fact check leaders debate
(Image: Channel 7)

Opposition leader Bill Shorten won the audience vote in the first leaders’ debate in Perth, according to host broadcaster Channel 7.

But was the more persuasive leader also the more accurate?

RMIT ABC Fact Check looked at some of the night’s key claims, and this is what we found.

Morrison: ‘What we’ve also seen is record funding in our hospitals, public hospital funding up more than 60 per cent.’

On record spending, Morrison’s claim amounts to a fair call — though it doesn’t say very much.

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Fact Check looked into public hospital funding in the month before Morrison assumed the prime ministership, and found federal government spending was expected to be higher then than in any year since 1989.

That remained the case when health spending was adjusted for population growth and inflation.

But “record funding” is a claim most governments could make, because public hospital spending increases almost every year.

In fact, in the nearly three decades to 2016, total federal spending fell year-on-year just six times.

Morrison: ‘When we came to government there was an over 700-million-tonne deficit in meeting our Kyoto 2020 targets. And we have turned that around through the policies we’ve put in place.’

When Energy Minister Angus Taylor made this claim back in March, Fact Check found it to be misleading.

The claim has been repeated a number of times since by Coalition politicians, earning it the title of “zombie” — a claim that refuses to die.

Among other things, the so-called emissions “deficit” cited by Morrison merely represented a forecast of the greenhouse gas reductions needed to hit Australia’s 2020 target.

Soon after the Coalition came to office, it became apparent that emissions under Labor’s carbon tax had been lower than expected.

The department also for the first time factored in a significant “carryover” from the over-achievement of the first Kyoto period.

Since then, emissions have been lower than anticipated as a result of soaring power prices, the states’ adoption of renewable energy and the closure of coal-fired power stations.

Coalition policies have only played a relatively minor role, and the Coalition has for years argued in favour of coal.

Shorten: ‘Out of pockets to see the doctor up 20 per cent, specialists nearly 40 per cent.’

When Senator Kristina Keneally made a similar claim earlier this year, Fact Check found her numbers broadly checked out.

Shorten is actually understating the increase in costs to see a doctor — out-of-pocket costs to see a GP have risen by 28% since Labor was last in power.

The cost for patients to see a specialist rose by 40% over the same period.

Senator Keneally blamed the rise in costs on the extension of the Medicare rebate freeze, but experts told Fact Check this was not the sole reason.

They also blamed increased out-of-pocket patient costs on the rising cost of running a GP practice and the way in which general practice medicine was being funded overall.

Morrison: I fashioned a policy to deal with [boat arrivals in Australia] and we fixed it.’

The prime minister has claimed previously that he is responsible for “fixing” the problem of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat.

But when Fact Check examined a claim made by Morrison back in 2014 that Operation Sovereign Borders had resulted in an 80% reduction of boat arrivals in Australia, we found there was “more to the story”.

The big drop-off in boat arrivals occurred when former prime minister Kevin Rudd announced a regional resettlement arrangement with PNG that prevented those asylum seekers arriving by boat from settling in Australia.

(Click to enlarge)

Shorten: ‘We’ve seen the number of trainees and apprenticeships fall by 150,000.’

In a fact check published this week, ahead of the debate, we found a related claim by Shorten to be misleading.

That was because he used “apprenticeships” as shorthand for both apprenticeships and traineeships — but the two are not the same.

Apprenticeships are associated with traditional trades, such as plumbing, while traineeships are typically associated with the services sector, such as retail.

During the debate, however, Shorten clarified his statement, referring explicitly to both when referencing the fall.

While apprenticeships have fallen slightly since the Coalition took office (18%), the fall in traineeships has been much sharper (66%).

Taken together, that’s a 45% drop in apprenticeships and traineeships since the Coalition took office.

Shorten: Our national broadband speed — we were in the mid 30s when this government got elected, now we are 62nd in the world.’

Shorten is correct.

Fact Check looked at a similar claim made by the opposition in 2016, and found that Australia’s position had slipped from 27th to 60th between 2013 and 2015.

Although Australia is moving towards faster internet speeds, experts say it is being overtaken by other countries.

Australia’s position has slipped marginally since then.

In figures published by the Ookla Speed Global Index last week, Australia’s worldwide ranking for broadband internet speeds was 62nd, putting it behind countries such as Kazakhstan, Montenegro and Paraguay — and a long way behind Singapore, which has the world’s fastest internet speed.

Editor’s note: some parts of this article have been updated for clarity.

© RMIT University 2019