Last night was the only election debate of the campaign and it was filled with fair dinkums, which is the new moving forward, apparently. In case you missed it, you can read the entire transcript here, but let’s face it, it wasn’t the most thrilling testament to democracy.
People overwhelmingly think Labor will win the election. Abbott remains the underdog. A win tonight would give him fresh momentum. A loss would be a slip on the side of that Everest he’s trying to climb.
But who won the debate? The worm slithered up and down the screen and the commentariat are also all over the place this morning.
Unnamed “staff writers” at The Oz declared “Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott have faced off in a polite leaders debate, with neither leader delivering a knockout blow.”
It was a lacklustre night for Christine Jackman, ”…it was clear then that this debate would deliver nothing more than another serve of workshopped rhetoric with all the appeal of cold porridge”, she writes in The Oz.
Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott didn’t give political value for money in last night’s debate. They were too frightened of putting a foot wrong. Rehearsed to the hilt, they provided nothing new. Humour was lacking; there was little engagement between the two, no spontaneous moments. Neither was seriously caught out; where they didn’t have answers they fudged. Nor was there any clear winner.
“With no killer blows and debate centred on their political skeletons, neither Ms Gillard nor Tony Abbott will be able to use it as a springboard into week two of the campaign,” says Stefanie Balogh in The Courier-Mail.
Yes, it was a crap debate, but Gillard won it, says Katharine Murphy in The Age. “Julia Gillard moves into the second week of the election contest claiming victory in a lacklustre televised debate that stayed religiously on the campaign script,” writes Murphy.
Malcolm Farr agreed over at The Daily Telegraph: “Julia Gillard won last night’s debate narrowly over Tony Abbott, but neither planted a bone breaker on their opponent.”
Julia mightn’t have lost it, but she didn’t win it either, says Dennis Shanahan in The Oz. “…the expectations piled on Gillard’s shoulders were left unfulfilled and a solid, mistake-free performance will not be enough to have the new Prime Minister declared a ‘winner’.”
At least the worm provided welcome distraction. “… for the first time, voters were treated to not just a head-to-head battle between a male and female political leader, but also a gender-bending worm. And basically, the lady worm likes girls,” writes Samantha Maiden in The Oz.
The worm declared Gillard the winner. “Channel Nine’s worm, the live tracking device operated by a sample of swing voters, awarded the debate to Ms Gillard emphatically, while Channel Seven’s polliegraph gave it to the Prime Minister by a nose,” notes Phillip Coorey in The Sydney Morning Herald.
“Neither Julia Gillard nor Tony Abbott will be disappointed with their performances in last night’s leaders’ debate, as both avoided any serious mistakes. But Abbott, who is trailing in the polls, need to make a bigger impact than proved to be the case,” writes Tony Walker in the Financial Review [paywall].
Others were quick to give the win — or at least a near win — to Abbott. “Tony Abbott has dealt himself back into the election race with a narrow victory in last night’s leaders’ debate,” says Phillip Hudson in the Herald Sun.
According to Matthew Franklin and Patricia Karvelas at The Oz, Abbott defied the “low expectations” put upon him. “The Opposition Leader put on a disciplined performance in last night’s leader’s debate, overcoming underdog status to come close to victory,” they write.
Oz colleague Paul Kelly seemed equally as impressed by Abbott, writing “This was Tony Abbott’s best moment. He may not have outpointed Julia Gillard but he exceeded expectations and looked, as never before, a viable prime minister.”
Tony Abbott also got the winning thumbs up from Annabel Crabb at The Drum, who noted that “Mainly, it was a relief to see them disagreeing with each other.”
But Abbott will have to get more than a pass grade to win, writes Peter Hartcher in The Sydney Morning Herald. “Tony Abbott made a strong critique of the Gillard Labor government in last night’s debate, but utterly failed to establish his own party as the alternative.”
Tony Wright at The Age had a sure fire debate victor “Indeed, the winner was … David Speers! … He stood alone between the two contenders and tried valiantly to provide a match as both Gillard and Abbott sought to slide away from anything approaching substance.”
It doesn’t matter what the media thinks, writes Barrie Cassidy on The Drum: “Political parties obsess about what the media thinks of the debaters, but in the end, people make up their own minds. Julia Gillard didn’t win, or Tony Abbott didn’t win because Joe Blogs, political correspondent for World News, thinks he or she did. Audiences at home make up their own minds, and they are influenced not by Joe Blogs, but by what they just saw and heard.”
Meanwhile, in actual policy news, over the weekend Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott announced a plan to cut immigration to just 170,00 people per year. But there is some confusion over exactly how the 170,000 will be counted, says Bernard Keane on The Stump. ”Good luck telling highly-skilled migrants that they can move to Australia but they can’t bring their partners and kids with them,” writes Keane.
Will it include temporary skilled and student visas? Is the immigration number already dropping? Commentators seem unimpressed by this move by the Coalition.
It’s a populist policy writes Peter van Onselen in The Oz: “Population policy is a complex area and it will take some time for experts to fully dissect the merits or otherwise of the Coalition’s new policy. But politically the government will need to respond to it quickly if the populist pitch in it is to be countered.”
“I fear a race to the bottom on immigration,” John Hewson at The Drum.
Stephen Lunn at The Oz thinks the numbers are dodgy: “The figures just don’t add up in this increasingly sleazy population debate.”
Yes, the numbers aren’t quite right, says Dennis Atkins at The Courier-Mail, “…but it doesn’t distract from the fact many voters will find Abbott’s craven calculation attractive.”
The overused slogans of this campaign — Julia’s ‘Moving Forward’ and Tony’s ‘Real Action’ — are dumbing down our political conscience, said Tim Soutphommasane in The Oz:
Today the measure of success for the politician is to stay “on message”. The conduct of politics tends to prioritise personality over policy, symbols over substance, the comfortable over the controversial. But citizens have also been complicit. When we watch politicians on vacuous talk shows or variety entertainment programs, we encourage the dumbing down of our politics.
It’s also a morning of polling, with the latest Newspoll [PDF] out in The Oz showing the two-party preferred vote as 52-48 for Labor, a rise of three points to the Coalition.
Tony Abbott is narrowing the gap on Julia Gillard in the primary vote, writes Dennis Shanahan in The Oz. “The election campaign has become a tight contest”.
Today’s Galaxy poll has the same figures as Newspoll for the two party preferred, but notes that one in ten voters are uncertain of who they will vote for and the Greens’ primary vote has risen to 15%.
Let’s hope the second election campaign week has a few more thrills in store…