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Scoring the Treasurers’ Debate

The National Press Club Treasurers’ Debate held today was one where the average voter, having watched it, would have come away feeling the wrong man was in the job.

Despite a quite articulate but very long winded opening address by Scott Morrison we still don’t know what the Coalition plan is to manage the economy, should they be returned to government on July 2nd.

Chris Bowen, by contrast, seemed to have the nuts and bolts locked down. Perhaps that is why he looked the more relaxed.

It is difficult to judge Morrison’s competency level. He appeared to be on auto-pilot for much of the 90 minute discourse. The problem is, he said nothing new. He appeared defensive and was heavy on slogans, e.g. jobs and growth, living within our means, fiscal responsibility, balancing the budget, blah, blah, blah.

But that wasn’t what those of us who watched on television wanted to hear. We wanted substance, something with grit, something that told us, in words of one syllable if needed, where we were going, how we were going to get there and how long it would take.

None of this was forthcoming. It was all a bit blurred, with Morrison making vague references to co-investment, trade agreements, the importance of small business, instant tax write-offs, and tax reform.

There was a good deal of discussion on the credibility of both parties’ 10 year plans, except that 10 year plans never eventuate. By year 3 or 4 the changes to the original plan are so dramatic, they make the original unrecognisable.

I guess I was asking too much of Morrison. He was toeing the party line, wearing blinkers and perhaps in fear of saying something like, no cuts to health, no cuts to education, the ABC or SBS.

4182166296_35cba95783_b_1_ He did make one point though. He seemed to give himself a pat on the back for enabling “older Australians” between the ages of 65-75 to contribute an additional $250,000 to their super fund. As a 71 year old, I wondered who in that bracket would have the resources to do that.

I suspect most Liberal initiatives are predicated on the basis of how few of us will actually benefit, how little they will need to give away.

Chris Bowen, on the other hand, was full of optimism. He did have a plan. He cited Renewables, Science and Technology and the NBN as Labor’s future growth path. But, of all the contributions a Shorten government would make to a growth economy, it was education that sat at the top of the list.

Education at whatever cost, returns a future dividend, a fact Morrison was forced to acknowledge. Having outlined Labor’s intentions, he then turned his attention to how the government hides its lack of substance behind scare campaigns, sloganeering and general negativity.

Bowen called on the government to display greater honesty in their costings and give the Parliamentary Budget Office sufficient time to review them as part of the Charter of Budget Honesty; unlike three years ago when they submitted their budget costings just two days before the election.

When both men were asked by Mark Kenny of The Age to state their big plan for the next three years, all Morrison could offer was his May budget, one that was challenged by both Bowen and moderator Chris Uhlmann for its highly optimistic projections.

Bowen, on the other hand made no apologies for insisting education was the key to a nation’s continued prosperity. On balance, Bowen was the more convincing, across more detail and less defensive.

Interestingly, neither wanted to talk too much about the national debt. That was a relief. The national debt, so called, is a red herring. It doesn’t exist except on paper. But neither was going to be so brave as to say that.


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  1. Clean livin

    Good summary. As a debate, Bowen was well ahead. He threw out challenges to the Treasurer who did not, or chose to not respond.

    I think I heard that both Turnbull and Morrison are far more familiar with the ALP policy than their own, which is probably correct, considering their own policy is a three word slogan.

    Government talks “jobs and growth” but I have yet to hear of the implementation.

    Government talks science and innovation, yet cancels Gonski, CSIRO, Climate Change, etc.

    I would like to see a reintroduction of the Worm! Not to see who is winning the debate, but who one thinks is the more unbelievable.

  2. astra5

    You are very quick off the mark John.

    I agree with your assessment.

    I thought that one of Bowen’s most telling remarks, prompted by Morrison’s taunt about Labor backing away from a pledge to overturn the Coalition’s cuts to the $4.5 billion School Kids Bonus and scrapping the pension asset test, items that Labor once supported but could no longer, was: ‘After the damage the LNP has done to the budget, it is no longer responsible for Labor to go along with these cuts’.

    Morrison could offer no counter to this except to repeat his accusation of ‘backflipping’.

    I thought Bowen had the better of the debate. He ‘plan’ was more comprehensive and understandable, especially his emphasis on education as an economic measure. He certainly held his arguments convincingly. As for Dalek Morrison, we heard from him the same old slogans and platitudes, but no convincing elaboration of his ‘plan for jobs and growth’.

  3. Michael Taylor

    Thank you for this post, John. Having missed the debate, it is refreshing to read your assessment before heading over to see what spin the mainstream media will no likely attach to it.

  4. lawrencewinder

    Agile, innovative, fiscally prudent and responsible, JobsonGrowth, That’s the plan ….but where’s the F******G strategy?

  5. Charon Ferryman

    Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! This pledge is going nowhere unless the perpetrators of this myth,don’t stop hitting below the belt.

  6. Carol Rea

    Really looking forward to watching this on iview. But please John – it’s ‘toeing the line’ which makes much more sense – except they are not usually unwilling.

    toe the line:
    accept the authority, policies, or principles of a particular group, especially unwillingly.
    “he knew that he had to toe the official line because he couldn’t afford to be put on the dole”
    synonyms: conform, obey the rules, comply with the rules, observe the rules, abide by the rules, adhere to the rules, act in accordance with the rules, follow the rules, keep to the rules, stick to the rules;

    Thanks, Carol. I blame my cat. She was towing a dead mouse just outside my window.

  7. Kaye Lee

    “we have a national plan for economic growth and we’ve set it out in the budget. We’re setting it out in this election.

    And that starts with our national innovation and science agenda. It’s our defence industry plan, supporting high-tech jobs for generations. It’s the tax cuts for small- and medium-sized businesses and hard-working middle-income families. It’s the export trade agreement: some 19,000 specific opportunities.”

    Can someone point me to how they arrived at the “19,000 specific opportunities” and what the hell that means????

    Speaking as a small business owner, I will not be employing more staff if they give me a tax cut. I will pay off some of my debt. If my customers, many of whom are pensioners, had a bit more disposable income then perhaps I could employ another person but I am not going to employ someone to stand around and do nothing.

    I wonder if they realise that talk of entrepreneurs is irrelevant to most people?

  8. Renate Mueller

    Mr Bowen has my vote.

  9. DisablednDesperate

    I’m watching it on IView now. Bowen wiped the smug look off Morrisons face and check out how fast he was blinking while Bowen was talking!!
    Great summary John.


  10. Wayne Turner

    Only problem: With any debate.NEVER can trust the ignorant judgement of people that do NOT understand the issues ie: Sadly too many people.

  11. Kaye Lee

    Don’t forget…..

    Economic policy will be in the spotlight on Sunday night as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten go head-to-head in the second leaders’ debate of the election campaign.

    The two leaders will field questions from moderator Chris Uhlmann, the ABC’s political editor, and a panel of three journalists.

    The hour-long debate at the National Press Club in Canberra will be broadcast on ABC News 24 at 7:30pm AEST, 7:00pm in NT and SA and 5:30pm in WA.

  12. Mhoira White

    The Libs have a “cunning” plan & as with all their policies it is top secret

  13. Jeffrey Barrett

    I to watch the debate, I feel Chris Bowan was well ahead on debate, and again Morrison lost it when he continued to attack Labor, I would like to know what Liberals Policies and budget are not what they think Labors are.

  14. Terry2

    Good summary, John – I found Bowen to be quite impressive with very little spin.

    I mentioned on another topic page that Morrison appears to be linking much of his budget promises and savings to getting the 2014 budget cuts through the next Senate. Was that just me ?

  15. John Lord

    I watched the debate. You make some would observations John. Bowen was the only one who came close to a plan for the future.

  16. kathysutherland2013

    I think Labor could emphasise more strongly that spending on education etc is in fact an investment. An educated population will contribute to the economy and will be more attractive to overseas investors.

  17. Helen Holmes

    I think a Baldrick ‘cunning plan’ would have more chance of success than anything the LNP has come up with so far, or will at all before July 2.

  18. Raeanne McFrancis

    Thanks John for an insightful summary.

    I particularly found Bowen’s articulation of issues comparatively more comprehensive in scope. Like Kathy indicated, I totally agree on Labour’s emphasis on education spending, it certainly is a credible & logical argument.

  19. Steve Laing -

    I love that Bowen predicted Morrison’s slogans at the start, and out they trotted entirely as expected. And glad that he repeated the fact that a three word slogan in not an economic plan.

    Morrison’s 100,000 underpaid “internships” sounded very hollow compared to the real jobs the school had been able to help get students into thanks to the additional Gonski funding. Fake jobs versus real jobs. I wonder which I’d buy into?

    I also want to know why nobody ever asks about what has been the value to the economy of last years small business tax cut. Given that the LNP are going to extend it, you’d think they’d be able to deliver some facts to back it up. And given that Labor oppose it, you’d think they’d be asking the government those questions to which they clearly have no positive answers…

    Another trick missed for Labor.

  20. susan

    Did anybody else notice how Morrison’s words got louder and faster as the debate went on? Morrison was totally out of Bowen’s league just as Turnbull was against Shorten the other day.

  21. michael lacey

    Labor always had a better plan debate or no debate. How are you going to get an equitable society out of cheap labour conservatives. The problem will be we are going into another financial crises and unfortunately it will be eventually labor to steer us through it as they are the only ones for the potential to tackle a new paradigm.

  22. z

    wrong driver holds the steering wheel, where to go? who knows

  23. kerri

    Something I find telling about the “Jobs ‘n’ Growth” mantra and the lack of explanation of such was a comment I read online somewhere that Kelly O’Dwyer’s excitement about the $6,000 toaster was being held up as part of “J&G” but realistically a $6,000 toaster is clearly designed to replace a human manning a slower and more manual version!
    They have no plan for jobs and growth they simplistically think “if you build it they will come”.
    If Kelly’s friend gets a grant and buys a newer faster toaster he will be able to serve more customers and therefore more customers (presumably those who have passed the slow and crowded cafe before) will “know” that service is better and they can eat more toast! So they will come and he will employ more people because????????
    They are mostly religious zealots who believe in things unseen and unheard that they “know” are there!
    Is it any surprise they don’t understand MMT and just “believe” “J&G” will mystically happen and that we should just “trust” them because they “have a plan” as they trust their religious superiors because they have a book and a very old fairytale!
    I doubt reality will ever rise up and slap them in the face and I doubt, if ever, it will be anytime soon!

  24. Audrey Signorini

    Bowen had a plane Morrison doesn’t .Bowen was calm and direct with a fairness for all Morrison was full of hot air and slogans

  25. Möbius Ecko

    ABC News did the same thing they did for the leader’s debate, it was even, nobody got a knockout blow.

  26. Vixstar

    Mesmerised by the fact Scott Morrison has lost his hair maybe his scare campaign scared the shit out of his hair follicles.

    Checked Turdballs hair and its rapidly falling out too, the only one that has hair on the LNP side is Cash and apparently it’s lego.

    Too many lies, lack of sleep because they are all losing their jobs.

    Vote Labor they still have there hair and they don’t tell lies.

  27. whatismore

    Excellent critique. “Neither landed a punch”, is all the ABC could come up with.

  28. Kaye Lee

    Some of the men I love are follically challenged. Some of the women I love are growing hair in new places. I have chosen to embrace growing older and the changes it brings 🙂

    On a more serious note, Bowen should emphasise the “investing in human capital” line – it’s a good one and there is plenty of research to show that labour productivity has been outstripping capital productivity.

    Health is also part of investing in human capital – a healthy, happy workforce is far more productive than people whose wages and workplace entitlements are going backwards and who now have to pay more to see a doctor or to have screening tests.

    We need government, unions and business at the table together. That will never happen under a Coalition government.

  29. Lindsay Stafford

    I thought that I would do some playing around with this $6,000 toaster. Remember that this machine was supposedly bought by a small business friend of Ms O’Dwyer.
    Someone did the legwork for me ( ) and found the machine which is rated at 1,000 slices per hour.
    Now in most cases the number of slices per meal is 2 (Raisin bread and Coffee; Eggs/Baked Beans et al on toast; or even a hamburger that has a bread roll cut in half), so effectively this machine produces the makings of 500 meals per hour.
    We will assume that half of these meals include a cup of coffee so that means 250 cups of coffee per hour. At 2 min per cup we are looking at 500 minutes or 8 1/3 hours. Now I am willing to wait a few minutes for my cappuccino but not for 8 hours, by which time the toast has gone cold.
    So, we need to add some more coffee machines, assuming that the establishment already has 2 machines we need to add 7 more machines to keep up with the toaster.
    A quick search online shows commercial machines sell for between $5,000 and $12,000 so we will be generous and go for the $5,000 machine. 7 machines add up to $35,000 and with the existing 2 machines will take up at least 10metres of counter space.
    So in addition to our $6,000 toaster we need to spend another $35,000 plus on coffee machines, we need to close the establishment for at least a week to re-do the kitchen and allow for plumbing the new machines. We also need extra bench space for the kitchen staff to be able to prepare the 500 meals to go with the toaster.
    All in all, we now have a café/coffee shop kitchen that is way bigger than the whole of the establishment of any that I have ever been into. I rate Ms O’Dwyer’s comment as BS

  30. Le blogeur gai

    I thought Bowen sounded like a Treasurer who was well across his portfolio. Morrison sounded like a shrill Shadow Treasurer not across his portfolio, bluffing his way through the debate. Bowen was measured, controlled and had a positive narrative to sell. Morrison was the opposite – negative and carping because he and his predecessor wasted the last 3 years and had nothing positive to sell. Bowen: 9/10. Morrison: 3/10

  31. woywoybaz

    Morrison, like a certain radio shock jock, has the ability to pour out a fast torrent of words without meaning anything.

  32. Sam

    Can someone better connected than me, tell me how the Murdoch media are reporting this? I’d like to think they wouldn’t be as ridiculous to claim a comprehensive victory for Scott Morrison but the history is there.

  33. Matters Not

    “there is plenty of research to show that labour productivity has been outstripping capital productivity”

    Not sure about that. Thomas Picketty provides a mountain of evidence that:

    “the rate of return on capital (r) is greater than the rate of economic growth (g) over the long term”

    But perhaps you have a link?

    Or am I missing the point?

    While Bowen handled himself rather well, I think that his arguments for increased spending on schools won’t be justified in the longer term because it misses the point re what actually drives achievement as measured by test scores.

  34. Kaye Lee

    MN, My statement re labour productivity was too simplistic but these couple of links may help

    From the productivity commission:

    Annual change, 2012-13 to 2013-14, GDP per hour worked Labour productivity +1.4%

    Annual change, 2012-13 to 2013-14 Multifactor productivity +0.4%


    productivity growth has taken a turn for the worse over the past decade, with growth rates for labour plummeting to 1.5% and multifactor productivity to 0.2%,

    This may be attributed to the pursuit of short-term goals to the detriment of the economy’s driver for improved sustainable living in the long-term.

    What did not also help was the government’s increase of productivity-stifling regulations, which lead to employment of additional resources and inefficient processes that did not add to the yield of production output. Much of these regulations were implemented to improve national security and company standards, following situations such as terrorist attacks and corporate scandals that occurred overseas.

    there are many ways we can enhance our nation’s productivity levels. The conventional response is to implement reforms of the neoclassical perspective – deregulation, privatisation and policies to increase competition. However, this is simply not good enough, as similar reforms implemented in the past resulted in high productivity levels that were short term and not sustained.

    Policymakers should rather look to reforms that, in their nature, ensure and support productivity growth in the long-term. Targeted infrastructure investment is one option, as this promotes private sector activity and increases the volume and quality of the nation’s capital stock, supporting labour productivity. Improving Australia’s innovation efforts also has the potential to significantly improve productivity. Data has indicated that a 1% increase in R&D expenditure led to a 0.11% long-run improvement in Australia’s productivity. As well, greater focus on improving the nation’s human capital through education and skill acquisition can also help reverse the productivity slump. Strong productivity growth demands a highly qualified workforce, dynamic in its ability to adapt to changing market condition and future challenges.

  35. Michael Taylor

    Sam, it’s not on anywhere. The main story is how evil Johny Depp is, and somewhere down the list we learn that this was Bill Shorten’s worst week. Top story yesterday was about a bloke live tweeting his blind date from hell.

  36. Jake

    sam : Oh! and there lots of news on the Football which is most gratifying? And Andrew Bolt’s in there too for a good balanced read ?

  37. helvityni

    Vixstar, you are onto something, Howard grew hair mainly out of his nose and ears, and of course he had impressive eyebrows, Abbott does not have much anywhere, nor do Turnbull and Morrison. It must be all the lying they do, funnily enough Howard called himself ‘the HONEST John’….

    I think even Kelly’s hair is thinning.

  38. Arthur Baker

    “[Morrison] appeared to be on auto-pilot for much of the 90 minute discourse”.

    So do most Coalition politicians, churning out their mantras like little lost robots. Look at Mathias Conman this week, uttering the name “Bill Shorten” (twice) when he meant “Malcolm Turnbull”. Tired, tawdry, droning, boring, repetitive, robotic. And they probably wonder why people stop listening.

  39. Margaret McMillan

    It probably won’t matter in the end that Labor is by far the better choice if we want good, considered policy.

    What is most likely to happen is that there will be the mother of all scare campaigns in the last week or two of the campaign. Something like a suddenly uncovered plan for a terrrorist attack. We will see those flags and uniforms like we’ve never seen them before.

  40. Terry2

    Don’t you think it’s odd that Morrison seemed to consider the fact that Labor would not reverse the coalitions repeal of the school kid’s bonus was a win for the coalition and he crowed about it.

    In fact, it is a loss to many families with school age kids who were able with this bonus to fund school outings, camps and other extra curricular activities.

    That is not a win, Scott Morrison !

  41. Pingback: Scoring the Treasurers’ Debate | THE VIEW FROM MY GARDEN

  42. diannaart

    Many thanks for you synopsis, John.

    One word in particular stood out for me as a vital step forward.

    Bowen’s: Renewables, Science and Technology and the NBN as Labor’s future growth path


    About bloody time!

    Words where I’d welcome some repetition: Education, Science, Renewables, Healthy nation, mitigating climate change, fair liveable wages, comprehensive infrastructure (not just roads) and more, but I just saw a cat outside my window…

    Because without any of the above, there are no “jobs and growth”.


    “Growth” really needs some defining – does that mean businesses growing into even bigger business monopolies? Or more competitive smaller businesses?

  43. Diane

    Unfortunately so many of the sensible, well researched articles on here end up preaching to the converted. It saddens me that the LNP obviously have the ‘best’ psychologists on their team who know that to the average man in the street, the words Jobs And Growth will make them think of the LNP, while the words ‘Budget Black Hole’ will make them think of the ALP. That’s all the LNP have to do – drop the phrase out there and most won’t question or even think beyond the headlines when it comes to voting time. Even despising the LNP as I do, I have to admire their machinations!

  44. Sam

    Thanks to those that responded to me. It’s a shame the murdoch press didn’t make more of a mention of it. Even if just for how it’d be interesting/funny to see how these masters of spin, spun it their way.

  45. Terry2


    I bought the Weekend Australian today and, no the dog didn’t bite me.

    The article by David Uren on the debate claims that Morrison “threw the only punch that connected” in the debate.

    He maintains that after Bowen said, on the coalitions’ proposed business tax cuts of $48.9 billion over ten years that :

    Bowen: “a tax cut for big business, reluctantly costed and completely unfunded, is not a plan. It’s fiscal recklessness ”

    Morrison ; ” you say that the company tax cuts are unfunded but you have claimed all the funding to then go and make a range of promises.”

    That evidently was the big Morrison king-hit.

    So, Morrison is saying that the coalition will take approximately $ 50 billion out of projected government revenues but not replace it with new savings or taxes and Bowen is saying we will keep the company tax rate as it is and apply that revenue to our (Labor’s) spending policies.

    So who is talking fiscal common sense and who is spinning in the breeze ?

  46. anne

    The LNP sales pitch seems very big on slogans and very light on detail. A big like Trump appealing to the sheep …
    Jobs and growth = were gonna build a wall
    Innovation = its gonna be HUGE
    Balance the budget = were just gonna do it
    no details.. just empty catch phrases.
    when the reality
    jobs and growth by destroying manufacturing
    innovation by defunding the CSIRO and gifting fraudband to the people
    balancing the budget by tripling the deficit

    Next thing we’ll be hearing how their a unity ticket on supporting Sunday penalty rates..

  47. Wam

    Nail on the head terry2!! There is no contest between john’s average voter who watched and the average voter who neither watched nor will hear beyond Murdoch. It is pretty obvious that the ABC is frightened to go beyond the man bolt admires or verdi too incompetent to show any of the national party policies in his Canadian(dozen parties??) copy.
    Pouring money into black holes is still enough to put morrison in front.
    So glad Bowen is beardless and he still has June, tax return month, to pose some questions for the media to ask Morrison. Maybe repeating the difference between average $80+K and median 50+K , is it significant that the coalition and the loonies doubled the tax declaration from 100m to 200m?, why he chose $50 billion for France for a mini diesel barracuda, converted from the nuclear major barracuda which wont be built till 2019, rather than $20 billion for German or Japanese technology? Is corman a better target or neck veined cash? The Nats and mirabella in indi? How about giving Karl a few shivs against dutton? Kochie a few fiscal barbs for muddleson? Hasten slowly has been wise for many years but don’t stop because there is a chance Morrison is worried and, under pressure may sing a worried song.

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