Kevin Rudd’s performance with Lyndal Curtis on AM this morning was another classic example of duck and weave.

The timing of the RSPT was somehow compared with the global financial crisis when, of course, the latter was completely out of the government’s hands and the former entirely of its own making.

It is now clear the government made a major blunder not releasing the entire Henry Report in February and allowing a major sweeping debate on tax reform to unfold before it unveiled the RSPT.

With so-called Labor-friendly business leaders such as Future Fund chairman David Murray now coming out against the tax in Friday’s cracking Business Spectator interview, the RSPT is looking decidedly shaky, especially as the polls continue to weaken.

Not since Paul Keating attempted to introduce a GST in 1985 has a federal Labor government attempted such a bold tax reform, but even that wouldn’t have added $100 billion to national savings as Rudd claimed on radio this morning. In other words, there has never been a Labor tax revenue grab as big as this one. No wonder the global miners are pulling out all stops.

Given the unanimity of opposition from business luminaries, it is worth asking which Australian corporate leaders are yet to take a public stand.

Whilst the mining billionaires such as Clive Palmer, Gina Rinehart and Twiggy Forrest are all loudly and predictably opposed, there’s been nothing from other notable billionaires such as Frank Lowy, James Packer, Gerry Harvey and Anthony Pratt.

The most obvious billionaire to watch is Kerry Stokes given the extraordinary praise he heaped on the stimulus package at last November’s Seven AGM, just weeks before the $250 million cut in television licence fees was announced. The silent Stokes is suffering because the RSPT will directly reduce the capacity of big miners in WA and NSW to pay up for his Caterpillar machines in the WesTrac franchises now owned by the listed Seven conglomerate.

Seven’s lead independent director Peter Ritchie predicted the $2 billion WesTrac acquisition was so good it would send the stock north of $14 to a record high. Today it is threatening $6 and WesTrac as a stand-alone business would be worth closer to $1.5 billion if it was trading on the ASX.

Stokes is also important for the RSPT debate because he controls The West Australian which will influence marginal seat outcomes in WA. Not to mention the influence of Seven’s free-to-air broadcasting operations across the nation, plus its stable of magazines.

Given that the vast majority of influential analysts, commentators and business players have lined up against the tax, the Rudd government really needs a favourable run tonight when the Four Corners story on the RSPT goes to air. If close to 1 million Australians tune into Sarah Ferguson’s 45-minute report and the overall impression supports the introduction of the tax, it would be worth a lot more politically than the bland taxpayer-funded advertising campaign so far.

The government’s rhetoric had appeared to be softening a little on the RSPT, but then we had the PM vowing an absolute determination to proceed this morning. If a major back down did emerge and Rudd’s credibility was further weakened, the big question would revolve around who supported what within the Kitchen Cabinet of Rudd, Swan, Tanner and Gillard which runs the government and took the RSPT decision.

Lindsay Tanner is already attempting to save his neck from the Greens in his vulnerable marginal seat of Melbourne, with Fairfax’s Lenore Taylor claiming on Insiders yesterday that he was most reluctant member of the Gang of Four when it came to ditching the ETS.

If the RSPT falls over, would Rudd’s heir apparent Julia Gillard be able to say the same thing?

*Stephen Mayne was interviewed for tonight’s Four Corners.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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