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Federal

Aug 12, 2013

The debaters' verdict: Rudd the winner, debating the loser

Australia's world-beating debaters reckon Kevin Rudd got the better of Tony Abbott last night. But they're both get pummelled by the uni students, writes Crikey election reporter Sally Whyte.

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Kevin Rudd debate

Citing a static format and “creepy” hand gestures, Australia’s debating experts were unimpressed by last night’s leaders’ debate between Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

Chris Hibbard, president of the Australian Debating Federation, says the format itself is “such a contrived structure that it is completely unlike that which could be described as a debate,” and that “every aspect of structure seemed to be designed to impede any actual debate”. On their debating style, Hibbard says the Prime Minister claimed victory, but only “very, very slightly”.

Hibbard, having just resided over the National Schools Debating Championship, believes that if they came up against school-age debaters they would find stiff competition.

“Even the weakest debates there were so much more able to construct an argument and interact with each other than either Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott were last night.”

Stephen Moore is president of the Monash University Association of Debaters, the reigning world champions. Moore and his teammates called Rudd the winner, but debating itself the overall loser.

“Unfortunately we’d have to say that debating was not the winner tonight, with the canned responses and short speaking times harming ideas from developing. As for the speakers, we’d credit the PM for having more substantive material in the debate and developing his ideas further. However, from a presentation perspective, he was outshone by Mr Abbott’s more engaging manner and more controlled limbs,” he said.

Wayne Jocic, former president of the Debaters Association of Victoria, also gives Rudd the win. “On presentation, Abbott won the debate. His manner was more natural and hence more appealing. This manifested itself in a slower pacing and more convincing tone, and in more natural gesture and eye contact. On the questions of substantive argument, though, Rudd was superior.”

According to Hibbard, Rudd’s debating style was strong.

“He was able to respond to questions reasonably well, but little things like [using notes] didn’t really help him, his own style was fine”.

On Abbott’s performance, Hibbard says the combination of speaking slowly and “strange finger-wagging” was “frankly, a bit creepy”.

Jocic was more positive on Abbott’s debating style: “His body language was open and expressive, and this was coupled with thoughtful pauses and a sense of authenticity. This, however, was insufficient to counter his inability to deal with vital questions, in particular regarding budgeting.”

The leaders had different strategies when it came to engaging with the audience, to Rudd’s advantage, says Hibbard.

“Kevin Rudd directed his entire speech to the camera, whereas Tony Abbott spent at least the early part of the debate trying to engage the audience in the room as well. I think this gave Kevin Rudd a very slight advantage in terms of engaging with the TV audience. Ultimately, the audience in the room was not really participating in the debate,” he said.

The use of hand gestures and posture was a differentiating factor in the debate. According to Jocic: “Abbott’s gesture was generally natural and open. Rudd, by contrast, seemed somehow mechanical, particularly in his opening speech, where unnatural fisting motions and repeated, menacing finger-pointing prevailed. The effect of this difference was that Abbott seemed engaged in conversation, whereas Rudd was lecturing, and doing so awkwardly.”

The leaders are fortunate they don’t have to face up to Moore and his world-class debating teammates at Monash though. “We couldn’t help but admire both speakers’ love of pushing timing of their speeches and trying to sneak in as much as possible after the chime,” Moore said.

“Combined with this, their unparalleled ability to use rhetorical flourishes to cover a lack of actual response means they’d both be very welcome members of our club. However, unfortunately, should they come up against us in a debate, our speakers’ tendency to actually respond to the topic presented means we may just edge over them.”

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10 comments

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10 thoughts on “The debaters’ verdict: Rudd the winner, debating the loser

  1. Hazel

    Gillard would have had him for breakfast.

  2. zut alors

    Surely it can’t be called a debate: the two candidates were speaking to points raised, there was minimal rebutting, almost no analysis of the opponent’s content.

  3. tonyfunnywalker

    The debate had one property- The Psychology of the fear of losing the election. No risks, gaffs, no fire and brimstone and nothing new. Boring – Abbott for 3 years has bored us all to death with his ” dummy spit ” and Rudd with mischief to destabilize the real winner Julia Gillard. The ” Ghost of Julia” haunted the proceedings as both Abbott and Rudd avoided her triumphs by ignoring them. This made a lessening of their debate as their own narcissism was in evidence. This was not a debate in the true sense – it was a positioning statement without the enacting details to support it. A series of slogans and intent with no intent – a confused mishmash with no substance what so ever. There is no vision, the promises are nondescript and not one promise did little to advance Australian Society into the future. Abbott has fired all his bullets for three years and is resurrecting a few to make up for the vacuum. Rudd is just making the Gillard achievements melt into his own perhaps for some a reason why his credibility is on the wane. At least Gillard taught both one valuable lesson, and that was how to lose gracefully – but this was lost on both last night. It was a waste of time – would not have got through the preliminaries of a university debate and scored on bias and some hankypanky with the polls at Fairfax newspapers. They Liberals supporters club must have been recruited to hit the airwaves. The press generally – there was ample to critique on both sides and what do Fairfax and News concentrate on – whether Rudd read from notes. The winner may have nominally been Rudd – but the losers on this occasion were the electorate as we are still none the wiser. Christine Milne did a better job in the alternative debate.

  4. Savonrepus

    It is all very well for the press to call this boring when they have just as much a responsibility to make it as the participants. If there are issues with the format how about some suggestions on making it relevant. To me the clear problem is the wish by the press to turn election campaigns in this country into a presidential style system where one person has to be all things to all people. Obviously that person has to become boring to survive. Media enterprises are not one man bands so why insist on turning politics into such?

  5. Serano Bergerac

    Sounds like I didn’t miss much and won’t miss any more when I don’t watch the next Clayton’s debate – if there’s going to be any.

  6. thelorikeet

    Abbott’s rhetorical flourish, I though superficially a good one, was the new way new government one – but he so spoilt it by over-rehearsal and over-acting. Uni students should be able to do better that he did with that gem turned germ

  7. A Crane

    University debating clubs are disproportionately left-wing, so these comments are unsurprising. The “we heard the same waffle 6 years ago” line was the killer punch on Rudd.

  8. AR

    Hazel – 1+ and what a joy that would have been – I’d have bought tickets.

  9. Jon thinks...

    So Crikey thinks Rudd’s won every campaign day; the boring debate and even the worm loves him. And only 27% of ABC listeners thought Abbott won the debate (I’m surprised there are 27 Liberals still listening to “their” ABC, let alone 27%). Funnily enough Australians don’t agree; the opinion polls show Rudd losing ground and not far ahead of where Gillard left the ALP. Come on Crikey, I signed up for an unbiased, alternative perspective; not another ALP fan club like the Age and SMH.

  10. John pollard

    “Unnatural fisting motions” really? Less said the better….
    We seem to watch the debate we imagine. How can we explain the vast differences in worm etc results between seven and nine? And then yesterday someone on the ABC claimed that Abbott had won the debate. By what criteria? Who knows?

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