'Should I just die and get out of your way?' Abbott faces voter fury

By Greg Ansley

Tony Abbott winks during a radio phone-in yesterday.
Tony Abbott winks during a radio phone-in yesterday.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has felt widespread Budget anger at first hand, cancelling a visit to a Victorian university yesterday because of student protests.

On talkback radio he fronted calls from outraged voters, including a bitter exchange with a grandmother who said she had already been forced by near-poverty to work on an adult sex phone line.

Facing a A$850 ($915) increase for doctors bills and medication, Gloria told the embattled Prime Minister: "I'm a 67-year-old pensioner with three chronic incurable medical conditions, two life-threatening.

"I just survive on around A$400 a fortnight once I pay my rent and I work on an adult sex line to make ends meet. That's the only way I can do it.

"What do you suggest I cut out, Mr Abbott? Food, electricity, firewood, Christmas and birthday presents to my grandchildren? Or should I just die and get out of your way?"

Abbott, who was filmed during the ABC interview, smiled and winked at host John Faine when Gloria mentioned her occupation. His office later said the wink had been to assure Faine he would take the call rather than a judgment.

But Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Abbott's reaction was poor. "Rather than taking seriously her concerns of poverty and illness he gave a wink and a smirk, and all I have to say to the Prime Minister on this is what a creep. What a total creep."

Other callers, unmoved by Abbott's claims they would be better off because they would keep compensation payments after the carbon tax was scrapped, said he was treating them like idiots, fear-mongering and lying.

Abbott and Education Minister Christopher Pyne were to have visited Deakin University in Geelong yesterday, but on the advice of the federal police they cancelled their appearance.

Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella was last week howled down by protesters during a lecture at Melbourne University and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop was jostled by chanting demonstrators at Sydney's University of Technology and the University of Sydney.

A students' national day of protest drew thousands to demonstrations to challenge the decision to allow universities to charge fees without restraint and to increase rates on student loans while lowering the point at which they need to start paying back the loans.

Faced with protests at Deakin, Abbott said: "Giving the students an excuse for a riot is not actually going to serve that purpose. It was going to take probably up to 50 police off the streets who may have been more useful elsewhere [and] it was going to inconvenience a lot of people."

National Union of Students president Deanna Taylor told AAP the cancellation of the visit was "a bit cowardly".

-AAP

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