Sunday, December 06, 2009

Role reversal as Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott line up

Role reversal as Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott line up

KEVIN Rudd has a reputation for donning hard hats on construction sites, while Tony Abbott's staunch Catholicism has earned him the nickname of "Mad Monk".

But yesterday, in the first open hostilities between the two, it was Mr Abbott who visited a coalmine in the NSW Hunter Valley vowing to save thousands of jobs threatened by an emissions trading scheme, while the Prime Minister returned fire from the forecourt of St John's Anglican Church in Canberra.

In a direct appeal to Labor's working-class constituency, the newly elected Opposition Leader selected the Bloomfield open-cut coalmine at East Maitland as a backdrop to warn that 16,000 jobs could be lost in the Hunter should the ETS come into effect.

"You only have to listen to the coalmining unions to understand there's a lot of unhappiness among Labor people with Mr Rudd's rushed emissions tax, which is going to put tens of thousands of jobs at risk around Australia and about 16,000 jobs at risk here in the Hunter," Mr Abbott warned.

"The last thing we want to do is jeopardise the competitiveness of Australia's export industries, on which all of us ultimately depend."

With Mr Rudd shelving plans to fly early to the Copenhagen summit next week after US President Barack Obama indicated he would not arrive until later in the talks, Mr Abbott challenged the Prime Minister to a series of debates on climate change. "The problem is, Mr Rudd has explained his emissions tax more to Barack Obama than he has to the Australian people," he said.

In what promises to be an increasingly bitter contest between the two men, the Liberal leader

took aim at critics who seek to define him by his Catholicism, and swiped at Kevin Rudd's new prime ministerial tradition of holding "press sermons" outside church most Sundays.

Describing Mr Rudd as sounding "more like a public servant in a seminar than a retail politician", Mr Abbott said his personal faith was a private matter, and asked why journalists did not grill Mr Rudd on his religious beliefs.

Responding to a pointed question from the Nine Network's Laurie Oakes about whether or not he believed in evolution, Mr Abbott said his faith was "not out there in the political marketplace".

"I don't do doorsteps in front of church, Laurie," Mr Abbott said.

"I mean, if there's one person who's put religion front and centre in the public square, to use his phrase, it's Kevin Rudd.

"So please, next time Kevin's here, grill him on evolution and all these other subjects."

As if to prove the point, down in Canberra, Mr Rudd emerged from morning service at St John's Anglican Church in Reid to issue a rebuke to Mr Abbott on climate change policy.

"Despite our differences, Mr Howard had a policy on climate change, as did Mr Turnbull. It was called an emissions trading scheme. I have a policy on climate change. It's called an emissions trading scheme," Mr Rudd said.

"I'd suggest the current Leader of the Opposition calms down, puts in the hard yards and actually develops a policy on climate change."

Mr Abbott has vowed that he will take neither an ETS nor a carbon tax to the next election.

And that policy, raw as it is, found plenty of support with the manager of the Bloomfield mine, John Richards. Mr Richards said the miners who would be most affected by an ETS would be those in "gassy underground mines".

"Open-cut miners will also be hurt, but to a lesser extent," he said. "If the ETS goes ahead, it will impose a direct increase of $1.40 to $2 per tonne dependent on our production costs."


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