Hockey Apologizes for Offending Poorest Australians After Rebuke

Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey apologized today for suggesting the nation’s poorest people wouldn’t be hit by an increase in fuel tax because they don’t drive cars, after a rebuke from Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Hockey’s comments earlier this week triggered a wave of negative headlines for the government, which is lagging in opinion polls as it tries to win support for its budget. Abbott, who returned to Australia from a week overseas, distanced himself from Hockey’s comments today, saying “well, plainly, I wouldn’t say 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,” Hockey told 2GB radio today. “I am sorry about that interpretation. I’m sorry about the words.”

Hockey and Abbott are struggling to pass a budget that includes tax increases, spending reductions and job cuts as they bid to tackle a deficit estimated to have swollen to A$49.9 billion ($46.5 billion) in the year to June. The treasurer’s comments that higher fuel taxes affect the rich more than the poor have seen him ridiculed by senators he needs to court to pass the budget in parliament’s upper house.

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