Leadership ballot set for Monday as Rudd puts small business at heart of his bid

After months of speculation the leadership battle is finally on, with a ballot to be held at 10am on Monday in Canberra. And surprisingly, small business is playing a key role.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the man she deposed, Kevin Rudd, both say they have solid support for the leadership vote and the public is sick and tired of the fighting for the top job.

Rudd and Gillard gave tension-filled press conferences this morning, with both claiming they were best placed to defeat Tony Abbott at the next election.

Rudd declared that he was best person to “save” the Australian Labor Party, while Gillard admitted that she had made mistakes during her 18 months in the top job, but was confident her colleagues would rally behind her.

Gillard told reporters in Adelaide it was in the national interest that a leadership vote be held on Monday morning.

“Australians are rightly sick of this and they want it brought to an end,” she said.

Gillard said if she did not win the ballot, she would retire to the back bench – and called on Rudd to do the same.

She added that under her leadership, Labor had secured major reforms during a minority Government:

• Putting a price on carbon and moving towards a clean energy future,
• Enacting the mineral resource rent tax which will help fund increases in the super levy and write-offs for small business,
• The health agreement with the states,
• The structural separation of Telstra, and
• Education and tax reforms.

She also reaffirmed her commitment to return the budget to surplus in 2012-13.

“A measure of the Government is what a government achieves for the Australian people,” Gillard said, rather than opinion polls or newspaper headlines.

She said her Government was best placed to help people get a better job, start their own business and deliver confidence to families about their security.

“We have been securing the big reforms that will make us stronger and fairer.”

Earlier, Rudd said restoring business confidence would be a key priority if he wins next week’s leadership ballot, in particular encouraging small business to “invest in their businesses’ future and turn them into the big businesses of the future.”

“And that means changes to the way in which we deal with them on tax.”

He did not specify what shape any small business policy would take.

Declining to detail how many supporters he has within the ALP, Rudd said only he was “encouraged” by the support of his colleagues the public and the leadership issue boiled down to “trust, policy and vision”.

Rudd added that a strong Australian industry is an “enduring passion” and reiterated his belief that he did not want an Australia that did not build things.

Rudd also expressed his disappointment in the Gillard Government’s decision to cut his green car fund.

Rudd said his other priorities were:

• The continuation of health reform,
• Continued investment in education, particularly mathematics, science and Asian language, and
• Reform of the Labor Party.

Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, says he has not yet met with Rudd, but welcomed news the leadership rumblings are coming to a head.

“Like everyone else, I’m over it,” Strong says.

Strong says with recent Dun & Bradstreet figures showing small business bankruptcies soared through 2011, businesspeople want Government to be on the ball rather than fighting among themselves.

“Make a decision, and then we can get on with it.

“A lot of people are struggling and they don’t really care who the prime minister is.”

Employer group the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has also called for the issue to be resolved, and stable government formed.

In his press conference this morning, Rudd drew attention to his stewardship of the Australian economy during the global financial crisis, and said that the European crisis was not over.

“Therefore in the very difficult period which lies ahead in 2012, experience and confidence and discipline will be needed.”

Questions are being raised about what a return to Rudd would mean for the Government’s policies. As architect of the Fair Work Act, Gillard is seen as more wedded to the industrial relations regime, and the union movement, than Rudd.

There are also questions about Rudd’s commitment to Gillard’s carbon tax, and whether he would tinker with Gillard’s mining tax, a watered-down version of his controversial resource super profits tax.

Channel Seven also reported last night that a Kevin Rudd ally, Victoria’s Alan Griffin, had told Clubs Australia late last year that a Rudd Government would not proceed with mandatory pre-commitment for pokie machines and encouraged the gaming lobby group to continue with its lobbying of Labor MPs in marginal seats.

Rudd has rejected the report.

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