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The Turnbull/Shorten Debate Experience

Televised debates between party leaders has been with us for some time now. The fact that they mean little in the broader scheme of things is, apparently, irrelevant. The media must have them. They are fodder for the journos, keen to find weaknesses in the armoury of the principals and capture the ‘gotcha’ moments they can exploit or milk, for all their worth.

The first debate I remember was between Bob Hawke and Andrew Peacock in 1984 and much store was made of the perception that Peacock won. It didn’t translate too much. In the subsequent election, Labor won the popular vote, the two party preferred vote and a majority in the lower house, despite a 1.46% swing to the conservatives. The Australian Democrats held the balance of power in the senate.

This prompted more sophisticated monitoring of future debates with the introduction of “the worm”, a line across the bottom of the screen that went up or down based on audience reaction to individual statements made by each leader.

But, as timed passed, fewer people watch these debates and the worm’s use-by date expired. This year the first debate wasn’t even televised on free-to-air television and the second was limited to the ABC.

When the major commercial channels don’t even bother to pick up the feed these days, it’s a good sign the broader audience has tuned out. It’s safe to say the format, now so tightly designed and managed to limit any major gaffes, has killed the concept.

The leader’s debate held tonight on the ABC vindicated viewers’ decision to turn away in droves. It was little more than an opportunity for each man to repeat “stuff” that we have all heard before. There was no excitement, no charisma, and no sense of conflict.

Turnbull spoke forcefully when he suggested errors in Labor’s economic costings, but Shorten hit back confidently citing equally suspicious numbers published by the Coalition. Neither man scored any advantage here

untitledBoth leaders had ousted former leaders which seemed to be a matter of concern for Chris Uhlmann who, as a self professed conservative, looked far too serious. It was a wasted question. I doubt anyone cares or considers this a relevant issue. But the Coalition’s form over the past three years did not help Turnbull. On the issue of trust the points went to Shorten.

Shorten was on safe ground whenever health and education came up. Turnbull tried to appear the more experienced on business matters but it didn’t cut through. Tax cuts for business has proved to be a big negative for the Coalition and Shorten milked it well.

Ironically, the issue of Asylum seekers is where one would expect the Coalition to be on safe ground. But somewhere in the complexity of the matter Turnbull sounded unconvincing. The time taken to process them worked against him.

Shorten delivered a confident response particularly when he mentioned Labor’s 2013 Malaysian plan, rejected by the Coalition. Turnbull tried to regain lost ground but he sounded more and more desperate.

On climate change Turnbull suggested that both parties were running on similar policies. It seemed to be reduced to a question of cost. Shorten disagreed and hit back on Turnbull’s personal record, suggesting he had been forced to promote Tony Abbott’s policies, not his own. Shorten said the prime minister was “Tony Abbott lite” He won this point too.

Turnbull’s final statement was like a pastor’s sermon. It sounded flat and boring. He kept pounding the mantra of a strong economy and the importance of growth, but failed to explain how that growth would materialise. It was the same old rhetoric we’ve heard before.

images1V1N6TVKShorten’s final statement hit home on the emotional level; his concern for people and the impact government policies have on them, cut through. He assured us Medicare would stay in government hands. His plan for economic growth was more specific. He spoke of the need for jobs, for education, hospitals. He hurt Turnbull when he talked about business tax cuts and superannuation.

Overall, it was a less than exciting debate, far too scripted and stilted. On balance, Shorten was more relaxed and was actually able to smile once or twice. Turnbull, on the other hand, always looked as if he was under pressure.

But, I suspect it was a debate unlikely to change any swinging voter’s perceptions.


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  1. Shevill Mathers

    I would like to see some flesh on the bones of Turnbull’s ‘PLAN’ for Jobs & Growth- so far it has all been a statement of the obvious as we transition to the new economy-which is how and what does it consist of other than small family business! Family business will not soak up the thousands of auto workers soon to lose their jobs.No mention of the billions of dollars going off-shore to the USA for the JSF F35 Lemon etc. Bill Shorten is on a winner with Medicare, prescriptions, Health Care and Education.

  2. mark delmege

    They are both sock puppets of empire. They will both take us into wars and sell out our country to neoliberalism via TPP and offshoring till we are little more than a service economy on the Pacific Rim. Sure there are differences but only at the margins of welfare spending. And for every sub and warplane they buy to service the interests of empire in far off lands – Indonesia will buy the equivalent. Wasting both countries cash and reserves.

    Silencing America as It Prepares for War

  3. col gradolf

    What he, mark delmege, said. Hang The Parliament, Elect Decent Independents.

  4. Jaquix

    Although unsatisfying on some levels, this was a chance for both to get equal time to spruik their wares. The Guardian had it pretty much a draw, slight advantage to Shorten. I thought Shorten did far better than tired old Turnbull. They both fell down on explaining exactly how their spending was going to increase “jobson growth” . Get that out please its what people want to know. Final verdict from the wives – Lucy looked very unimpressed, worried, sad even. Chloe looked radiant and gave Bill a lovely big smile.

  5. Möbius Ecko

    Short of electric shocks from a dog collar, is there anyway of making them answer the question they are given? That was the standout in this debate, neither answering the actual question. “What do you think of this red rose?” “Well you see the sky is blue.”

    And I really want to know who this Jobson Groethe the Liberals keep on about is.

  6. Terry2

    At one stage Turnbull seemed to be channeling people smugglers saying that ‘even now they (the people smugglers) were watching closely and expecting that a change in government would weaken border protection in Australia’.

    So he is talking against our national interest and lying for political advantage.

    A very low moment.

  7. Kaye Lee

    I think it is time for Bill to let go of the 15% GST and states charging income tax. He repeated that several times – I don’t think it does him any favours to look backwards at things that didn’t happen. And I don’t think it does Malcolm’s cause any good to be continually telling us how successful “Lucy and I” have been in business. I am getting heartily sick of “Lucy and I”. Turnbull looks tired.

  8. Möbius Ecko

    Terry2 that was Abbott’s in opposition tactic, and it wasn’t lost on some commentators including cartoonists. As much as the right wingers have denied it in the discussions I’ve had on this, Abbott actively encouraged the people smugglers. He went on and on about open borders and the Rudd/Gillard government’s generous resettlement encouraging asylum seekers. These statements weren’t just about attacking the government, but were also aimed at the people smugglers to ply their trade. Abbott in opposition wanted as many boats as possible to make the journey, the more the better, and because of that he is as much to blame for the deaths and tragedies as anyone else. I hope history records it that way.

    So here we have yet another Abbott policy/tactic Turnbull has taken up. As Shorten rightly pointed out in the debate, are we really talking to Tony Abbott or Malcolm Turnbull, it seems they are one and the same.

  9. Möbius Ecko

    Kaye Lee, several online have raised the point on Turnbull’s historic distortion of framing his early life as one of hardship and want, being raised by a single supposedly struggling parent.

    This is something Turnbull has been doing for a long time. It’s as though he wants those many Australians nowhere near as well off as he is, nor who have had breaks and opportunities to invest in socially and environmentally destructive enterprises, to relate to him. It might also be a guilt trip.

  10. Kaye Lee

    Malcolm grew up in Vaucluse and Double Bay. His fathere Bruce had a less-than-promising career as an electrician, injuring himself early on. He soon switched to selling real estate and wound up specialising in buying and selling pubs. He would remain a hotel broker for the rest of his life, eventually making a small fortune out of it.

  11. Keith

    Turnbull keeps spruiking innovation, we haven’t seen any signs in the last two and three quarter years, so why would we believe it is around the corner?

    “Jobs and Growth” is what we hear about from election to election, a tired promise. Prior to any prospect of job increase we have the motor industry going down the drain creating a negative multiplier effect, compliments of the LNP. We saw how it was not suitable to subsidise the motor industry; yet,, that does not apply to the fossil fuel industry. Both Parties obtain large donations from the fossil fuel companies.

    Turnbull indicated that the COALition’s “policy” on climate change is very similar to the Labor Parties; Labor’s policy is better, though still not strong enough. The LNP hands tax resources to the big end of town; using tax resources better used in Health and Education. A more sneaky way of trying to tackle emissions reduction than Labor’s previous emissions reduction policy. After the LNP had been elected audits of emissions suggested the Labor policy had been working.

    Independent assessments suggest that emissions are going up. Australia is not contributing to lowering global emissions on the basis of Howard negotiating a low goal to protect fossil fuel companies. To put it very bluntly, the COALition’s climate change “policy” is polished turds.

    There has been some re-writing of history in relation to asylum seekers, Rudd’s policies on turning back the boats was kicking in at about the time of the 2013 election and afterwards.

    We do not have 3 years to waste on the COALition in relation to climate change.

  12. Ella

    John, interesting read..thanks.
    This so called debate being so early in the election cycle, was nothing more than a rehash of the past few weeks.
    PM Turnbull appeared aloof and entitled, as if he was entitled to our trust …fail.
    I would like to see this repeated when all the policies are in the public domain and questions coming from the floor. The questions were provided before hand hence giving each the opportunity to be prepared.
    I felt Mr. Shorten was talking more to people.

  13. helvityni

    I heard this from Mal: I, me, Lucy, big business, growth, innovation, banks, tax cuts…

    And from Bill, Labor, us, Australians, education, healthcare, Climate Change, society, low income earners…

    Only the male journalist enquired about asylum seekers…

  14. helvityni

    Uhlmann looked pompous, and he did not hassle Turnbull, but well Shorten. Laura Tingle, excellent.

    Mal lit up first, then fizzed, Bill has been running to much and has lost weight.

  15. kathysutherland2013

    Pretty bland. Wouldn’t want Jobson Growth as a dinner companion. He/she sounds tedious.

  16. Wun Farlung

    It seemed to me that Mal and Bill had been given a list of questions and had the stock responses prepared (just confirmed by a TV talking head)
    What was shown on TV last night was a debate only in name.
    Given the format I was hoping/expecting some real questions and not opportunities to spruik for their particular party.
    The only moment that caught my attention was Bill alluding to the shortcomings in Mal’s efforts re: NBN
    All very boring and no wonder the majority of voters have no interest

  17. Jake

    The journalist’s could have asked a more diverse range of questions. Also why wont Labor govern with the Greens if it came to be ???

  18. flohri1754

    i would give Shorten the “win” on this one …. by a bit. Malcolm looked tired and drawn, almost like he was going to shed tears at any moment. Good comebacks by Bill on the various stabs that Malcolm tried to give him. I think it is a good tactic to keep bringing up all the “tossings on the table” and quick removal of same since Turnbull and Morrison have taken hold of the reins.

    I, also, want to see more being brought out regarding the damage Turnbull and Abbott did to the NBN as the next few weeks roll on. A very valid point of attack.

  19. Judith W

    How to get more air time in a debate? Don’t answer the question so you’ll be given a second opportunity.

  20. David1

    Thanks John , not too taxing on the grey matter this one. For me the line that summed the debate up was your last “……Turnbull, on the other hand, always looked as if he was under pressure.”

    He called the length of the campaign at nearly 9 weeks and it is working in Bill Shorten and Labors favor as every day goes by. The Toff is indeed a fizzer

  21. Keith

    An article published in November 2012 suggested that we must reduce CO2 emissions by 5% every year. Many would realise that the sea ice extent in the Arctic reached an all time low in September 2012 since satellites began to be used in 1979. It is more likely than not, that a record sea ice extent will be measured in September 2016, well below the 2012 record. That is, temperature has continued to rise, much being taken up by Oceans.

    A report from PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests that the 2C danger threshold has already been met.


    “The 2011 rate of improvement in carbon intensity was 0.8%. Even doubling our rate of decarbonisation, would still lead to emissions consistent with six degrees of warming. To give ourselves a more than 50% chance of avoiding two degrees will require a six-fold improvement in our rate of decarbonisation.”



    Report discussed at:


    In 2012, the PricewaterhouseCoopers report would have appeared to be a step too far; but with developments since it rings true.

  22. Backyard Bob

    The Courier Mail had Turnbull a clear winner with his economic plan, and apparently Shorten is in trouble. Must be true, it was on the front page of the Courier Mail.

  23. Rhonda

    I was sorry to miss Grand Designs

  24. Terry2

    Hang on BB, what economic plan ? I must have missed that bit.

  25. Keith

    Backyard Bob

    People need to be very naive to swallow the Jobs and Growth mumbo jumbo. How many truck loads of salt are being delivered to Queensland after the Courier Mail article.

    I think Bill Shorten put dents in the concept; overall it was a closely contested Debate (?) with Bill Shorten slightly in front, I believe.

    Hopefully small Parties and Independents will gain greater control over the Senate so an Enquiry can take place in regard to donations to Parties.

  26. Backyard Bob


    Hang on BB, what economic plan ? I must have missed that bit.

    Oh, it doesn’t have to exist for the Courier Mail to write about it. In fact, from their point of view it’s probably better if it doesn’t. You should know that 🙂

  27. Kaye Lee

    I have been having a closer look at the Coalition’s economic plan for Jobson Growthe.

    “The Government has committed an additional $29.9 billion for Defence and has brought investment in capability to an unprecedented $195 billion over the decade to 2025-26. This includes new naval capabilities such as:
    •12 new regionally-superior submarines;
    •9 future frigates; and
    •12 offshore patrol vessels.

    Building submarines, frigates, offshore patrol vessels and Pacific patrol boats in Australia will directly secure over 3,600 jobs as well as thousands more jobs through the supply chain.”

    3,600 jobs for $200 billion over ten years???? Compare that to the 200,000 jobs that will be lost from the car manufacturing and supply chain industries.

  28. guest

    Kaye, just a thought about the 15% GST. The idea was floated by the Coalition (was on the table). It seems to have come from NZ, which the Coalition admires because it is supposed to have outshone Oz on achieving a surplus. But NZ is not the same kind of economy as Oz. Besides, higher taxes is not Coalition policy, but it is no certainty that it will not employ higher taxes, as it has tried already with co-payments and tobacco and reducing penalty rates (and where does that stop?)

  29. Kaye Lee

    In New Zealand there is no tax free threshold. The top tax bracket pay 33% but it kicks in at $70,000. They also have no capital gains tax.

  30. Terry2

    The coalition doesn’t admire NZ when they offer to break the political deadlock and take some of the asylum seekers stuck in Nauru and Manus, quite the opposite.

    Dutton thinks these folk, should they go to New Zealand may make new lives for themselves and ultimately become citizens of New Zealand may one day – horror of horrors – come to Australia as they would be quite entitled to do : can’t have that can we ?

  31. Arthur Plottier

    Turnbull and his team are saying that they are the ones to trust with the economy.
    Well they have been in power for 3 years, the deficit is 3 times larger, the full time employment it is bellow expectations, the earning by those that work part time it is bellow the poverty line. All this and more during a record natural resources boom where few made billions as much as 50% or more of the national deficit.
    IMO they are not good with look after the economy of the country.

  32. Kronomex

    To paraphrase a comment I read years ago (I can’t remember who said it): The people who should running the country have more than enough sense to steer clear of politics so you get the dregs that are left.
    And now one of my favourite quotes from, believe it or not, from a 3 Stooges short (Half-Shot Shooters, 1936) that covers both major parties: Every time you think you weaken the nation.

  33. Pingback: The Turnbull/Shorten Debate Experience | THE VIEW FROM MY GARDEN

  34. Jaquix

    Steven Ciobo from the Gold Coast, not sure of his electorate. Typical Liberal just regurgitating the spin. Do they go to a Special School to learn to be like this?

  35. mark delmege

    as they say …. thats a good question….

  36. Terry2


    Did he mention that many of the largest companies don’t pay any tax at all and very few actually pay 30% ?

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