View from The Hill

Between tactics and temptation

Kevin Rudd is using the election date as a political tool. AAP/James Elsby

After passing up an August 31 election, for which things could not be completed in time, Kevin Rudd is under pressure from the political hardheads to go to the polls on September 7, on the back of the government’s economic statement.

This would mean missing the G20 in St Petersburg in early September. But the argument being put to him is that it would be better to forgo St Petersburg, if it meant maximising his chance of hosting the next G20, to be held in his home city of Brisbane.

Rudd told colleagues today he had not made up his mind on election timing.

A September 7 election date would have him conflicted because he has had the G20 meeting in his sights, mentioning it initially when he indicated he did not favour Julia Gillard’s September 14 date.

In a conversation with French President Francois Hollande last week Rudd apparently indicated he would be there. The president’s office was later reported as saying that he “will meet Mr Rudd face to face in St Petersburg”.

To suddenly pull out after flagging he planned to attend the conference would be embarrassing when Australia is the next host.

A September 7 election would have to be called by next Monday.

Meanwhile, as it puts together its economic statement, due to be released Thursday or Friday, the government is turning up the heat on Tony Abbott over economic and costing issues.

It has been helped by the comment last week from shadow treasurer Joe Hockey that he would not believe the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Outlook prepared by Treasury and Finance, because the government was trying to pre-fix the numbers.

Hockey said the opposition would rely on a number of sources to help with its costings including state governments.

A top Western Australian bureaucrat today rejected the idea of state governments being involved. Under Treasurer Tim Marney told a parliamentary estimates committee “it would be highly inappropriate … I and my people are paid for by the state”.

Treasurer Chris Bowen said the key question was: “are you going to be upfront and open about these tough decisions like we are being, put your decisions out there, put all your figures out there pre-election, or are you going to hide behind some sort of post- election commission of audit and run away from the Charter of Budget Honesty?”

Bowen, who has promised to stick to the budget timetable of returning to surplus by 2016-7, said tough savings decisions would be tough politically “but I don’t think the Australian people are looking for politicians and leaders who are taking the easy options at the moment”.

On another front, Education Minister Bill Shorten, trying to get a deal with Victoria on the Better Schools program, offered to change the recently-passed law to provide reassurances about autonomy.

A spokeswoman said Shorten had indicated to Premier Denis Napthine that he was prepared to consider amending the act to ensure that safeguards against “theoretical Commonwealth overreach” into Victorian schools were enshrined in law.

But the big problem in getting an agreement is a difference over money.