Abbott's divide and conquer strategy with the states

PRIME Minister Tony Abbott seems to be pursuing a divide-and-conquer strategy to negotiate with the states over $80 billion of budget cuts to education and health funding.

But Mr Abbott, whose personal popularity plunged in two polls released on Monday, has faced a united front from state premiers who feel abandoned by his government's first budget.

After a war council in Sydney on Saturday, state premiers have strengthened their calls for Canberra to help pay the bills for schools and hospitals funding.

Key to the push has been Premier Campbell Newman, who said Queensland pensioners stood to lose up to $50 million in concessions from July this year.

Mr Newman also called on Queenslanders to lobby their own federal Coalition MPs over the cuts to schools and education, saying he was already "giving an earful" to federal politicians.

But Mr Abbott said on Monday that Mr Newman was "a friend of mine", and premiers were fighting for their corner, but his role was "to fight the nation's corner".

While the state premiers, except Western Australia, presented a united front; Mr Abbott on Sunday said he would continue to negotiate "individually", rather than sit down with all state leaders together.

The budget, which has essentially shifted the costs of schools and hospitals to state governments from 2019, will start to impact on services from July, premiers argue.

Mr Newman claimed the immediate cost of the $80 billion funding cut could be 1200 hospital beds across the state, and despite Mr Abbott's assurances, it would hit services this year.

The state government attack came as the Abbott government faced the worst polling result after a federal budget in almost two decades on Monday.

Both Newspoll and Nielsen polls came in at 36% on primary vote and 45% on the two party preferred stakes, respectively, in a sign that voters have not accepted the government's budget defence.

Those results followed what was seen as the shortest "electoral honeymoon" of an incoming government in recent memory, when Coalition support plunged after the September election.

Mr Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey reiterated that the cuts were not made to "be popular", but for the good of the Commonwealth's finances and the public.

The Prime Minister also refused to accept the premise of questions on Monday about whether the cuts to the states were a political move to make premiers raise the GST.

"What the premiers seek is ultimately a matter for the premiers, individually and collectively," he said.

But both Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Greens Leader Senator Christine Milne said the budget was one of "broken promises", and Sen Milne said the cuts were a "back-door approach" to increase the GST.

Mr Abbott also intimated he was open to more talks with Senate crossbenchers in Canberra, in a bid to pass key budget measures, including the controversial GP co-payments.

He said on Monday he was "looking forward" to the negotiations, despite last week issuing a challenge for a double dissolution election if they blocked the changes.



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