Tony Abbott has confirmed plans to axe the Schoolkids Bonus, with the Opposition Leader including the decision in a set speech against the advice of a senior staffer.
The $1.23 billion Gillard government scheme provides families with $410 for each child in primary school and $820 for each child in high school, a program it argues helps with education costs.
Mr Abbott's address to the National Press Club on Thursday followed the leaking of an internal email trail showing his interest in being seen as a ''good bloke''.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott addresses the National Press Club in Canberra on Thursday. Photo: Andrew Meares
News Ltd reported the email trail showed that Mr Abbott was set to announce the axing of a major government program, but a senior adviser urged him to drop it, describing it as ''a really bad idea''.
''I'd like to see more of the 'vision thing','' media adviser Andrew Hirst reportedly told Mr Abbott in reply to a draft of the speech.
In his speech, Mr Abbott said the Coalition would release its costings "after the government releases theirs – after the Budget and before polling day".
“It won’t be easy to find the savings to fund tax cuts without a carbon tax but we won’t shirk the hard decisions, such as being up front with people that the Schoolkids Bonus will go – because it’s a cash splash with borrowed money that has nothing to do with education,” Mr Abbott told the audience.
Mr Abbott later confirmed his discussion with Mr Hirst had been about whether to announce the axing of the Schoolkids Bonus, but noted the decision was ultimately included in the speech.
“At the risk of dobbing on my principal press secretary, we did have a discussion via email,” Mr Abbott said in response to questions.
“It [the Schoolkids Bonus] is not going to happen under a Coalition government because it's a cash splash with borrowed money that has nothing to do with education.”
The Gillard government says the Schoolkids Bonus goes to 1.3 million Australian families with children at school. It is available to families receiving Family Tax Benefit Part A plus young people in school receiving Youth Allowance and some other income support and veterans’ payments.
The Coalition has previously flagged its opposition to the Schoolkids Bonus in its current form, arguing its preference for the old system where families had to provide receipts to be reimbursed for education expenses.
In his Press Club speech, Mr Abbott pitched his credentials as a future prime minister, highlighting his diverse experiences away from executive government, but the speech was light on new policies.
''As a cabinet minister for seven years and leader of the House of Representatives for six, I have a fairly typical politician's resume,'' he said.
''Along the way, though, I've been a concrete plant manager as well as a Rhodes Scholar, a footy coach as well as a journalist, a nipper parent, as well as a political adviser.''
He also referred to his wife Margie's Girl Guide work and time serving on a local school committee before talking about his work as a volunteer.
''I cherish my time on patrol with the Queenscliff surf club and with the local brigade - not just for the community service - but because working with people without a political agenda helps to keep politicians grounded in the real world,'' he said.
In internal emails, Mr Abbott reportedly argued that the speech contained enough material to stay on message after the release of a glossy campaign booklet on Sunday.
According to News Ltd, Mr Abbott said the address contained enough personal stories ''for the commentariat to say . . . yes he is a good bloke, and yes he is more fair dinkum''.
Opposition media advisers did not respond to calls seeking comment.
But Trade Minister Craig Emerson seized on the leak, saying Mr Abbott should take the opportunity during his address to explain what he wanted to cut.
''Three-word slogans are not a substitute for policy,'' Mr Emerson said.
''Mr Abbott wants to put his image first and policy last.''
Mr Abbott told the Press Club audience that the Coalition had been listening to the Australian people for the past two years.
''Our vision for Australia is about you.''
The Opposition Leader - who is known for his high work rate - said: ''Since the last election, I've visited 215 businesses, I've held 43 community forums, and I've hosted 33 morning teas.''
In the speech, Mr Abbott reiterated the Coalition's previous commitments to ditch the carbon and mining taxes, ''stop the boats'' and return the budget to surplus.
He resisted pressure to release further details of the Coalition's policies.
''The government thinks that by announcing September 14 as the polling day, it can force the Coalition to announce all our policy detail now. The Coalition will release our costings after the government releases theirs - after the budget and before polling day.''
Mr Abbott also moved to address concerns that he has a ''woman problem''.
''I want the best possible life for my three daughters,'' he said. ''I want it to be easier for them than it was for Margie to have a family and to keep a career.''
Referring to his commitment to the Coalition's paid parental leave scheme, he said he had a ''convert's zeal''.
''I deeply respect women's choices, including the choice to work entirely in the home, but the reality for the overwhelming majority of families, is that they need more than just one income to get by.''
Mr Abbott reaffirmed that if he won the election but the Senate would not allow him to repeal the carbon tax, he would then call a double-dissolution election.
He said a Coalition government would have ''the clearest possible mandate to repeal the carbon tax'' and he did not think Labor ''would want to lose election after election'' by resisting the axing of the carbon pricing scheme.
''I doubt very much that a Labor party which has lost an election which is a referendum on a carbon tax that would wish to perpetuate a long period in opposition by mindlessly rejecting the people's verdict,'' Mr Abbott said.
Mr Abbott played down suggestions he would reshuffle his current senior team if the Coalition formed government, saying he could not think of a single member of his frontbench who was not doing a good job.
"I think all of them can expect to go into government in their current positions," he said.
Mr Abbott's speech comes a day after Prime Minister Julia Gillard fronted the National Press Club to reveal September 14 as the election date.
Ms Gillard and senior ministers have repeatedly called on the opposition to spell out costed policies and explain what programs would be cut.
But the government is also yet to reveal significant savings to fund major plans including school funding reform and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
At Wednesday's address to the National Press Club, Ms Gillard said the government would announce ''substantial new structural savings'' in the lead up to and in the May budget.
The Prime Minister did not outline new savings but pointed to previous decisions including savings on tax breaks for golden handshakes and the means testing of the private health insurance rebate.
Mr Emerson brushed off questions over why Ms Gillard had not spelled out specific savings, saying the speech did outline the government's plans including to boost productivity.
He said the government had already outlined significant savings over its past five years in office and would do so again.
Mr Abbott on Wednesday said he was ready for the election, but signalled costed policies would not be released until after the May budget when the state of the nation's finances was known.