Federal Politics

Kevin Rudd focuses on economy and jobs in 'fight' of his life

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has vowed tax breaks for small business, extra help for apprentices and the creation of a new jobs-and-training super agency in a major election pitch less than a week out from polling day.

Formally launching Labor's campaign in Brisbane, Mr Rudd unveiled a raft of announcements centred on the economy and on securing 21st century jobs by strengthening training programs and protecting TAFE funding.

Declaring Labor is ''now engaged in the fight of our lives'', Mr Rudd sought to portray Labor as the party of building the nation and his opponent Tony Abbott as a leader who would cut services.

''We are in the business of building the house up,'' Mr Rudd said. ''The conservatives have always been in the business of tearing the house down.''

Speaking smoothly and confidently, Mr Rudd insisted Labor was not done - despite polls showing a clear Coalition victory was likely - and that people should ''never, ever, ever underestimate my fighting spirit as your Prime Minister''.

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Mr Rudd vowed to take on state governments over cuts to TAFE funding and announced plans to integrate the training and employment services systems in Australia, creating a new super agency, Jobs and Training Australia.

The Prime Minister also pledged a $10,000 tax break to small businesses and a boost to apprenticeship tool grants from $5500 to $6000, which he said would help 70,000 Australian apprentices.

And he targeted the resources industry over using local suppliers, promising to force all projects worth $300 million or more to adopt Australian Industry Participation Plans - a measure he said would generate up to $624 million in extra work for local firms each year.

Mr Rudd drew heavily on the achievements and economic reforms of his Labor forebears, including Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and - notably - Julia Gillard, whom he praised for the national disability scheme.

Introduced by his wife Therese Rein, Mr Rudd focused heavily on Labor values and the need for secure jobs. He said the ''core'' of his ''vision for the Australia of the 21st century'' was that every Australian had the right to ''a good job ... with fair wages and conditions''.

Repeating Labor's - largely discredited - claim that the Coalition would cut government services by $70 billion, Mr Rudd said people should not vote for Mr Abbott if they did not know where those cuts would fall.

''He's asking for you to buy something sight unseen.''

However he tacitly acknowledged for the first time that the cuts might be smaller, saying that just $20 billion in cuts - which is more in line with independent assessments of the Coalition's costings shortfall - would close 5000 hospital beds, sack one in 20 teachers and reduce family payments by 5 per cent.

Under his threat to the states, Mr Rudd said Labor would force statement governments to maintain and grow their TAFE funding in the wake of Victorian cuts in particular. If states refused, he would move to fund TAFEs directly from Commonwealth money, he said.

Under his promised reform to training and employment schemes, anyone who loses their job will get a ''return to work plan'' within two days of registering with an employment services provider. This will guarantee them access to further training.

Mr Rudd admitted Labor had made mistakes but quoted an Adelaide migrant who he said told him recently, ''Kevin, the only blokes who never made mistakes are those blokes who never do anything.''

He also mentioned - if obliquely - his commitment to gay marriage, saying that he wanted an inclusive Australia free from discrimination on race, gender or sexuality.

Ms Gillard didn't attend the launch, but Mr Hawke and Mr Keating were in the front row as Mr Rudd delivered his speech, which was widely seen as vital for rallying the Labor troops.

Introducing her husband, Ms Rein said Mr Rudd's tough upbringing meant he understood the need for job security as he steered Australia through the global financial crisis.

''This is the man who knew in his heart that every job and every business and every home lost would be another boy or girl somewhere, growing up without feeling safe and that that really mattered,'' she said.

She called her husband, ''My best friend, the love of my life, my companion for over 35 years ... through the good times and the not so good times.''

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