Anger mounting against Rudd in the wild west
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave no quarter, nor was any apparently sought, when he strode before the Perth Press Club on Wednesday to defend his resource super-profits tax.
Many in the Perth media felt the PM’s address provided the perfect backdrop from which Mr Rudd could make a form of policy detour, to deftly change tack, and to somehow head off a simmering confrontation with the nation’s powerful mining lobby - a swordfight that is showing every sign of looming into an electoral bloodbath in the state.
A Westpoll conducted for The West Australian a fortnight ago suggests the Federal Government is on a hiding to nothing in WA, with the prospect of it holding just two seats at the next election, Perth and Fremantle, from a possible 15. Labor holds only four in the state.
The political pressure is rising, evidence of which came in Wednesday’s ABC Television 7pm bulletin when a live cross with reporter Alisha O’Flaherty, who was covering the Rudd visit, was abruptly dropped when the reporter inadvertently dropped the F word live to air.
For much of the state’s media this week, the mining tax is the only issue in town, and the subject Mr Rudd took an agonising 15 minutes to get into in his speech on Wednesday.
WA Labor hopefuls looking for political circuit breaker would have walked away deeply disappointed.
The prime minister was at his combative best during his address; resolute in his defence of the mining tax, and giving no sign of compromise, or any risk of him caving in toward industry demands to “axe the tax”.
Sure, Mr Rudd made it clear that talks were ongoing, and that individual company concerns were being examined. He also hinted there was scope for movement on the “transitional arrangements”.
As for the thrust of the tax, Mr Rudd made it clear he was not budging, no matter how loud industry banged the drum.
More than once in his address, Mr Rudd returned to the speechwriter’s spin; he was in Perth to listen, to consult, and to consider, but all the same, he believed the tax was “about right”.
Where that leaves Mr Rudd politically seems understood by everyone except the man himself.
A photo of Australia’s fourth richest man, mining magnate Andrew Forrest, in warm embrace with Deputy Opposition Leader, on the front page of today’s The West Australian, only added fuel to the perception that Mr Rudd has miscalculated the public mood towards taxing the mining industry, and risks eroding what little support that party has in the state.
The prime minister needs a political fix to overcome the simple fact that the imposition of the 40 per cent resource rent tax is tied to restoring a Rudd Government budget surplus within three years, and three years ahead of the original plan.
There is also near-universal political support for another of Mr Rudd’s big promises, the increase in the superannuation guarantee from 9 per cent to 12 per cent for all Australian workers, which is also bankrolled by the new tax.
Make changes to the new tax, and the promise of a surplus evaporates, along with the hopes of ordinary wage earners looking to boost their superannuation pay-out.
Neither is a particularly good look for Mr Rudd’s working families.
The PM may well believe that the resource super-profits tax represents good policy for the country, but he has mismanaged the politics of the debate, just months out from a likely Federal election.
Former Prime Minister John Howard was put to sword in 2007 for ignoring the polls, and for simply trusting that voters could be swayed by his personal performance in the election campaign of 2007.
The supporters of Kevin 07 would be hoping that as far as jousting is concerned, Mr Rudd ought to be able to give more than he gets.
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