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New Australia PM confident of ending mining tax row

By Amy Coopes

SYDNEY, Tuesday 29 June 2010 (AFP) - New Australian leader Julia Gillard voiced confidence Tuesday that she will resolve a mining tax row that brought down her predecessor, hoping to cement her party's re-election chances.

Gillard, who ousted Kevin Rudd in a secretive party-room coup last Thursday, has made renegotiating the planned tax her top priority before looming polls.

"I believe that, in a spirit of goodwill and showing some respect to each other we can get this sorted out, we can see a meeting of minds, and that’s my aim," Gillard told commercial radio.

"I do believe there will be an end point here ... It’s not in the national interest for uncertainty and indeed acrimony to be there in the public debate," she added.

Rudd's 40 percent levy on mining profits prompted a fierce backlash from the key export industry which found sympathy among millions of Australians who are investors through share portfolios or mandatory pension schemes.

The dispute cost Rudd vital support in the opinion polls, prompting a swift and ruthless mutiny which installed Gillard as Australia's first woman prime minister.

Gillard has moved swiftly to end the tax row, using her first speech as leader to secure a ceasefire with both the government and the miners dropping their TV ads respectively for and against the levy.

On Tuesday, she said a compromise was in sight and committed her "personal attention and focus" to the dispute. Treasurer Wayne Swan and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson are reportedly due to meet mining chiefs on Wednesday.

Swan, now also Gillard's deputy, last week refused to declare any aspect of the tax off-limits for negotiation, a marked shift from his unbending rhetoric under Rudd.

A compromise exempting the embryonic coal-seam gas industry was widely reported to be afoot, and reports suggested Gillard was keen to resolve the impasse by the end of this week.

Speculation is mounting that Gillard's Labor party is preparing to call an election as early as August, with betting agencies reporting the odds on August 7, 14 or 28 as the new leader rides high in public favour.

Gillard's installation has been welcomed by voters, with the latest opinion polls giving her a strong lead over conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott.

Meanwhile the factional leaders who engineered Rudd's shock ousting broke their silence, insisting the move was not linked to his dismal approval ratings and was "not done lightly".

Heavyweight Labor MP Bill Shorten defended the party's unorthodox dumping of Rudd as "the single hardest decision we have ever made in politics".

"I concede it was done quickly and I can understand a fair amount of shock, but it wasn't done on the basis of an opinion poll," the former union boss told the ABC television on Monday.

"You couldn't go anywhere without people, good people, people in your own electorate, saying to you 'something's gone really wrong with what the government's doing'," he said. "That's why we did it."

Gillard announced a minor cabinet reshuffle on Monday with ex-Trade Minister Simon Crean taking over her vacated education and employment portfolios and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith assuming the trade role.

But there was no position for Rudd, who will remain on the back benches at least until after the elections.

MySinchew 2010.06.29


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