Evidence again today that government ministers have nothing to gain from debates with the wannabes from their opposition. The televised exchanges between Peter Costello and Wayne Swan at the National Press Club will have been seen in their entirety by very few voters but extracts from it are sure to feature prominently in newscasts this evening.

And the Labor shadow will surely be shown in a favourable light if for no other reason than giving a better account of himself than most commentators predicted.

As for the actual content of what was said there was little of any significance. Treasurer Costello outlined a new program of subsidies for small business people to undergo training to cost $168 million but not even he would see that as some kind of major vote winner. Would-be-Treasurer Swan was not in the business of making new announcements at all as he endeavoured to show his credentials as an economic conservative.

The worm was there again on Channel Nine and thank goodness for it. It was fascinating to watch the statements that the studio audience reacted to. Talk about the future is good. Talk about the past is bad. Receive merit marks for acknowledging something good about the other side. Lose them for being negative and critical. For most of the time, however, the indicator was running around the neutral mid-point on the + and – scale whoever was speaking.

Perhaps Wayne Swan showed that he has mastered the art of prompting a favourable response better than Peter Costello. The worm spent more time in positive territory when he was speaking than when the Treasurer had the floor and I expect that will be reflected when Nine delivers the audience verdict during A Current Affair.

For my part I thought there was no massive victory for either man.

The Party strategists looking for pointers to what to say and do in the weeks ahead would do well to concentrate on the Costello and Swan responses to the first question asked after the opening statements about the future of motor car manufacturing in Australia. The worm went decidedly down as the industry policy of the Government was outlined while trying to avoid answering the question. Labor was just as evasive about the future of the four car manufacturers but the rhetoric about productivity coming from more spending on education and training sent the worm climbing.

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd can be expected to devote more of his time to the question of industry policy in the days ahead.