Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese delivered their final nationally televised pitches of this election campaign in the third leaders’ debate on Wednesday night.
Six experts from The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age – Shane Wright, Jacqueline Maley, Chip Le Grand, Dana Daniel, Anthony Galloway and Rachel Clun – ran their eyes over the arguments and performances of both leaders in the final debate of the campaign.
Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison faced off in their final leaders’ debate on Wednesday evening.Credit:Kathleen Adele
Senior economics correspondent
No knockout blows by either in a debate in which the two men spoke to the voters they’re trying to entice in the campaign’s final days.
If it wasn’t for Albanese’s comments this week about pay rises in line with inflation, it’s hard to imagine either would have had anything new to offer to those watching the debate. The same talking points that voters have endured for the past 4½ weeks were on full display.
Albanese tried the everyman vibe, referencing steak, mince and coffee, while Morrison played the experience card as he threatened to name the price of everything including the price of coffee in Brazilian reals.
More a restaurant meal than a debate, with a good chance of indigestion for voters.
VERDICT: Dead Draw
Mince or steak?
Cost-of-living pressures are the driving issue of the final stretch of the campaign, and Anthony Albanese was keen to focus the debate on the meat-n-potatoes basics that voters can relate to.
The squeeze on households meant families were choosing mince over steak, he said.
Morrison, by contrast, went macro, zooming out of the supermarket aisle and over to the tax cuts his government has delivered, his economic record, and even the faithful old dog that is asylum seeker boat arrivals.
The debate was much more orderly than the last, which helped draw a contrast between the two men.
Albanese talked up his policies for the future, and his speech was punctuated with the word “plan”.
Morrison relied heavily on his record, and used every opportunity to plant a seed of doubt that Albanese is just not up to the job of prime minister.
Both men were civil, which was refreshing.
VERDICT: Albanese win
This debate showed that our political leaders have been reading their reviews. Having emerged with torn buttons and muddied faces from their previous debate on Nine, Albanese and Morrison promised to play nice for the Seven cameras and for the most part, they did.
Beneath this veneer of civility, the debate also revealed how the political dynamic between these two men and their parties has changed since the campaign began. Albanese, ahead in all published polls and more confident in his delivery, shed his oppositional persona and presented as a prime minister in waiting. “Australians have conflict fatigue,” he opened. “They want solutions, not arguments.”
Morrison, although still sharp with his lines, let his frustration show with increasingly shrill attacks on the character and policy trustworthiness of the Labor leader. Does Morrison think that stoking fear about asylum seekers will turn an election in 2022 when the last boat reached Australia’s immigration zone in 2014? We may as well debate whether Prince Philip deserves a posthumous knighthood.
Federal health reporter
Morrison gave a stronger performance in this final, less shouty debate, seizing on Albanese’s support for a minimum wage rise to match CPI to warn that Labor would stoke inflation and lead the Reserve Bank to lift rates even higher. “You just can’t be loose with the economy,” he said. Albanese held his own, countering that boosting productivity, including through better childcare, would allow wages to rise safely.
The opposition leader’s weakest moment was defending Labor’s position supporting the government’s tough border control policies, with Morrison saying: “I just don’t believe he’s got the stomach for it.”
Albanese was prepared for Morrison’s challenge on his lack of experience in an economic portfolio, saying: “I have an experienced team and we are ready for government”, while accusing the government of seeking another term with “no policies for the future”. Morrison did not come across well defending his handling of the Alan Tudge affair.
Foreign affairs and national security correspondent
VERDICT: Morrison win
With Albanese’s minimum wage rise promise, the prime minister finally had a target to hit. And he did. It was like Morrison from 2019, relishing the opportunity to tear apart his opponent. Albanese didn’t have an adequate answer as to why his promise wouldn’t push up the cost of living; worst of all, it still wasn’t clear whether it was official Labor policy, or a thought bubble.
Even on the character questions, Morrison won. His answer was more credible on the handling of the Alan Tudge case than Albanese was on the treatment of late Labor senator Kimberley Kitching. This was the first debate Morrison won, but it was reasonably convincing.
On a separate note, at a time when Australia is navigating the most complex and challenging international environment in decades, it’s a shame that neither leader was asked a single question on national security, apart from border security.
VERDICT: Albanese win
A much more sedate debate – blame the hour, perhaps, but the “no shouting” rule meant neither leader had a dazzling rebuttal or attack. Living costs and wages were the main subjects of the night, though integrity and issues in both parties were tricky topics raised.
But in terms of what would affect families the most, Albanese was the winner. Morrison pointed to the Coalition’s track record and short-term cost-of-living support (the one-off $250 payment to pensioners), while Albanese pointed to “practical support” for the future, including cuts to power prices and the cost of prescriptions, and noted that helping families with the cost of early childhood education was a focus.
On women’s jobs and childcare, Albanese focused on how childcare should be seen as an investment in the economy, while Morrison pointed out that the gender pay gap dropped over the Coalition’s term.
Albanese acknowledged Australians were doing it tough – how could Morrison argue against a minimum pay rise that equated to two cups of coffee a day? – while Morrison focused on how the Coalition had performed economically over its decade in office. So from the standpoint of families who might want to know what either party would do to help after May 21? Albanese squeaked through.
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