As opposition and government argue shrilly over the calling - or non-calling - of the election, Kevin Rudd has ticked another box and ministers are preparing to discuss the economic statement expected to start a new political conversation late this week.
Tony Abbott accused Rudd, who returned from his Afghanistan visit today, of “running away from an election” because of government panic over the state of the budget, and of wanting “more time for himself”.
The opposition leader said that even an August 31 election – which Rudd is not calling – would already be a week past the three years since the 2010 poll. “He is playing games with the Australian people”.
Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, given plenty of opportunity by Rudd’s overseas sojourns to enjoy being “acting PM”, said in a statement that Abbott was “starting to sound hysterical” on election timing.
“Kevin Rudd will call an election in good time. Until then he and the Labor cabinet will focus on getting the policies right”, Albanese said.
Attention is now switching to September 7, although that is being discounted because it would mean Rudd could not go to the G20 meeting, or September 21. Rudd earlier indicated he didn’t want Julia Gillard’s September 14 date, despite some colleagues thinking it quite convenient (also, it is the first date on which the local government referendum can be held).
Albanese said Abbott was impatient to move into The Lodge so he could start cutting spending to the bone.
Labor ministers are themselves struggling to find savings to make the numbers fit, in face of a fresh revenue write down and new priorities, notably the PNG asylum seeker policy. Treasurer Chris Bowen promised last week the government would stick to the budget timetable of returning to surplus in 2016-17.
The peripatetic PM got good news at the weekend with a Galaxy poll showing Labor on a 40% primary vote, which is higher than the 2010 election, and a 50-50 two-party vote. The poll also had Rudd ahead of Tony Abbott as better to handle the asylum seeker issue (40% to 38%).
Rudd’s Afghanistan trip, on which he was accompanied by wife Therese Rein, reinforced the impression he is determined to do things his way, which means doing as much as possible as quickly as he can.
The PM told the troops at the Tarin Kowt base: “Thank you, and it’s about time we brought you home. … This has been a hard war”.
Rudd also locked horns with conservative commentator Andrew Bolt in a pre-recorded interview on Bolt’s Ten Network show, something Julia Gillard refused to do.
On that program he declined to be precise about when he believed results would be seen from the PNG deterrent policy. “What I said when I launched the policy … was that we would need to see the implementation of this policy over a period of time and its effect over many months.”
Since the PNG agreement there have been 17 boats with some 1350 passengers.
Abbott said that under a Coalition government there would be “rigorous processing in PNG and Nauru and elsewhere” but that did not preclude the need to reintroduce temporary protection visas and turning back boats.
The government will hope that its economic statement overshadows the report on NSW Labor scandals coming from the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) which hands down findings on former minister Ian Macdonald on Wednesday.
With cabinet tomorrow expected to canvass progress on the statement Bowen, who recently attended the G20 Finance ministers meeting in Moscow said that it had affirmed the importance of jobs and growth.
“The meeting also agreed on the importance of governments adopting a credible and balanced fiscal strategy that is flexible to economic circumstances. This stands in stark contrast to either fiscal profligacy or the harsh austerity measures that have been = and continue to be – advocated by some”.
Cabinet tomorrow is also expected to discuss the government’s response to the problems caused for the car industry by the crackdown on FBT arrangements. The industry is stepping up its pressure for action.
Industry minister Kim Carr said today the federal government was “talking to the states about fulfilling their obligations to buy Australian, and to encourage them to think of their national responsibilities, rather than buying imported cars. Now, we want to see more people buy Australian motor vehicles.”
Abbott campaigned at a Sydney car yard today. Tomorrow he will be on the hustings in Western Sydney.