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An energised Kevin Rudd has pinned his fading hopes of being ”the comeback kid for Australia” on a confession, a promise and a warning: ”Never, ever underestimate my fighting spirit”.

Conceding that Labor had made mistakes, the Prime Minister told a gathering of the party’s true believers that they had been made in good faith, while ”having a go at building a better Australia”.

Implicit was the idea of Labor as a party of reformers and builders, while the conservatives had ”a negative vision that points back to some imagined point in a mythical past”.

The promise was to make jobs the main focus of the run home, underpinned by tax relief for small business and more cash for apprentices to buy their tools. There was also the threat to take over TAFE funding if state governments frustrated plans to strengthen the system, with its echoes of the threat to take over running of hospitals.

The message to those who consider the contest over was that ”they haven’t seen anything yet” and Rudd delivered it with conviction. But, with the polls all pointing to a comfortable Coalition victory, the atmosphere ranged from feisty defiance and steely determination to the sentimental sadness of what might have been.

The slick production projected intimacy, but could not obscure the elephant in the auditorium – the bitter internal divisions that saw Rudd replaced by Julia Gillard and then replace her, prompting a swag of cabinet ministers to resign.

Deputy PM Anthony Albanese set an optimistic tone, even while he conceded Rudd was ”a bit of a nerd”. ”If you want a bloke who can jump through tires, you can vote for Tony Abbott. If you want a bloke who can guide you through the next financial crisis, vote for Kevin Rudd.”

Albanese’s declaration that both Gillard and Rudd had led ”good, nation-building governments” preceded the recitation of a list of achievements, but also invited the question: if they were that good, why did their colleagues remove them?

While the Abbott daughters stole the show at the Coalition’s launch a week ago, Therese Rein delivered the most poignant speech at the Brisbane convention centre, describing the man with ”the country boy smile” who always put the national interest first.

Rein recalled how a young Rudd had been temporarily homeless after his father died and they lost their farm. ”I want you to meet someone who will never forget sleeping in the car that night, not knowing where the next safe place to sleep would be, as his mum struggled to find a job,” she said.

She also painted a portrait of ”daggy Kevin” who, when sent to Bunnings for a mozzie candle, came back with Roman flares, Blu-Tack, an extension cord, potting mix, a step ladder, secateurs – but no mozzie candle. Endearing though it was, it was fodder for the critics’ charge that Rudd is big on ideas but not so adept when it comes to turning them into action.

Rudd spoke around values, vision and policy, sticking tenaciously with his claim that Abbott is planning $70 billion in cuts that will ”affect your job, your school, your hospital” (in the face of point-blank denials by Abbott). His message is simple: if you still have doubts about Abbott, don’t vote for him. The question is whether voters’ antipathy towards Labor is the more powerful motivation on polling day.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.