THE Federal Election may have only just begun but already a war of words has erupted between Labor MP for the bellwether seat of Eden Monaro Mike Kelly and Liberal candidate Peter Hendy.
At his official campaign launch on Saturday, Mr Hendy hit out at what he labelled as Labor’s economic mismanagement since coming to power.
He also questioned Mr Kelly’s commitment to the seat and to his own Prime Minister following Kevin Rudd’s unsuccessful tilt at the Labor leadership earlier this year.
Mr Kelly is on the record as having supported Mr Rudd against Julia Gillard. During the stoush, Mr Kelly offered his resignation as parliamentary secretary for defence to Ms Gillard and even considered quitting politics altogether.
“The fact is [Mr Kelly] has contemplated publically that he should resign and not contest the next election,” Mr Hendy told The Queanbeyan Age. “His heart’s not in it and if his heart’s not in it, he might as well step aside and let people who they can contribute to the country do so.”
Mr Kelly however, refuted Mr Hendy’s claims that he was anything less than 100 per cent committed to serving a third term as member for Eden Monaro should he win re-election.
He also claimed his party’s leadership debate had been settled and that his attention was focused on highlighting what he claimed would be large scale public sector job losses under an Abbott government.
“The internal political issues [surrounding the Labor leadership] have been resolved and my focus is on what Tony Abbott will do to the region if he is elected,” he said.
“We know [a Liberal government] would slash thousands of jobs from our area in the Public Service, 12,000 straight away and many thousands after that. We’ve seen that already [under Liberal state governments] in Queensland and NSW and that will be magnified by 10 under Tony Abbott.”
Economic policy is likely to be front and centre during the coming election debate and Mr Hendy has made his experience as a small business operator a centrepiece of his campaign.
The 50-year-old former chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce also served as chief of staff to then-Liberal Party leader Brendan Nelson and as an advisor to deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop.
Mr Hendy was joined by Ms Bishop on Saturday with both taking the opportunity to lambast Labor’s economic record, claiming the government was misinforming voters on the budget’s planned return to surplus in 2012-13.
“The fact is [the Labor government says] there will be a slither of a surplus in this financial year but in the past two months alone they have made something like $120billion in unfunded promises,” Mr Hendy argued. “There will be no surplus.
“They are saying to the financial markets they are going to have a surplus but every other day of the week they’re around spending money like a drunken sailor.”
The Labor government has announced billions of dollars in new spending in recent months for projects including the National Disability Insurance Scheme and funding for the Gonski education reforms.
Mr Kelly however, stood behind his party’s record on the economy saying the current government had successfully navigated the country through the Global Financial Crisis.
“[This government] has already proven it can deliver savings and has delivered $130billion is savings already,” he said. “We are determined to deliver that objective [of returning to surplus] and we will adjust where needed if that objective is put under threat.”
The seat of Eden Monaro has been held by the government of the day every year since 1972 and is considered a barometer of the wider electorate.
In 2010 Mr Kelly retained the seat for Labor after a narrow victory over Liberal Party candidate David Gazard.