Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was involved in heated exchanges with radio callers yesterday over his tough Budget. His critics included a pensioner who works on a sex phone line to pay the bills.

The Liberal Party administration’s first Budget has been widely slammed as too harsh, with students marching in protest around the country and Abbott forced to fend off furious criticism as he attempts to sell it in a media blitz.

As well as federal cuts of A$50 billion (R483bn) to health and A$30bn to education over the next decade, a new tax will be levied on high earners and the pension age will rise to 70 by 2035.

“Mr Abbott, would you like your mother or your grandmother to be in my situation?” a caller named Gloria asked on a Melbourne radio station. “I’m a 67-year-old pensioner with three chronic, incurable medical conditions, two life-threatening.

“I survive on about A$400 (R3 900) a fortnight after I pay rent. I work on an adult sex line to make ends meet. That’s the only way I can do it.”

A video of the call showed Abbott winking at the presenter when the woman revealed she worked on a sex line, although his office claimed it was to signal he was happy to proceed with the call.

“What do you suggest I cut out, Mr Abbott? Food, electricity, Christmas and birthday presents to my grandchildren?” she asked. “Or should we just die and get out of your way?”– Sapa-AFP