This election has become a numbers game, with disagreements over the economy becoming the biggest war in this campaign. So it’s no surprise the Treasurers’ debate yesterday, with Wayne Swan and Joe Hockey in the ring, was a down and dirty street fight over which party is the best to lead the nation’s economy. Who landed the final blow?

It was like “a fiscal fight club”, declares Katharine Murphy in The Age:

“…the demeanour of the two Treasury spokesmen revealed its current reality: tight, toe-to-toe, rolling combat at close quarters. Swan went for his characteristic relentless jabs — head down, mouth fixed, left, right, left, right into the Hockey stomach. Hockey was more inclined to lean back in the flurry of blows and add a pirouette or two before landing an opportunistic lob across the ear.”

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Most media adjudicators declared Hockey the winner. There was no knockout — “Swan had the edge on content, but Hockey won the points on style,” writes Tim Colebatch in The Age.

Swan tried to claim too much credit, argues Michael Stutchbury in The Australian: “Overall, Hockey appeared more assured and expansive than the typically keep-to-the-script Swan. That gave Hockey a comfortable points win in an uninspiring debate that confirmed the lost political appetite for genuine policy reform.”

This should have been a breeze for Swan, but it wasn’t, says Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald:

“For a man who could reasonably lay claim to being the most successful economic minister in the developed world, Wayne Swan sounded oddly like an opposition politician yesterday.

“In debating Joe Hockey at the National Press Club, he was cranky, defensive and argumentative. It was the opposition candidate who sounded more like a successful incumbent. Hockey was positive, expansive and spoke optimistically of his plans.

“And, insofar as either man addressed the future needs of the Australian economy, it was, again, Hockey who sounded more like a leader.”

Hockey shouldn’t get too cocky — neither candidate looked amazing, laments Jennifer Hewett in The Oz: “It confirms why the business community is so glum about the prospect of having either Swan or Hockey pulling the Treasury levers.”

Christine Jackman agreed. “One thing was settled definitively in the battle of the bean counters at the National Press Club yesterday: Australia has a deficit. A deficit of colourful treasurers, that is,” she writes in The Oz.

Hockey may have donned the championship belt according to most of the commentariat, but leader Tony Abbott isn’t quite looking like an economic winner just yet.

An Abbott government will eventually cut taxes — both the company rate and personal income — according to an interview with Abbott in The Oz. Abbott also says he plans to revisit the Henry Tax Review to implement some of its suggestions, while the Labor party has quietly rejected another five Henry recommendations.

Abbott would be mad to return to the Henry review, opines Terry McCrann in the Herald Sun: “It is extraordinarily bad policy and it should be bad politics… At its most basic, it is Abbott saying that Kevin Rudd is the best person to design a Coalition government’s tax policy.”

“What’s most telling about the level of debate is that neither side of politics has enough commitment for the challenge of tax reform to risk ruling anything in,” says Robert Jeremenko on The Punch.

Labor is desperately trying to tear away Abbott’s economic credentials, even using footage of an old interview with former treasurer Peter Costello, which quotes Costello saying “not on economic matters” when asked about Abbott’s potential as a leadership candidate.

Abbott’s personal negative ratings are on the rise. “The Coalition’s goal must be to bring that number down by convincing people Abbott is not a risk — a negative attitude being pushed by Labor in their very effective new round of economy ads, dubbed matters of fact by the ALP campaign,” notes Dennis Atkins in The Courier-Mail.

The economy is proving to be Abbott’s biggest test, says Phillip Hudson in the Herald Sun: “How Abbott holds up to the scrutiny could decide whether he gets to be prime minister.”

Abbott’s got a $9 billion hole in his budget where the mining tax should be and, unsurprisingly, “it’s the one topic Tony Abbott has been keen to avoid since the campaign started,” note Simon Benson and Sue Dunlevy in The Daily Telegraph.

This spells trouble for the Liberals, writes Michelle Grattan in The Age: “Any confusion over financial numbers is damaging for Abbott, especially late in the campaign. There are always rows about numbers in elections — sometimes they are just part of the noise; at other times they are lethal…”

Gillard knows Abbott is suffering in the policy corner and she’s playing to it. “Whatever the policy merit, Gillard’s plans had a strategic role in the campaign: to highlight the lack of policy coming from Tony Abbott. She put more on the table in just one portfolio area than Abbott did in his entire coming-to-government agenda set out at his Sunday launch,” writes Malcolm Farr in The Daily Telegraph.

George Megalogenis wants to see more of it. “There’s another Julia voters need to see before polling day: Policy Julia,” he writes in The Oz.

Now there are just 11 more days until we see how the numbers stack up.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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