Treasurer Joe Hockey has delivered a grovelling apology for suggesting the “poorest people either don't have cars or actually don't drive very far” and that the government’s proposed fuel excise increase was a progressive tax measure.
Mr Hockey had initially stood by the comments he had made on Brisbane radio on Wednesday, stating he was sorry if they had been callous but insisting he had statistical evidence on his side.
But in an embarrassing rebuke for the Treasurer, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday that “Well plainly, I wouldn't say that" before adding the Treasurer had his full support.
Senior front bench colleague Christopher Pyne also said on Friday that Mr Hockey had his “full support” six times, but then declined six times to back Mr Hockey's inflammatory comments.
Mr Hockey told his close friend and 2GB broadcaster Ben Fordham on Friday that: “I am really genuinely sorry that there is any suggestion, any suggestion at all that I or the government does not care for the most disadvantaged in the community.”
“I’m sorry about the interpretation, I am sorry about the words.
“All of my life I have fought for and tried to help the most disadvantaged people in the community.
"For there to be some suggestion that I have evil in my heart when it comes to the most disadvantaged people in the community is upsetting.
"But it’s more upsetting for those people in the community. So I want to make it perfectly clear to the community that if there’s any suggestion that I don’t care about you or that I have evil intent toward you, I want to say that couldn’t be further from the truth and I’m sorry for the hurt."
Mr Hockey conceded that his government’s message about the need for budget repair had been lost because of his misstep.
“We are trying to deliver a plan for the nation that ensures that those most disadvantaged get the very best we as a community can offer. I’m trying to make the healthcare system sustainable, I’m trying to make the welfare system sustainable and the education system the best it can be,’’ he said.
“You can only do that through what we are trying to do in the budget but it has been lost in the last few days and I’m sorry.”
“My feelings on this don’t matter, I don’t want to be in a position where I am upsetting the most disadvantaged people in the community because I am trying to everything I can, the government is trying to do everything it can to help those people.”
"In the case of fuel excise, I am sorry the words came out like they did but we are trying to lay down the best road program that helps families, the most disadvantaged, that helps lift the economy and create jobs, we can only pay that with an increase in the fuel excise of on average 40c a week,’’ he said.
“But it has been lost over the last few days and I’m sorry about that.”
Mr Hockey said he wanted to get on with the job of explaining to Australians the Coalition government was focused on buifling a more prosperous and caring nation.
"What has been said can't be unsaid. I can only apologise for any hurt I have caused."
The Treasurer said he had not been asked to make the appearance or the apology.
‘‘I thought about it this morning and I thought I don’t want to hurt people and the words were clearly hurting some people.”