his maiden speech, calling for the GST rate to rise to 15 per
cent, federal health and education departments to be abolished and the
ABC to be sold if it fails to address perceived left-wing bias.

But new Liberal Democratic senator David Leyonhjelm called on
his colleagues to recognise the seriousness of the budget challenge and
pass savings measures.

He said Mr Hockey's warning to Labor, the Greens and the
crossbench about going around them was, in his view, clearly directed at
the PUP. ''I think that he is signalling most strongly to the PUP
senators that they are aiming to block all the savings but we have got a
budget problem.''