Opposition Leaders traditionally call for election campaign debates with Prime Ministers because they are desperate for the television exposure they hope might enable them to narrow a popularity gap. Prime Ministers know that and try and avoid them because there is no point in giving an opponent an even break.

This time round things are quite different. The Opposition Leader has a higher approval rating than the Prime Minister. The pollsters clearly show that the people believe Kevin Rudd would be a better leader of the country than John Howard.

It is John Howard who must take the risks if the Coalition is going to be returned at this election. Playing it safe will just see the Labor lead maintained.

That explains why Mr Howard so quickly responded after nominating 24 November as the election date to Mr Rudd’s challenge to take part in three televised debates before a variety of audiences. And it is why Mr Rudd should stick to his initial response of not wanting a single debate in the Great Hall of Parliament House before an invited audience and without distractions of things like the worm which measures public response to what the debaters say.

Mr Howard knows that this Sunday he would have a great advantage over his opponent. He has just released his $34 billion tax cut bribe and knows that Labor will not have its tax inducement ready for release in time. While a little wary of these staged events because he has not performed well at them in the past, if perchance his tax advantage does enable him to come out on top, the PM can then agree to another debate down the track.

Mr Rudd should call Mr Howard’s bluff and keep saying that it is to be a series of debates or nothing and that they should be held on the last three Sunday nights of the campaign.

Peter Fray

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