Rudd, along with deputy Julia Gillard, who I wrote about earlier this month, is seen as a viable alternative to the incumbent conservative leader, whose government has been in power since 1996. One issue working against the Labor Party is the fact that all states and territories are governed by Labor premiers and chief ministers. A win for Labor in the federal elections, due in September or October (although it could be later), would result in total Labor domination in Australia.
John Howard, born in 1939, is labelled old-fashioned by Rudd. But the strong economy, fuelled by strong exports to Asian powerhouse China, remains a feather in the cap of the Liberal leader.
In an attempt to frighten the electorate, Howard's message is that the trade unions will prosper under a Labor government, taking the country back 30 years, resulting in higher unemployment, higher interest rates, and lower productivity. Unions have progressively lost members over the past 30 years, and are now feeling threatened, especially since the Howard government introduced new industrial relations laws that remove unions from the employer-employee relationship.
Rudd has used the media in recent weeks to distance himself from traditional Labor policies, and especially at the current conference has said:
- He will allow new uranium mining
- He will not allow the unions to dominate policy-making
Also working against Howard is the continuing instability in Iraq. Most Australians now believe that Howard lied to parliament in 2003, prior to committing troops to the 'Coalition of the Willing', an Anglo bloc led by the president of the United States.
Fortunately for Howard, only one member of the armed forces, private Jake Kovko, has been killed in the Iraq theatre. The Army says that his pistol discharged while he was "skylarking" in his Baghdad barracks, a pronouncement stridently rejected by Kovko's widow, Shelley.