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Rudd faces battle as campaign starts

Murdoch press urges voters to 'kick this mob out'

AFP-JIJI

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Monday launched the first day of Australia’s election campaign with a raft of funding pledges as a poll showed support slumping and the Murdoch press urged voters to “kick this mob out.”

Rudd on Sunday named Sept. 7 as the day Australians will go to the polls, hoping to complete a stunning political comeback with victory for his Labor Party three years after it ousted him.

But he faces an uphill battle after what newspapers said was years of a “toxic political climate” that saw Julia Gillard topple him as party leader in 2010. He then defeated her to retake the job in June in hopes of saving the party from an election wipeout.

Since then Rudd, who is running under the slogan “A new way,” has re-energized Labor. He worked hard to shore up support Monday by committing 450 million Australian dollars ($400 million) to boost after-school care for kids.

Labor also announced AU$200 million ($178 million) in new assistance for the struggling auto industry, with Rudd saying: “I want to see Australia make things that the world needs.”

But, in the first opinion poll to be released since the election was announced, the Tony Abbott-led conservative coalition continues to lead on a two-party basis — 52 to 48 percent, unchanged from two weeks ago.

More worryingly for Rudd, the Newspoll in The Australian newspaper of 1,147 voters showed there has been a jump of 6 percentage points in the number of people dissatisfied with his performance during the past fortnight. And while he remains the preferred prime minister by a big margin over Abbott, the poll showed he has lost ground.

Labor is also battling the might of the Rupert Murdoch press, which controls 70 percent of the country’s print media, with the mogul’s Sydney Daily Telegraph devoting its entire front page to a picture of Rudd and an editorial under the headline: “Finally, you now have the chance to . . . kick this mob out.”

The mass-market tabloid supported him in the 2007 election, which he won, but now says it is time to “consign Rudd to the bin of history.”

“We agree with the prime minister when he says that ‘the old politics of the past won’t work for Australia’s future,’ ” said the newspaper, with Murdoch last week jetting in his trusted Australian lieutenant, New York Post editor Col Allan, to lead the campaign. “The problem is, those old politics belong to Kevin Rudd and to history’s rubbish bin.”

Murdoch’s broadsheet The Australian acknowledged Rudd had given Labor new life but said Australia had endured “a toxic political climate and a period of repeated government failure on core issues.”

Rudd, whose campaign is focused on the economy and a decision to send asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea and Nauru, began his pitch to voters in Canberra and said he was not surprised at Murdoch’s stance.

“He wants to see the government removed and he wants to see Mr. Abbott as prime minister,” he told ABC radio, reiterating that while Labor is the underdog it offers a better future.

“I think what the Australian people want is a new approach to the future which is based on positive policy and bringing the country together — government, business, unions — to deal with the central economic challenge which lies ahead,” he said.

This challenge, Rudd said, is handling the economy’s transition away from a decade-long mining boom. “This is a complex and difficult task; it affects every Australian. The economy is key. That, I believe, will be central to this election campaign.”

Abbott, campaigning in Brisbane, said he will make repealing Labor’s carbon tax his first task if elected, telling voters they have the choice “between real solutions from the coalition or more of the same from the Labor Party.”