Australian PM makes final major campaign pitch
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has made his final major campaign pitch to revive his Labor Party’s chances at elections this week, promising tax breaks for small businesses and more work for local contractors on infrastructure projects if his government is re-elected for a third term.
Rudd officially launched his center-left party’s campaign in his hometown of Brisbane on Sunday. It is the capital of Queensland, a battleground state for swing seats that will decide the election Sept. 7.
Rudd — who was dumped as prime minister by his own government colleagues in 2010, only to regain the top job in a similar leadership wrangle in June — dismissed opinion polls that show opposition leader Tony Abbott’s conservative coalition is headed for a clear victory.
“I’ve been in tougher spots than this and have come from behind before,” Rudd told his audience of party faithful.
“For those who say the fight is up, I say: ‘You haven’t seen anything yet,’” he added.
The opposition has framed the election as a referendum on the carbon tax paid by Australia’s worst greenhouse-gas polluters, which Abbot has promised to abolish.
Rudd’s government argues the election is about the “wrong priorities” a conservative government would implement, including a policy of paying mothers up to 75,000 Australian dollars ($67,000) for six months’ maternity leave regardless of how wealthy they are.
Labor has ruled for almost six years under the leaderships of Rudd and the deputy who replaced him for three years, Julia Gillard. He said the end of an Australian mining boom, bankrolled by China, demands new policies that only Labor can provide to diversify the slowing economy.
Among election promises announced Sunday, Rudd said a Labor government would increase tax deductions that 3.2 million small businesses could claim on equipment investment. The pledge would cost the government AU$200 million over four years in lost tax revenue.
The government would also create between AU$156 million and AU$624 million in additional work for Australian industry a year by legislating to ensure that infrastructure projects worth more than AU$300 million engage more local contractors.
The government is under fire over debt left created by stimulus spending that kept Australia out of recession during the global economic crisis. The government’s efforts to deliver a surplus budget have been frustrated by the Chinese industrial slowdown, which has hurt the mining sector, slowing the economy and dampening company tax revenues.
While polls show Rudd remains a more popular choice of leader than Abbott, Labor’s popularity lags below that of the opposition coalition.
Rudd’s return to the leadership after his party dumped deeply unpopular Gillard brought a surge in Labor’s polling, but Rudd has failed to maintain that momentum through the campaign.
Rudd has blamed negative coverage from News Corp., which owns 70 percent of Australia’s newspapers.
Sydney’s The Sunday Telegraph, Australia’s largest circulating newspaper which is owned by News Corp, filled its front page with a photograph of Abbott and the headline: “Australia Needs Tony.”
“It seems an understatement to observe that the Labor-led government of the past six years has been a grave disappointment,” the newspaper’s editorial said.
“Another three years of Labor would be an unmitigated disaster,” it added.
The Sun-Herald, the newspaper’s rival in Australia’s biggest city owned by Australia’s second-largest newspaper publisher, Fairfax Media, echoed the call for a change of government.
“They’ve been negative, incoherent, incohesive and — worst of all — uninspiring,” The Sun-Herald editorial said.
“So Tony Abbott and his mostly men in blue ties should ascend to power, by default rather than ability,” it added.
Fairfax last month said News Corps.’s anti-Labor stance was because New Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch opposes the government’s AU$37.4 billion high-speed fiber-optic national broadband network, or NBN, which is being rolled out across the country.
Fairfax reported that the NBN threatened the business model of Murdoch’s most important Australian asset, the Foxtel cable TV monopoly, which is jointly owned by News Corp. and Telstra Corp.
It’s a theory that Rudd endorses and that News Corp. denies, saying in a statement “any suggestion that the editorial position of our newspapers is based upon the commercial interests of Foxtel demonstrates a complete ignorance of both our business and of Foxtel.”
But Murdoch makes no secret of his preferred election outcome.
“Conviction politicians hard to find anywhere. Australia’s Tony Abbott rare exception,” Murdoch tweeted last month. “Opponent Rudd all over the place convincing nobody.”
The opposition promises a cheaper, slower broadband alternative which will cost AU$29 billion and use Australia’s existing, aging copper telecommunications network. The opposition’s version would deliver only 10 percent of the download speeds of the NBN.
Rudd argues his government stands for future-building policies such as the NBN. He argues that Abbott stands for tens of billions of dollars in budget cuts that won’t be announced until after he has wins.
Abbott said on Sunday that his coalition would detail where savings would be made in the final week of the election campaign.
“Our first priority here is to build a stronger economy and that means reinvesting taxpayers’ dollars in things that will actually strengthen our economy rather than just build bureaucracies,” Abbott told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television.