Howard lays into Rudd's credibility

The Australian
24 April, 2007
By Samantha Maiden
Political correspondent

JOHN Howard has launched a full-frontal attack on Kevin Rudd's credentials, declaring that only the Coalition can be trusted to deliver targets to cut Australia's greenhouse gas emissions without wrecking the economy.

Warning that the issue was the most important economic decision of the next decade, the Prime Minister outlined his plan to fight back from a slide in the opinion polls by targeting the economy, education reform, climate change and social policy.

In a major speech in Brisbane yesterday, Mr Howard offered a mea culpa to voters in the lead-up to this year's federal election, admitting his Government had "made mistakes" but warning of the risks of Mr Rudd's proposed rollback of historic reforms to workplace relations.

Vowing to "stay the course", the Prime Minister warned voters that Labor's plan to unwind Work Choices would damage Australia's capacity to compete in the global economy.

He dismissed the Opposition Leader's claim that climate change represented the overriding moral challenge of our times, saying that only the Coalition would offer sensible solutions to the problem.

He said policy changes must reflect the reality that independent action by Australia would not materially affect the climate without action by big polluters including China and the US.

"Do we need to lower carbon emissions over time? Of course we do," Mr Howard told the Queensland Media Club in Brisbane. "But to say climate change is the overwhelming moral challenge for this generation of Australians is misguided at best and misleading at worst.

"It delegitimises other challenges over which we do have significant and immediate control," he said.

Accusing Mr Rudd of attempting to forge a new brand of politics "without hard choices, without trade-offs and without unintended consequences", he said his opponent offered voters the politics of good gestures and good intentions and little else.

His attack underlines private and public polling that suggests voters still prefer Mr Howard over the Labor leader on the critical issue of who is best able to manage the economy.

"No doubt we have made our mistakes. All governments do," Mr Howard said. "But we have never lost sight of the big things that affect people's lives - their jobs, the wellbeing of their families, decent healthcare, genuine choice in education and a good social safety net."

Flagging big spending on defence in next month's budget, his speech, titled Australia Rising, predicted that his vision for the nation by 2020 would require Australia's defence forces to be combat-ready and well-resourced. This was essential as it dealt with the necessary consequences of an end to the "posture of benign neglect in the Pacific" and the fight against terrorism.

Mr Howard vowed to develop solutions to assist the so-called "sandwich generation" - those who were caring for ageing parents and children and who had jobs in the paid workforce.

Mr Howard warned that the challenge of targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the context of a possible emissions trading scheme in Australia could not be left to the European Union - a swipe at Labor's support for the Kyoto Protocol.

"Any decision on a future (post-2012) long-term target will be the most important economic decision Australia takes in the next decade," he said.

"It will affect every industry and every household. It will change the whole cost and structure of the economy," Mr Howard added. "I worry about the consequences for Australian families of Mr Rudd's policy of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 60per cent from 1990 levels. I worry about the impact on jobs in places like Moranbah, Mackay and Gladstone (in Queensland)." Mr Howard dismissed Mr Rudd's posturing in the lead-up to this week's ALP conference about taking on the unions over industrial relations as a "pantomime", saying the hard-fought gains that had delivered record employment and a strong economy were at risk. "It is critical that Australia not slip back to the ways of the past," he said.

Mr Rudd, who was also in Brisbane yesterday after arriving back in Australia from his visit to the US, dismissed the Prime Minister's attack on his industrial relations policies.

"We believe we can get the balance between flexibility and fairness right," Mr Rudd said. "(The Prime Minister) wants to build prosperity in his terms, by throwing the fair go out the back door and that's his unfair system of industrial relations laws."

But Mr Howard said yesterday the "risk-takers' and entrepreneurs of Australia needed to know they would not have Opposition industrial relations spokeswoman Julia Gillard, ACTU president Sharan Burrow and other union leaders looking over their shoulders every time they restructured a business.

"Australia's workplaces are the arteries of our economy. Clog them up with more and more regulation and you slow our economic pulse," he said.

Mr Howard has weathered a string of poor polls, showing Labor in an election-winning position. But he said yesterday the fight was not over yet.

"We're behind - I plead guilty to that," he said.

"But there's a long distance to go and the passage of time I think will present the choice in a starker fashion."

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