Kevin Rudd promises a same-sex marriage bill within 100 days if he is re-elected in Australia’s forthcoming elections. Channel 4 News examines this, and the other key election issues.
Kevin Rudd, who recently ousted former prime minister Julia Gillard as head of Australia’s Labour Party, said same-sex marriage in the country is a “mark of decency”.
I believe this is just a mark of decency to same sex couples across the country. Kevin Rudd
He called on his election rival, the liberal coalition leader Tony Abbott, to allow a full “conscience vote” to decide on the issue.
Speaking in the hour-long debate, which took place in the early hours of this morning UK time, Mr Rudd said: “One, I support marriage equality and the reason I do has been well canvassed in the national debate and why I changed my position.
“Number two, I believe this is just a mark of decency to same-sex couples across the country who wish the same loving, caring relationship that for example I’ve had with Therese, my wife now, for the last 32 years, and for that to be formalised.
We had a vote in the national parliament about a year ago. It was fairly decisive against same-sex marriage. Tony Abbott
“Number three is, my commitment is within the first 100 days of a re-elected government a bill would come forth to legalise marriage equality, we would, of course on our side of politics, allow a full conscience vote and I would just appeal to Mr Abbott to do the same, because folk out there want this to happen.”
Asked about the same issue, Mr Abbott said same-sex marriage was a “very important issue”, but said a Liberal Coalition government’s priority would be other issues “like reducing the cost of living pressure and increasing job security”.
He said: “We had a vote in the national parliament about a year ago. It was fairly decisive against same-sex marriage. If this issue were to come up again in the future, it would be a matter for a future party room to determine.”
Mr Rudd’s party is considered to be the underdog in this election, which was called by Mr Rudd last Sunday, with opinion polls currently favouring the conservative opposition. However, Mr Rudd outpolls Mr Abbott as prefered prime minister.
It is perhaps no surprise then that Mr Rudd is keen to have more televised debates, but Mr Abbott has yet to commit to another.
So what were the other key election issues?
Recovering from the global financial crisis is the top election issue. Mr Rudd’s opening remarks said how “this election is about the future strength of our economy and how best to secure it”, and also emphasised how his government had “managed to keep the economy strong”.
The alternative of course is slash and burn, and we’ve seen cutting to the bone in so many other parts of the world. The Brits have done that and produced a recession. That’s not our way. Kevin Rudd
Mr Abbott also focused on the economy. “Elect a Liberal National Coalition government and this is how our country will change: we’ll build a stronger economy so that everyone can get ahead,” he said.
Mr Rudd said: “The key challenge for the global financial crisis was to prevent our economy from falling into recession and practically every other economy in the world did.
“And while millions of people lost their jobs around the world, we have, until today, added nearly a million more than we had than when we went to office.”
He also criticised “the alternative”, as seen in the UK. “The alternative of course is slash and burn, and we’ve seen cutting to the bone in so many other parts of the world. The Brits have done that and produced a recession. That’s not our way.”
Mr Abbott revealed his plan, however, involving scrapping Australia’s carbon tax, cutting company tax and axing mining tax. He said these could all be funded because of the “waste” of Labour’s last six years in power. He said he had identified $17bn in savings that could be made.
Mr Rudd, however, quoted My Abbott’s Treasury spokesman as saying the Liberal plans faced a $70bn funding gap.
Mr Rudd faced criticism in the debate for dismantling the “Pacific Solution”. The Pacific Solution was the system by which asylum seekers were prevented from landing on Australia’s mainland, and were instead sent to outlying islands where they were held in detention centres and processed.
It was a policy strongly criticised by refugee rights and human rights organisations. However, the decision to end the Pacific Solution has been criticised in Australia, with Mr Abbott saying in the debate that there had been “more than 50,000 illegal arrivals” because of its closure.
Mr Rudd was grilled by the leaders’ debate host David Speers, who asked if Mr Rudd would acknowledge that dismantling the policy was a mistake.
The prime minister responded that he had acted according to his mandate, but also said the Pacific Solution was flawed, and that he would bring in a new asylum plan.
Let’s be clear, if there is a Liberal National government elected, we will build a stronger economy so that everyone can get ahead. Tony Abbott
He said: “What I have put forward is a new policy for the future with one simple principle attached – if you’re a people smuggler bringing someone to Australia and seeking to settle them in Australia, we will not allow them to be settled here.
“They will be sent for processing in Papua New Guinea and if they are proven to be bona fide refugees, settled in Papua New Guinea.”
However, Mr Abbott said Mr Rudd was being misleading by saying that no-one who goes to Papau New Guinea would end up in Australia. “I understand that today we had two Somalis come across the Torres Strait,” he said.
Mr Abbott said the Liberal Coalition would “salvage what we can from the arrangements” with Papau New Guinea, but said this alone was not enough.
He has advocated turning boats around “if it is safe to do so”.
Wrapping up the debate, Mr Rudd said he would provide a “new way” to secure Australia’s economic future, whilst Mr Abbott said he was the “new way” to do the same.
Mr Rudd said: “It’s a highly uncertain world out there and Australians legitimately have real concerns.
“What I’ve tried to outline tonight are some of the actions we’ve taken so far to secure our future, how we’ve kept the economy strong despite the financial crisis, how together with businesses, big and small, we’ve added nearly one million jobs and how we’ve sought to support families facing cost-of-living pressures, how we’ve invested in early childhood education, new libraries in our primary schools, new language and science centres in our high schools, trades training centres and now, with nearly 190,000 more kids in university than when we first came to office.”
Mr Abbott said: “Let’s be clear, if there is a Liberal National government elected, we will build a stronger economy so that everyone can get ahead.
“We will scrap the carbon tax, we will get the budget back into the black, we will build the roads of the 21st century and we will stop the boats. This is our positive plan for a better future. I believe in this plan.”
With four weeks of the election campaign to go, it remains to be seen which way the Australian people want to go.