Gillard kicks off campaign in Brisbane

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has kicked off her first full day of election campaigning in a traditional way, by cuddling countless babies in a Brisbane park.

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Ms Gillard and her deputy Wayne Swan attended an event welcoming the babies in suburban Chermside on Sunday morning.

She was surrounded by babies and a large media contingent franticly snapping cameras.

The PM is set to deliver a speech in Brisbane later today, to answer concerns surrounding the stresses on Australia’s cities from a growing population.

Meanwhile Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has questioned the PM’s commitment to population policy, accusing her of an election fix on the issue.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd had raised the prospect of Australia’s population growing to 36 million by 2050.

But Ms Gillard has stepped back from her predecessor’s position, saying Australia should not “hurtle down the track” towards a big population.

Big Australia takes focus

“I don’t support the idea of a big Australia with arbitrary targets of, say, a 40 million-strong Australia or a 36 million-strong Australia. We need to stop, take a breath and develop policies for a sustainable Australia,” Ms Gillard said last month.

Mr Abbott on Sunday said he was also in favour of a policy of “sustainable” population growth but has questioned Ms Gillard’s commitment on the issue.

“It does look like a panicked change in policy with an election in the offing and she hasn’t changed anything in practice,” Mr Abbott told Sky News.

“I’m not against a higher population and in fact my paid parental leave policy is designed to have more mums having kids and more mums in the workforce feeling they are able to have a larger family.”

“But it’s got to be sustainable.”

Mr Abbott wants the Productivity Commission to provide annual advice on the infrastructure needs for sustaining population growth.

But he would not nominate a population level he believed would be appropriate for Australia.

“What I completely reject is that we should just take for granted that we’re going to bring in 180,000 or 300,000, which are the current figures, year-in year-out come what may, until 2050 and beyond.”

Abbott back on Work Choices

Meanwhile Mr Abbott has moved to neutralise Labor’s claims he will reintroduce Work hoices, but has refused to guarantee no worker will be worse off under a coalition government.

The opposition leader has said that if he won office there would be no changes to Labor’s industrial relations laws for the first three years of a coalition government.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has dismissed the pledge, saying Mr Abbott could not be trusted on industrial relations because he had always “thought Work Choices was right”.

Mr Abbott said Labor was simply scaremongering on the issue.

But when asked to guarantee that no worker would be worse off under a coalition government, the opposition leader refused to do so, instead pledging to not change Labor’s legislation.

“Well, I give a guarantee that they will operate under Labor’s system,” Mr Abbott told Sky News.

“How can we bring back Work Choices if we aren’t going to change the legislation?”

“We are not changing their legislation.”

However, the coalition could make changes to the system without changing the legislation by introducing new regulations.

Mr Abbott said he expected Labor would try to capitalise on the anti-Work Choices feeling in the community as it did in the 2007 election campaign.

“There is no doubt that Labor’s election campaign will be a scare campaign,” he said.