Day 20: Rudd enters stage left

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The healing continued within the ALP after Mr Rudd moved to close the door on the past during an interview on Wednesday night, his first since he was dumped as Labor leader.

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In his first public appearance since gall bladder surgery last week, Mr Rudd reiterated the future of the nation was more important than the manner in which he lost the leadership six weeks ago to Julia Gillard.

“The truth is this has been a very difficult time for our family, and it would be dishonest to pretend otherwise,” he told reporters in Brisbane.

“But it is equally true that there are much bigger things at stake at present than my future, and that is our country’s future.”

His intervention might be the injection Labor needs to reinvigorate its campaign, which was on the skids last week and has been trying to find its feet after unleashing the “real” Julia Gillard on Monday.

Labor is desperate to make up ground in Queensland, Mr Rudd’s home state, where polling reportedly suggests it could lose up to 10 seats.

Mr Rudd wasn’t the only uneasy bedfellow helping the federal Labor cause.

Despite an at times tricky relationship between the party’s state and federal arms, Labor premiers moved en masse to attack a $3.1 billion health plan unveiled by Mr Abbott.

Coalition talks health

The coalition is trying to trump Labor, traditionally seen as having the advantage on health.

Before he was dumped as leader, Mr Rudd was proposing to pump more than $7 billion into health and hospitals under a reform plan negotiated with all states and territories bar Western Australia.

A key plank of the coalition policy – described as “Rudd-lite” by one expert – is an extra 2800 hospital beds, though 800 have already been allocated to its mental health proposal.

The big obstacle, however, could be the financially strapped states, all run by Labor governments except Western Australia.

Mr Abbott won’t deliver the cash for them to fund the beds upfront.

“If they want to get the money, they’ll have to produce the beds,” Mr Abbott told ABC radio.

“I think that the only way to get performance out of the states is to say the money won’t come until after they’ve performed.”

Rann slams Abbott

South Australian Premier Mike Rann predicted a coalition government would mean a return of the blame game between the commonwealth and states.

“He’s only going to fund the beds after they’ve been opened,” Mr Rann told AAP.

“So where the hell does he think the money will come from to keep his promise?”

Mr Abbott also confirmed he would expand his policy on local hospital boards to the entire country. Previously, the policy was targeted at NSW and Queensland.

Trying to save his legacy reform on health, as well as what he achieved for the economy, climate change and national broadband, were among the reasons Mr Rudd stepped up to speak out against an Abbott government.

“These are the reasons I oppose the election of Mr Abbott’s government, and these are the policy reasons therefore I support the re-election of this federal Labor government, under Prime Minister Gillard,” Mr Rudd said.

The conciliatory act was embraced by the prime minister, who praised Mr Rudd as a man of “enormous capabilities”.

Mr Rudd will now accept a request from Ms Gillard to join Labor’s national campaign.

The pair will come together on Saturday for the first time since Ms Gillard seized the leadership in a caucus showdown on June 24.

Their meeting is sure to steal some of the oxygen from the Liberal campaign launch on Sunday.

Coalition ramps up economic credentials

The coalition was ramping up its economic credentials after Mr Abbott stumbled earlier in the week, unable to state when the budget would be brought back to surplus under his leadership.

He was back on message on Wednesday, with a firm commitment that the surplus would be restored by 2012-13.

Mr Abbott restated a pledge that the coalition would deliver a “bigger surplus” than Labor but would not say by how much.

But Mr Abbott isn’t the only one to be caught off guard.

Treasurer Wayne Swan came up blank, too, when asked on Melbourne radio how much interest was being paid on government debt each week.