Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Rudd challenges Tony Abbott for open vote on gay marriage

KEVIN Rudd has challenged Tony Abbott to allow a conscience vote on gay marriage, saying it was time to end the issue once and for all.

Mr Rudd, who came out in support of marriage equality a few months ago, said: "Whoever wins the next election, let's just have the civility to open this to a conscience vote for all.''

In May, the former Nambour High student, whose sister Loree is strong opponent of gay marriage, says an encounter with a 'God-botherer' Pentecostal who is gay has helped changed his stance on gay marriage.

Mr Rudd said he now believed the church and state should have different positions on the question of same sex marriage.

The PM said the issue was causing unnecessary anxiety for those in the gay and lesbian community who wanted the same rights as others.

He said young people, in particular, could not believe Australia did not allow gay marriage.

"Wherever I go in Australia, young people think that our current arrangements are just wrong.''

He described marriage equality, along with decent broadband, as two big selling points for Labor among young voters.

Mr Rudd also challenged Mr Abbott for a national debate on Australia's debt and deficit as he vows to bring in a less divisive style of politics.

"Let's have a debate about the facts,'' Mr Rudd told a press conference on Friday afternoon.

Mr Rudd said he would be sitting down with business community, the unions and Mr Abbott to discuss a better way forward for Australia.

The Prime Minister has also promised to give the Better Schools program or Gonski reforms his top priority.

He announced he would extend the deadline for states to accept the deal beyond June 30 by two weeks so he could personally meet with Premiers and Ministers to gain their support.

Mr Rudd, who attended Nambour High School along with former Treasurer Wayne Swan, said that school would receive an extra $10.8 million over the next six years under the Better Schools program.

He said as a former student he felt passionate about ensuring Nambour students had the same opportunities as any other kids in the country.

As a Queenslander, he said he expected a warm reception from the Newman government, especially after this week's State of Origin victory.

Mr Rudd said his new ministry would be sworn in next Monday.

But he said he would not be making any policy change announcements until he had fully canvassed them in Cabinet.

Mr Rudd admitted one of the things he had learnt from his last period in office was the need to be better consult with his colleagues.

The former PM confirmed would be talking to his Cabinet about the carbon tax but he would not be drawn on details.

Mr Rudd said one of the reasons he had decided to return was that he feared the important reforms that had been brought in by himself and Ms Gillard would be lost.

"The government was on track to a catastrophic defeat,'' he said.

He said proper investment in schools, urban rail projects, the national broadband network and workers' rights will be lost if Mr Abbott controlled both the lower and upper houses of parliament. 

"We would have seen them simply disappear,'' he said.

"Had we lost in the Senate as well, who knows what would have happened.''

"Some of these good reforms have been Julia's.''

"Some of these reforms date back to the period when I was Prime Minister.''

"I could not stand by and allow all these good changes to be thrown away.''

Mr Rudd confirmed he wanted to make some policy changes, sending a strong signal that he wanted to woo back the business community.

But he said journalists who wanted to see a raft of announcements in the next week should 'just chill for a while'

"This will be done through the proper process of Cabinet.

"Frankly, decision making is always much better when it can be done collegiately.''


Rudd gives more time for school funding reforms deal

NEW Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has given reluctant states an extra two weeks to sign up to the Federal Government's school funding reforms.

With the June 30 deadline looming, just New South Wales, South Australia and the ACT have inked a deal to move to needs-based education funding.

In his first press conference since defeating Julia Gillard in Wednesday's leadership ballot, Mr Rudd said he would begin meeting with premiers and chief ministers to get the reform across the line.

He also revealed the reform would no longer be referred to as "Gonski" because of the confusion it caused.

"I think we have a challenge to take the substance of a plan and describe what it actually does," Mr Rudd said.

"This national school improvement program is about better schools and education for kids."

Mr Rudd said his new-look ministry would be sworn-in on Monday, but he did not reveal who was being elevated to the frontbench to fill the myriad vacancies left by a string of high profile resignations in the wake of the bloody leadership spill.

He again offered an olive branch to senior Gillard loyalists wishing to remain on the frontbench, saying he was eager to "harvest" as much talent as possible for his team.

The mystery of an election date also remained, with Mr Rudd again declining to say whether he would stick with the September 14 date set by Ms Gillard or announce a new day for Australians to cast their votes.

The Member for Griffith took questions for almost an hour on a range of issues, including his reasons for challenging Ms Gillard and his plans for the carbon tax, asylum-seeker policy, regional Australia and Labor Party reform.

Just as he did in the lead-up to the caucus ballot on Wednesday, Mr Rudd said his actions had been necessary to prevent the "catastrophic defeat" Labor was facing at the next election.

"Were that to occur we would have seen torn down so many of the reforms under my leadership and Julia Gillard's leadership," he said.

Mr Rudd again challenged Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to a National Press Club debate next week on the issue of debt and the deficit.

He also responded to media reports he was considering dumping the carbon price, which increases by $1.15 per tonne from Monday, in favour of an emissions trading scheme with a floating price.

"I am very mindful of due process and I want to discuss this fully with the cabinet including the budget implications," he said.

Meanwhile, Tim Mathieson gave his first interview since his partner lost the leadership.Mr Mathieson said Ms Gillard, who has not spoken publicly since Wednesday, had been "really good" since the tumultuous events of Wednesday.

"A little sad, but the whole household is sad but probably slightly relieved as well. We're all good and had a nice quiet night last night," Mr Mathieson told Channel Nine while was out walking the dog, Reuben, in Canberra.

Mr Mathieson said Ms Gillard had done "incredible things", predicting her legacy would be better appreciated in time.

He revealed he was with his children on the Gold Coast on Wednesday when news of the challenge broke.

A hairdresser by trade, Mr Mathieson described the past three years as "amazing" and a "privilege".

"We're all sad but life moves on. 

It's been an amazing three years personally for me, having gone to the royal wedding, met the Queen in Buckingham Palace, gone to Washington to meet the Obamas .. all that sort of stuff," he said.

"And also just getting to live in both premises, the Lodge and Kirribilli, has been an amazing privilege and an amazing experience."