17/06/2010 - 00:00

Pressure mounts on underperforming PM

17/06/2010 - 00:00

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SPECULATION is mounting that Julia Gillard could be brought in to replace Kevin Rudd as prime minister if federal Labor’s electoral standing continues to plummet.

Despite being part of the so-called Gang of Four that reportedly makes all the federal government’s major decisions, the deputy prime minister is generally considered popular in the electorate while her leader has been hammered in the polls.

Ms Gillard was viewed as something of a hard left member of the government, especially given her union links developed during a career as an industrial relations lawyer with Slater & Gordon, where she was partner before going into politics.

More recently, though, she has broadened her appeal. Even her handling of the Building Education Revolution stimulus spending, which has resulted in an inquiry, has been perceived as positive.

While Ms Gillard has denied she’s interested in the top job at the moment, her stocks have risen in recent weeks as polling has hit the government based on a number of own goals – from the back down on emissions trading, the insulation scheme debacle and the poorly managed resource super profits tax proposal.

Part of the speculation could be attributed to the government’s own tactics in the wake of the slump in the prime minister’s standing.

In attempting to deflect the issue, Mr Rudd and other Labor leaders have increasingly sought to remind the electorate that leading the opposition is Tony Abbott.

But by inviting speculation on the alternative leadership for the nation they have also put the spotlight on Ms Gillard as another obvious option.

She does stand as something of a contrast to her leader in many ways. She has presented a far more easy-going image than Mr Rudd, who has bemused the public with his highfaluting language and mangled attempts to be ocker. If Ms Gillard said she wanted a “fair shake of the sauce bottle” she’d at least sound plausible.

And then there’s the increasingly public view that Mr Rudd has an uncontrollable temper. Rumours of behind the scenes tirades have become more believable since the prime minister appeared to lose his cool on the 7.30 Report, and then journalist David Marr wrote an essay about his inner anger.

Labor backbenchers are said to be furious about the lack of consultation that has led to one disastrous decision after another and the media is full of speculation that Mr Rudd might be replaced before the next election.

However, the Liberal Party is claiming to have a nasty campaign prepared for Ms Gillard should Labor do something as unlikely as dump their current leader.

Balancing act

FEDERAL infrastructure dollars recently helped Western Australia deliver a $286 million budget surplus for 2010-11 and the same trend, only bigger, is occurring in the east.

Queensland and NSW both announced surprise surpluses in their state budgets last week, aided by a significant boost in Commonwealth funding via GST grants and national agreements payments amounting to a combined $3 billion.

Queensland revealed a budget surplus for 2010-11 of $1.68 billion on a budget that included $1.45 billion more in Commonwealth funds than previously forecast.

NSW, even more surprisingly, managed to deliver a surplus of $889 million. It had reportedly received $1.55 billion more in Commonwealth grants and payments than forecast the previous year.

While the rescue of the financial situation of two Labor states by a Labor federal government might appear sensible from a political perspective, the increased role of Commonwealth funding will strengthen Canberra’s position with regard to the resource super profits tax.

Mr Rudd has already questioned WA’s resistance to the tax by highlighting the state’s reliance on Commonwealth funding for Premier Colin Barnett’s priority projects such as the Ord River expansion, Oakajee Port and Northbridge Link.

State opposition Treasury spokesman Ben Wyatt pointed this out after the premier, who is also state treasurer, delivered the WA budget last month.

Mr Wyatt revealed $974 million in extra Commonwealth grants had been made to WA.

“Colin Barnett is moving into the black based on a massive 88 per cent increase in Commonwealth revenue,” Mr Wyatt said.

“Despite out of control spending, again well into double-digits, the absence of a sustainable financial plan is being hidden by the stimulus spending from Canberra.

“As a result, Western Australians can expect more increases in their household bills and charges to cover the premier’s ignorance.”

Driven mad

POLICE and Road Safety Minister Rob Johnson may not win too many popularity contests for his latest move to double the number of speed cameras on the state’s roads.

Mr Johnson recently launched the second phase of the state government’s $30 million enhanced speed-enforcement program, which will involve the roll-out of the new combined speed and red light cameras, as well as the new digital hand-held cameras.

According to the government, last year 435,179 drivers were detected speeding on WA roads. More than 7,500 were detected speeding at 30 kilometres an hour or more above the speed limit.

WA Police currently have 26 Multanova speed cameras, 23 of them operational. The expansion will add an additional 30 speed and red light cameras, 14 digital hand-held cameras and 23 dual-lens cameras.

Mr Johnson did not reveal how much additional revenue the new speed camera regime was expected to raise.

However, the WA government’s recently released budget papers forecast a $20 million increase in revenue directly attributable to traffic infringements for the forthcoming financial year.

In the state’s budgeted operating revenue, fines are expected to increase from $119 million this financial year to $179 million in 2010-11, rising to $199 million per annum for the three following years. Fines, which include non-traffic related revenue, are considered a volatile income source. In 2008-09 fines were $138 million.

Of course, speed cameras are not meant to be about revenue and fines are designed to be a financial disincentive for those who break the speed limit. However, the statistics don’t appear to show that.

Accordin g to the WA Police Service 2008 annual report, the number of vehicles monitored by speed camera dropped dramatically to 11.5 million in 2007-08 from almost 20 million in 2003-04. Over that time the percentage of monitored vehicles that were found to exceed the speed limit did rise and then fall but at the beginning and end of the five-year period it was the same, 16.1 per cent.

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