The leaders debate last night was a bit of a flop. Its best bit was Mr Abbott’s short message at the end, picking up Mr Rudd’s reiterated ‘new way’ phrase, and turning it, simply and well, to his own advantage: if you want a ‘new way’ then vote for the Coalition. Otherwise Mr Rudd outspoke,  out-gestured and out-interrupted his opponent. Whether it did him any good no one can tell.

Once again you could see his great strengths in fluent speech and quick recall. You could also see why many people do not trust him — he is such a salesman, so confident, never wrong, rarely without his smile and his passion — ‘I am passionate about X, I am passionate about Y…’ Is there anything that he is not passionate about? And he uses the first person pronoun in the singular much too often. So much of what he said was just about him. At least Mr Abbott did talk about his team. I was glad when the hour was over.

The policy items on the debate’s agenda were the economy, taxes, the boats and climate change. I doubt that either of the leaders won votes from their presentations. On the economy Mr Rudd claimed credit for Australia’s having avoided the GFC, while Mr Abbott pointed out that Mr Rudd had, after all, inherited an excellent economy. Taxes? Mr Rudd waved the GST increase flag, and Mr Abbott said there would be no change in the GST. Honours even.

‘The boats’? Given that Mr Rudd has in effect adopted the core element of the Howard Government’s policy Mr Abbott could not really object, but managed to say that his government would salvage what was possible from the  Labor Government’s new policy. Asked whether or not Mr Rudd would now concede that he had been wrong in abandoning Howard’s ‘Pacific solution’ the Prime Minister said simply that this was the policy he had put to the people, and on which he had been elected. Things had changed in the world, and he thought that one of them was a civil war in Sri Lanka. I rather thought that had been going on for twenty years or so. But honours even again.

I also thought climate change was rapidly receding from the political agenda, but apparently not. None of the questioners was impolite enough to remind Mr Rudd that he had once described it as ‘the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our generation’, but Mr Abbott was reminded that he had said, at the National Press Club, that climate change was real and was happening and that we had to so something about it. Would he keep to his commitment to reduce emissions and work with other nations to combat this evil? Or something like like that.

Mr Abbott was careful to point out that most other countries were backing off from carbon taxes and things like the ETS, so there was little likelihood of any real global agreement. Nonetheless he would strive to reduce emissions, as he said he would. Plainly, having said he would end the carbon tax, he thinks that’s enough — and that there are still plenty of voters out there who think we should be doing  something, so that returning to his much earlier remake that climate change was ‘crap’ was probably not advisable. Honours even again.

At the end I wondered what end these stagey debates serve. Each of the leaders has been seen on television, almost every day this year — and that was true of Mr Rudd when he was a simple backbencher, reminding us all that he would only be interested in the leadership if an overwhelming majority of his party summoned him. Mr Abbott is better, I am told, in meeting individuals and small groups, while Mr Rudd seems to be able to work every kind of crowd well. At the end, nonetheless, people make up their own minds, and the imagined ‘cut and thrust’ of these debates are unlikely to be important.

The opinion polls seem to suggest that the Rudd honeymoon is receding in its effect. Had Julia Gillard remained as PM, the Labor Party would have picked up momentum anyway from the approach of the real election. I think it’s probably true that Mr Rudd has had an added effect, in giving Labor supporters the notion that all is not lost, but he could not have worked all the change. Elections do bring out the steel in party machines.

But the news on the same day that two Labor candidates have to be replaced, within a month of the poll,  because of indiscretions must make one wonder, again, about how deep the malaise inside the ALP goes. Yes, Mr Rudd has promised to end all that. But nothing has changed, nor could it have changed, other than as a ‘vision’ of how it might be when the Good Fairy has waved her wand.

What we know is that the Coalition is very likely to win the seats of New England and Lyne, vacated by notable Independents who once belonged to the Nationals. Tasmania is not a good state for Labor, nor is Victoria, and nor is NSW. No one has said much yet about South Australia or the West, but there is no suggestion that Labor will do well there. Can Labor win a seat or two in Queensland and keep all its own? It’s too early to say. But so far as I can see at this stage, the Coalition is likely to win without needing support from anyone else.

And I can’t see any need for any further leader debates. It must be true that if you’ve seen this one you’ve seen them all.




Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Peter Kemmis says:

    Fronting a microphone and a physical audience, especially one ready to believe him, brings out the performer in Rudd, yet last night’s performance was rather flat. Perhaps we’ve seen the show too often. If he can’t dazzle against Abbott’s phlegmatic realism in a forum that should suit Rudd so well (remember how keen he was to have a few debates?), perhaps it shows something of his level of confidence about the campaign and the election itself.

    Yes, it was rather dull. I thought the responses on the second airport for Sydney were telling: Abbott promised that under a Coalition government a decision would be made in its first term; Rudd flicked a pass to his Albanese as the minister responsible. It’s really the same response – ” a decision needs to be made”, but Abbott took a punt and gave a timeframe. I thought both were caught on the hop, but Abbott’s response sounded far more definite. I thought the interchange on this point quite telling.

    Gay marriage has stolen the limelight from climate change, it seems. As an atheist, I find it droll to have both contenders tackled on this issue, one that has been so challenging to the beliefs and traditions of their shared monotheistic religions. At least traditional religion itself is not an issue in the election!

    Both players want climate change off the agenda, one because he’s smart enough to recognise that more and more people are losing their faith in AGW, the other because he’s been an unwilling conscript. Perhaps they’ve read Paul Collits recent Quadrant article “The Age of Global Warming is Over”.

    Yes, Don, one debate is quite enough – unless they both cut loose in a second one. I’d want to see questions that go to the heart of the philosophy of each party, questions for which generalised answers will not suffice. Some examples?
    * indigenous rights and responsibilities
    * welfare support and responsibilities
    * engines of economic growth and productivity
    * labour relations, the role of unions, productivity and sharing the pie
    * freedom of speech
    * . . . . (I’m sure others could add to this list)

    How to constrain generalities? A panel could choose particular examples, and ask questions that tease out the differences in approaches by each party’s philosophy, and just nail any waffle.

  • Peter Lang says:

    You could also see why many people do not trust him

    Yes, and here are some example I noticed in the debate:

    1. he used notes when they agreed not to (admittedly, I didn’t know that until after the debate, but was impressed that Abbott spoke without notes throughout while Rudd read a lot of the time). Now I know Rudd cheated. just another example of his sleeze, IMO

    2. The $70 billion black hole he keeps quoting is dishonest and he knows it. Yet that doesn’t stop him repeating it over an over. It seem like ingrained Labor culture: “Whatever it takes”

    3. Claiming Australia’s relatively mild response was due to his actions. The stimulus was a small part of the reason Australia came through the GFC as well as we did.

    I don’t trust Rudd.

  • Don Aitkin says:

    I am not sure I have the stomach to watch another, though I guess I finally will!

    A citizen in Queensland, interviewed immediately after on the ABC, said that it all seemed far removed from him and where he was — something for the National Press Club, but not for anyone much else. I had to agree with him.

  • PeterE says:

    Yes, it was quite dull but worth watching to gauge its likely impact (nil?). I switched between Gem and One, each of which had a public opinion meter, the ‘worm’ and the ‘believability index’. I also watched ABC 24, blessedly free of these gimmicks. The opinion meters were appalling and the explanation was given in another post by Mike pointing out that as soon as your favoured candidate speaks you press your ‘approve’ button down and hold, and the opposite when the opponent starts to speak. This phenomenon was immediately noticeable and on climate change Rudd’s words caused the worm to rise to the top and to stay there. At the end both the Gem and One audiences gave it 60-40 to Rudd, whereas Laurie Oakes (Gem/9) went for a narrow win to Abbott. The meters are worse than useless and may even be seen as an intended means of attempting to sway public opinion.

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