I will fight on: Tony Abbott

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has urged voters not to "stereotype" him, dismissed "shouting from the sidelines" in the new Senate and promised to keep his government's explicit election promises - including the repeal of the carbon tax - as a day of political chaos unfolded in Canberra.

In an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media, Mr Abbott said voters should not pigeonhole him as a defender of the status quo as he invoked the reformist credentials of conservative prime ministers John Howard and Margaret Thatcher.

Mr Abbott's first in-depth interview since the new crossbench took their seats in the Senate came as the government suffered a big setback when the Senate rejected its carbon tax repeal bills.

In Parliament, Clive Palmer insisted on harsh penalties for companies caught withholding price cuts after the abolition of the carbon tax in a move that delayed repeal of the tax and fuelled impressions the government was being dictated to by the crossbenches.

Legislation to repeal the tax was defeated in the Senate on Thursday after the Palmer United Party abandoned the government at the last minute and after the package of bills had been ''guillotined'', meaning they proceeded to a vote even though the majority needed to pass them had evaporated.

The bills, and the Palmer amendment, will return to the Parliament via the House of Representatives on Monday, with the government confident the tax will be repealed at the fourth attempt.

The delay in repealing the tax came as the upper house punched a further $10 billion hole in the government's budget this week.

But a defiant Mr Abbott, fresh from hosting the successful visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, told Fairfax Media his government could still recover some of the billions in budget savings measures blocked by the Senate.

Mr Abbott, who has been under fire for breaking a slew of election promises in his first budget, has seen his personal standing plummet and the Coalition's rating plunge to its lowest level in five years - it trails Labor 47 to 53 per cent.

But the Prime Minister confidently predicted his government would keep its four central commitments - "to scrap the carbon tax, to stop the boats, to build the roads and get the budget back under control".

"There will be a lot of shouting from the sidelines, there will be a lot of colour and movement, there will be a lot of days when learned commentators would like to focus on the circus rather than the substance, but nevertheless I am very confident that all these things will be done,'' he said.

He predicted that, despite another delay in the Senate, the carbon tax would be "buried once and for all''.

He pledged to work as constructively as possible with all members of the crossbench, predicting "continuous conversation" with the crossbench and declining to criticise Mr Palmer, and predicted at least some of his budget could be salvaged.

"The Senate hasn't even begun to consider much of the budget legislation, and I think it would be a big mistake to assume that people's first word is necessarily their last word."

Mr Abbott said his government's post-carbon tax political and economic agenda - which includes white papers on tax and the federation, a Productivity Commission review of the Fair Work Act, likely changes to the welfare system and new national security legislation - added up to an ambitious political agenda before the 2016 election.

He said he should not be seen as a preserver of the status quo and promised "a range of additional policy commitments" before the next election.

"I'm not going to feed the pigeonholing process, which is all too common in our public debate and which I think is much more frequently used to promote heat rather than light," he said.

''I don't think I should be stereotyped . . . Margaret Thatcher was a conservative but she was a reforming conservative. John  Howard was a Conservative but he was a reforming conservative.

''I'm all in favour of change provided change means that our better values are advanced and our country prospers.''

Asked if that meant he was prepared to endure continued electoral unpopularity in the opinion polls, Mr Abbott said he was confident good policy would ultimately amount to good politics for his flagging government.

''You'd always prefer to be doing better rather than worse in the polls, but in the end you are elected to govern the country, you are not elected to worry about the polls,'' he said.

In keeping with his focus on the medium term, Mr Abbott urged the ambitious junior ministers and back bench MPs to be patient about the prospect of future promotion.

''Ambition is a good thing in politics, but the best way to secure a better job is to do your current job as well as you humanly can and fretting about the next job is not the best way to get it,'' he said.



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