Kevin Rudd

Australian politician Kevin Rudd replaced his former deputy Julia Gillard as prime minister and leader of the Labor Party on 27 June 2013. Rudd previously served as prime minister from 2007 to 2010 and leader of the Labor Party from 2006 to 2010. A former diplomat and Chinese-speaker, Rudd is the first former Australian prime minister to return to office since Robert Menzies in 1949.

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AUSTRALIA

China factor weighs on Australian election set for September 7

End of mining boom means Australia has to diversify, says Rudd, as he puts the economy at centre of September 7 poll

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 August, 2013, 2:50pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am
 

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has called an election for September 7, saying it will be fought over who can be trusted to manage the Australian economy as it transitions from a decade-old mining boom fed by Chinese industrial demand that is fading.

In starting the five-week election campaign, Rudd said yesterday the economy could no longer rely on Chinese demand for iron ore and coal that made the country one of the few wealthy nations to avoid a recession during the global economic downturn.

"With the end of the China resources boom, we can no longer afford to have all our eggs just in one basket," Rudd said yesterday. "We must broaden the economic base, diversify the economy."

Rudd conceded that his centre-left Labor Party was the underdog, saying his advisers had told him that if the election had been held this weekend, his government would have lost.

But opinion polls also show more voters prefer Rudd, 55, a Putonghua-speaking former Beijing diplomat, as prime minister than opposition leader Tony Abbott, a former Catholic seminarian and journalist who is also 55.

Latest economic figures show a sharp decline in the nation's finances, with the Treasury Department last week raising its estimated deficit for this financial year to A$30 billion (HK$207 billion) due to the mining slowdown. The new forecast for the year ending June 30, 2014, is A$12 billion worse than the department's last forecast in May.

The conservative Liberal Party-led opposition coalition has accused the government of wasting money on stimulus spending after the last conservative government delivered surplus budgets year after year until it lost power in 2007. But economists largely applauded Labor's early spending. Abbott has promised to "get the budget back under control".

The election promises to be an extraordinary contest for Australian politics. Labor leads Australia's first minority government since the second world war and polls suggest the opposition faces an easier task picking up seats than Labor does.

Labor holds 71 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives. The opposition holds 72 seats, with the rest held by independent lawmakers or sole legislators from minor parties.

Rudd was first elected prime minister in 2007, then ousted in 2010 by his then-deputy, Julia Gillard, in an internal leadership showdown among Labor lawmakers. He was dubbed "Recycled Rudd" when he reclaimed the leadership in a similar challenge on June 26 as the government faced the prospect of a loss of historic portions with Gillard at the helm.

Since then, Rudd has changed several key policy positions, and opinion polls suggest Labor is closing the opposition's lead.

A major policy difference is Abbott's opposition to charging polluters for their carbon gas emissions, despite Australia having some of the world's worst emission rates on a per capita basis. He has vowed to give priority to scrapping both the carbon and mining taxes.

Since returning to office, Rudd has also announced Australia's toughest measures to deter asylum seekers, announcing anyone who arrives by boat will be sent to either Papua New Guinea or Nauru in the Pacific for processing and resettlement.

The election date means Rudd will miss the G20 summit in St Petersburg on September 5-6, even though Australia will take over as chair of the G20 for the coming year.

Nick Economou, a Monash University political scientist, said Rudd had been surprisingly successful in portraying himself as a new prime minister instead of the same leader who was once dumped by his colleagues. "If Rudd can ram home that advantage, then Labor has got a chance," he said.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Press and Reuters

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