Gillard defeats Rudd, Govt urged to switch focus to struggling SMEs

Julia Gillard has retained her position as prime minister, defeating bitter rival Kevin Rudd 71-31 in a Labor caucus vote, with business groups urging the government to return its focus to “real” issues.


The leadership of the Labor Party was put to a vote at 10am today, with Rudd, as widely predicted, failing to muster the numbers to reclaim his place at the head of government.


While Gillard will hope the leadership issue has been resolved by her 71 vote to 31 win, business groups say the controversy has hurt the business sector, calling for the government to return its focus to more important issues.


Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, says the Labor Party was wrong to turns its attention away from the country and focus on its own squabbles.


“In the last week, we haven’t had any announcement regarding small business bankruptcies,” he says.


“That story was put to the back of the queue as we concentrated on the pain and suffering of politicians in Canberra… These sorts of things take the focus away from the real issues.”


Strong is hopeful the government will now be able to refocus on those issues.


“The Labor Party will fall in behind the leader. The Opposition will try and do what they do. In the meantime, I hope we can get the concentration back on small business,” he says.


Strong says while he believes the Labor leadership issue has been dealt with for now, it could raise its head again in the lead-up to the next federal election.


“It depends on the polls,” he says.


Russell Zimmerman, executive director of the Australian Retailers Association, says while these sorts of issues “take people’s eye off the ball”, only one person can be victorious.


“Once that person is in, the government can get on with the business of governing the country. We need to ensure retailing is pre-eminent in the government’s mind,” he says.


“One would hope that once this is put to bed, the confidence returns back to consumers, the government shows true strength on leadership and we see some things happening.”


“People are looking for stability of government. It is vital that happens now that the leadership spill is over… Let’s hope this is the end of it all.”


But Bruce Billson, shadow minister for small business, described the government as “divided and dysfunctional”, which is only adding to the unease being felt by small businesses.


“People right across the country, whether they own their own business or not, look at Canberra and see no adult in charge,” Billson says.


“While Labor luminaries are getting a lot off their chest as part of this toxic leadership tussle, small business people just want to get Labor off their backs.”


“Even though Julia Gillard will stay in charge, Labor MPs are crying out for change to help small business.”


“Labor is giving itself a ballot while denying Australians a vote. An election is what is needed and not another Labor backroom deal.”


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