Kevin Rudd campaign launch

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has used Labor’s Brisbane campaign launch to swing the focus back to jobs, with a suite of election announcements on employment, training and, particularly, apprenticeship.

The centerpiece of Rudd’s pitch was an extension of small business tax deductions to $10,000, costing $200 million over four years – the only fiscal commitment of substance from the launch.

Rudd also threatened to direct TAFE funding directly to institutions in the face of state government funding cuts, ultimately with the goal of establishing a Commonwealth-funded technical education network, a proposal that brought warm cheers from the Labor faithful in attendance.

He also announced a new “Job Services Guarantee” for job seekers that would tailor job retraining services to local jobs, overseen by new “Jobs and Training Boards” across 42 regions.

Labor will also extend Industry Participation Plans to all projects worth more than $300 million dollars, imposing more local content and participation requirements on large projects, as well as additional apprenticeship requirements on projects majority-funded by the Commonwealth. There will also be additional assistance to apprentices for tools.

The detailed focus on jobs is an abrupt return to earlier campaign themes after two weeks of policy limbo in which Rudd dabbled with big picture thought bubbles relating to Northern Australia, relocating the Navy to Brisbane, high speed rail and economic xenophobia. All of that was abandoned for a focus on jobs and existing Labor policies on the NBN and, primarily, education.

It also returns Labor’s flagging campaign to the same territory outlined by Julia Gillard earlier in the year when she set local jobs, education funding and what became DisabilityCare as Labor’s central campaign themes.

The launch, a relatively low-key event in a town hall-style setting, was warmed up by Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese with the now-traditional attack dog routine, before Thérèse Rein introduced her husband. Rudd delivered a strong, sharp performance that  — almost certainly too late – returned Labor’s campaign to where it is strongest both in terms of its record in government and where voters see it on economic management – as the party more likely to seek to protect Australian jobs.

Rudd also sought to capitalize on lingering doubts Tony Abbott, urging voters to not back him if they were still unsure about him.

Overall, however, the atmosphere of celebration and expectation that accompanied last week’s Coalition launch was matched with a downbeat feel among the Labor attendees, despite the presence of former leaders Hawke and Keating at the launch; Rudd singled out both as well as Julia Gillard for their key contributions to modern Australia via Medicare, superannuation and DisabilityCare.

“Let’s go out there and win this election,” Albanese urged attendees as Rudd left the stage; the prevailing feeling is that they have a huge task ahead of them with less than a week to go.