Labor says budget needs boot not reboot

Crossbencher John Madigan questions whether Joe Hockey has empathy for less well off Australians. (AAP)

The opposition says the government's budget is a stinker and should be given the boot, not a reboot.

The federal government has been urged to do a budget reboot, but Labor says what the budget really needs is the boot and Treasurer Joe Hockey a boot up the backside.

Even assistant immigration minister Michaelia Cash acknowledged it hadn't been a great week for selling the budget and events of the last few days were "an unfortunate distraction."

That relates to Mr Hockey's comment that indexing the price of fuel would not affect poor people because they didn't own cars or, if they did, didn't drive far.

Criticism was immediate and widespread and on Friday, Mr Hockey proffered an abject apology.

With the government still struggling to sell the budget to a sceptical community, well-regarded Howard government treasurer Peter Costello suggested it should "reboot the whole argument."

The government should dump measures unlikely to pass the Senate and bring forward the next inter-generational report to highlight long-term pressures on government spending, he said.

Labor employment spokesman Brendan O'Connor said the government had been unable to sell the budget because it was intrinsically unfair, highlighted by Mr Hockey's callous disregard for those who would feel the impact of increasing petrol prices.

"The reason why they're failing - although salesmanship is part of it - is because the budget is a stinker," he told Sky News.

"The budget needs the boot, not a reboot. Perhaps a Treasurer needs a boot up the backside too for his comments on poorer Australians."

Similarly, Labor finance spokesman Tony Burke said rebooting a computer meant it turned off, then came back exactly the same.

"We don't need to see a budget in reboot. We need to see the current priorities abandoned and for the government to start again," he told reporters in Sydney.

Senator Cash said Mr Hockey faced a tough job with a budget intended to bring down debt and deficit.

She said in the government faced a hostile Senate during its first 10 months.

"What we've seen with the new Senate is that it is prepared to acknowledge the mandate issues the government has been given and we have already got down to business," she said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said without changing policy settings, Australia would be borrowing $3 billion a month just to pay the debts run up by Labor.

"We do need to bring the budget back to balance. This budget does bring our budget back to balance within four years," he told reporters in Lithgow.

"It is a sensible and proportionate response to the dire fiscal situation we were left."