Post Forty Five: John Howard vs. Kevin Rudd (with Fran Bailey vs. Craig Emerson on the undercard) and Sugar on top

I’ve just spent most of the last 24 hours at the National Small Business Summit, attended by Prime Minister John Howard and the leader of the Opposition Kevin Rudd.

I attended in my role as Technology Editor for My Business Business Magazine as I will cover the summit for the mag.

One of the many interesting things about the event was the chance to hear Howard and Rudd speak.

Howard surprised me. His delivery contains all of the things satirists mock. And he seems off-balance when he walks. But, boy, he did not hold back on the subject of industrial relations. He ripped in and really wound up, ending up quite florid and a little sweaty too, I suspect. He clearly really, really believes in this stuff.

I sat much closer to Rudd, about five meters away. He was very easy and open, started with some deft stuff that brought the audience in. He told a nice joke. The bits of his speech on broadband are almost there. If only he would say “building broadband is like building roads or ports or railways” I think people would get it more. He had the tougher gig as the PM spoke in a break between entree and main. Rudd spoke through a brief lunch, with cutlery clanking. In fact the mains were served just as he left the familiar bits of his speech (IR, broadband, education) and got into the small-business-specific stuff.

At this point he noticeably stiffened and started reading without much stagecraft, making him much less engaging.

The sideshow was Fran Bailey vs. Craig Emerson, respectively the federal small business Minister and her shadow. Bailey I took a swift dislike to, after she dealt with a question from the audience gracelessly. Devoting her speech to an attack of the opposition’s IR plans was not great either, especially her stories about union officials planning to visit small business owners at home and basically extort donations from them, which sounded like a shrill conspiracy theory.

I did not like it for the same reason Tony Abbot bugs me: he often uses his column in the Sydney Morning Herald to criticise the opposition without being constructive. I thought Bailey set herself up for a kill, but Emerson could not quite pull it off although his rebuttal of the Union scare story were pretty good.

The best speaker of the day, however, was Brad Sugars of Action Coaching, and he probably won the political fight over industrial relations too by tearing a hole in the ALP’s plans for a one-year probation period during which dismissal cannot be unfair. “I had a bloke once who worked for me three years and then stole from me,” he recalled. “And I still got done for unfair dismissal. How will a one year period help me?”

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