G20 leaders have been urged to show courage in pushing ahead with economic reform even if it means facing some political pain.
Mr Abbott, who chaired the first day of the global summit in Brisbane on Saturday, told leaders including US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping of his “massively difficult” problems in convincing the Senate to pass the GP co-payment and university fee deregulation.
The Group of 20 leaders are set to endorse a commitment for each country to pursue measures to help add 2.1 per cent over five years to collective economic growth and create jobs when the summit wraps up in Brisbane on Sunday.
Australia’s plan includes a number of measures announced in the May federal budget, many of which remain stranded in the Senate.
“Getting the budget under control has proven extremely difficult,” Mr Abbott told the leaders gathered in the Queensland parliament’s old upper house chamber.
He even raised the coalition’s stalled plan to impose a $7 co-payment on a visit to the doctor, saying in most countries a co-payment was “not unusual”.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Mr Abbott’s opening remarks to the summit were “weird and graceless”.
“This was Tony Abbott’s moment in front of the most important and influential leaders in the world and he’s whingeing that Australians don’t want his GP tax,” Mr Shorten said.
However, the leaders acknowledged Mr Abbott’s point about the tension between policy and politics.
One called for closer work between politicians and business and industry groups to come up with a “strong reform narrative”, according to officials who were present at the closed-door leaders’ session that followed.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was crucial the leaders followed through on their individual growth commitments to ensure the economic target was met by 2018.
“The G20 countries possess not only the political power to set us on a better course, but the political responsibility to do so,” he said.
Mr Ban also emphasised creating “decent” jobs and tackling climate change as his two summit priorities.
While Australia has not made climate change a formal part of the 2014 G20 agenda, the final communique is expected to call on leaders to make clear their new carbon emission reduction targets before the Paris climate summit in December 2015.
The Business 20 (B20) and International Monetary Fund have already presented advice on reforms to boost infrastructure investment, trade, competition and employment.
Mr Abbott will meet US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday morning to discuss strengthening defence ties.
Sunday’s first plenary session will finalise work on tax and financial regulatory reforms.
Another session will examine energy policy while the final working lunch will return to the issue of growth, before Mr Abbott releases the final communique mid-afternoon.
China will be named as the host of the 2016 summit, following Turkey’s presidency in 2015.