Brutal question: ‘Isn’t that desperate?’
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has been challenged over the government's plan to give $285 million in handouts to Aussies struggling to pay power bills.
The government announced this morning it would provide one-off payments to 3.9 million Australians - $75 for singles and $125 for couples - to help cope with skyrocketing electricity prices.
Channel 9 political editor Chris Uhlmann took Mr Frydenberg to task over the payments on the Today show this morning
"You are going to be sending out cheques in the mail to help with the power prices. Isn't that looking a little desperate?" Uhlmann asked.
"This is acknowledgment that there are cost-of-living pressures and this support is going to go to around four million Australian, pensioners, aged pensioners and those on the disability support pension, people who are on care payment, single parents payments and veteran payments," Mr Frydenberg replied.
When challenged on whether the government should instead be focused on lowering power prices, Mr Frydenberg said the two approaches were "not mutually exclusive".
"This is money going to go into people's pockets to help meet the cost of their next power bill. At the same time we are taking action to reduce energy prices," he said.
"Last year, we saw prices come down in July. On 1 January we saw standing offers come down by around 15 per cent and then from 1 July we are putting in place a default price … We have seen prices come down as a result of the actions we have taken.
"We are underwriting new generation, we are building Snowy 2.0, we have more gas in the market and we have taken on the energy networks."
Mr Frydenberg denied the payments were a "cash splash".
"This is responsible targeted spending into key areas that lifts the productive capacity of the economy," he said.
"We are all about creating jobs and our record shows we have delivered on our commitment to create more than a million new jobs ahead of schedule."
Uhlmann asked whether there would be any more "cheques in the mail" in Tuesday's federal Budget.
Mr Frydenberg joked that Australians would need to "turn off MAFS" and turn on the Budget at 7.30pm on Tuesday to find out.
"This Budget is focused on growing the economy so we can secure a better future for all Australians and to repair the nations finances given we were left enormous debt by Labor," he added.
Uhlmann also challenged Mr Frydenberg on the government's leadership instability over the past six years.
Uhlmann: "Would you say you had been a good government?"
Uhlmann: "Why have you had three prime ministers?"
Mr Frydenberg repeatedly dodged the question about why the Liberals had changed leaders so many times, instead pointing to the government's record on job creation, school and hospital funding and boosting defence spending.
Uhlmann continued to push the point, asking why Mr Frydenberg was facing a close fight in his own seat of Kooyong in Melbourne's inner east.
"I am asking you to score your own government on the one measure that everyone knows - three prime ministers. Why would a treasurer be facing a threat in his own safe seat if you have been such a safe government?" Uhlmann asked.
"We don't take any seat for granted when it comes to the next election and that is obviously what every side of politics should do as well," Mr Frydenberg said.
"But when it comes to our achievements, it is our jobs record, it is the fact that in this Budget we will be delivering the first surplus in over a decade. That is a very significant achievement.
"We are paying back Labor's debt for the first time since Peter Costello paid back Labor's debt too … The fundamental point is that we are delivering a strong economy and that the economy now faces some head winds and the Australian people can trust us to secure them a better future with more jobs and better services and repairing the nations finances."
Mr Frydenberg will hand down his first Budget on Tuesday night.