The great debate

Just one week after Kevin Rudd announced the 7 September date for the federal election, he has faced off with his political nemesis at the National Press Club.

The economy featured prominently in the debate and is sure to lead the discussion in the political forum this week, which also sees the release of the Treasury’s Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Outlook (PEFO) on Tuesday. The $70 billion ‘hole’ in the economy is perhaps Tony Abbott’s biggest challenge. Refusing to be drawn on how a Coalition Government would redress the balance sheet, Mr Abbott would only say that he would release full policy costings prior to the election. While he did refute Kevin Rudd’s claim that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was bound for an increase, whether in rate or scope of goods on which it is charged, he did concede that GST, along with all taxes would be subject to a review.

Kevin Rudd relied on Labor’s sound financial management throughout the GFC as his big economic winner, but had little else to add, other than to say that his party’s “record on tax as a proportion of the economy is a strong one”.

The subject of asylum seekers follows on naturally from the economy as the second biggest issues of the election campaign. Mr Rudd was asked if dismantling the Pacific Solution was a bad idea, his response, “It’s a very difficult issue for the country and the action of people smugglers concerns all Australians. What I have said many times already is that with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight we would have adjusted policy earlier. But I acted on a democratic mandate.”

Tony Abbott reiterated that boats will be turned around, “If it’s safe to do so, it will be turned around. This is not some unprecedented action,” he said and listed other countries which have the same policy. Attacking the PNG solution he said, “Because Mr Rudd closed the Pacific processing down, we’ve had 50,000 arrivals, the PNG solution is not what the Prime Minister says it is.  Offshore processing on its own is not enough.”

When asked by Fairfax Media’s Peter Hartcher what programs would be cut or taxes raised to cover the inefficiencies of Australia’s tax system and deliver revenue, Kevin Rudd said reducing the rate of company tax would be the best course of action in a perfect world, but “now is not the right time”. Tony Abbott stated that we need a stronger economy and a Coalition Government would “eliminate unnecessary taxes like the mining tax and the carbon tax. A Coalition would focus on improving productivity.”

On the issue of productivity, Kevin Rudd relied on the National Broadband Network to provide a much-needed boost. Tony Abbott responded by saying the Government’s NBN was over schedule and over budget. He did pledge to make a decision about the site for a second airport in Sydney and promised to boost the capacity of the current airport by improving the roads around it. Mr Rudd questioned whether Sydney actually needed a second airport.

Climate change yet again proved to be a devisive issue, but probably not one which will decide the outcome of any election. The Coalition prefers the direct action approach and claimed this will reduce emissions by five per cent by 2020, but gave no actual detail as to what ‘direct action’ entails. Kevin Rudd responded by saying, “We will be doing a disservice to our kids and grandkids if we do not act … We never doubted the science, unlike some.” And that, should the rest of the world propose to work together to reduce emissions, then Australia has “no alternative than to act collaboratively with the rest of the world.”

As a parting shot in the debate, Kevin Rudd tried to blind-side his conservative opponent by announcing a Labor Government would commit to introducing a bill to legalise same-sex marriage within 100 days of its re-election. Mr Abbott, who personally opposes same-sex marriage, refused to be drawn on whether he would grant coalition MPs a conscience vote on the issue.

Watch the debate in full at SBS.com.au.

Opinion: And the winner is…

Last night’s election debate gave Australians the first chance to see what the two major players had to say about the issues which will decide who leads the country, but at the end of the hour, were we any better informed?

Interestingly, only SBS and ABC chose to give the debate a run on their major channel, with the commercial channels opting not to derail their scheduling and bumping ‘The Great Debate’ to a secondary channel. Perhaps an indication of how uninterested the majority of viewers are.

Kevin Rudd arrived, notes at the ready, while Tony Abbott decided to play by the agreed rules and go sans memory aids. This very much follows the way Tony Abbott operates, off-the-cuff and prone to gaffs, while his opponent prefers to be very much in control. Being in control and being informed are surely two keys attributes which a potential leader of the country should have but, on this occasion, it gave Mr Rudd a slightly arrogant air and on a few occasions, the confidence to refuse to move on. Mr Abbott on the other hand was more about sound bites and quoting Labor’s past failings than giving weight to any of his own arguments.

The economy is shaping up to be the election decider and while many Australians refuse to believe Labor’s promises of sound financial management, one can’t help but wonder if the lack of Coalition policy costings is a result of simply not having a clue what to do, or if Joe Hockey just can’t find a calculator. I mean, how difficult can it be to put down on paper what your promises will cost and where the money will come from?

With questions being fielded from the press gallery, this was the chance for both leaders to add gravitas and authority to their party policies. Yet, as has sadly become the norm, it simply became an opportunity to niggle each other and score points on each other’s past failings, rather than truly outline how they could best serve the country. Even Julia Gillard, recently ousted by born-again PM Kevin, wasn’t to get away Scot-free, with Tony Abbott taking a swipe at her backflip on the carbon tax.

In his closing statement, Kevin Rudd said it was time to look to a positive future, to put our faith in the party who could deliver change. And Tony Abbott seemed to agree saying, “We do not need another three years like the last six. Choose real change.”

All too soon (or maybe not soon enough if you were waiting to switch over to the cricket) the end of the allocated hour was approaching and still I was none the wiser. Would I be voting for the party, led by the ‘earnest’ Kevin Rudd, or would self-professed good guy Tony Abbott’s party deserve my tick on the 7th? Who knows? And it seems I’m not the only one who is none the wiser, with no outright winner being declared. The winner seems to depend on which news outlet or television channel you defer to.

Did the debate answer any of your questions on policies? Do you think there was anything to be gained by either side from the debate? Did the debate change your mind on either leader and/or for whom you intend to vote for on Saturday 7 September?

Written by Debbie McTaggart



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