Today the media was full of the debate – how it was a tie how it was boring etc etc. Much was made of how no one made any gaffes. Little was made of what I think was a very stupid and pretty condescending remark by Abbott in his final address:
So this election will determine whether the Prime Minister is to be elected by the people or by the powerbrokers, whether Prime Ministers are to be chosen on the basis of the job they’ve done or gender…
Yep he actually thinks this election is about males versus females. Just imagine if John McCain during the 2008 Presidential election had said:
So this election will determine whether the President is to be elected by the people or by the powerbrokers, whether Presidents are to be chosen on the basis of the job they’ve done or race…
Yep, you got it – there would be absolute saturation coverage. In the Australian media? Meh. And I guess I can’t blame them, after all they’re busy bitching on twitter about how hard life is on the campaign trail – you know how evil Gillard is for not allowing them to go into the hospital wards with her (because a pack of journos standing around beds twiddling their thumbs and doing nothing would be just what you’d want if you were sick in hospital). Matthew Franklin decided to get his Walkley Award entry in for the year by busting open the story that political parties engage in media management.
Party operatives telephoned journalists this morning to advise them on what questions they should ask Tony Abbott.
Franklin seriously thinks it is news that the ALP organisation rings up journalists to tell them what they think the media should focus on. Personally for mine, the real story was that the Liberal Party wasn’t doing it as well – it certainly suggests they aren't very well organised. I did find the entire article somewhat surprising as well given that a good 90 percent of what Franklin writes seems to be word for word the Liberal Party talking points of the day, so I just assumed he was used to taking advice from political parties. Guess I was wrong. How nice.
Most of the journalists reckoned they could make up their own questions.
Well having observed many of Franklin’s efforts at press conferences and the health debate I wouldn’t be so bold were I him…
Which brings us onto last night’s debate. For the Health Debate I had a look at the questions, reasoning that the answers were all pap. The same can be said of last night, so let’s see how Chris Uhlmann, Laura Tingle, Malcolm Farr and David Speer as moderator went:
SPEERS: Tony Abbott, thank you, before we get to questions from our panel, I just want to kick off with a couple of the broad themes you’ve both raised there. Prime Minister, first to you. When you did bring down Kevin Rudd a month ago, you acknowledged that it was because the Government had lost its way and you said there were three areas that needed to be fixed – asylum seekers, the mining tax and climate change. But on asylum seekers, boats are still arriving. There’s still no real solution there. On the mining the tax, big sections of the mining industry are still deeply concerned about the tax and on climate change you’ve proposed another talk fest. Have we really moved forward?
A decent first up question – though his characterisations of the three policies could have come straight from a Liberal Party advert. Gillard did well on the first 2, but on climate change she was not up to it – mostly because her policy is complete and utter tosh.
SPEERS: Tony Abbott, the Liberals have churned through three leaders in three years. You were installed as leader by just one vote in the party room at the end of last year. You yourself have changed your position on things like WorkChoices and on climate change, on the emissions trading scheme, and you described yourself as a bit of a weather vane on this at one point. And you’ve also acknowledged that you don’t always tell the gospel truth. So how can we be sure what you will do in government?
Another good question that Abbott completely ignored. Abbott’s first point was to talk about asylum seekers – do you see any mention of that in Speers’ question? Nope neither did I. Abbott then talked about the MRRT – again something Speers did not ask him about. He then talked very quickly about climate change only to bash Gillard’s policy.
UHLMANN: I’ve got a question to you both but Ms Gillard first though. Do you think that occasionally the courage to stand against the mob is a sign of a true leader, and if so, can you both give us one example of how you demonstrated that in this campaign.
A good question which neither of them really answered – both picked “tough” policies which they actually think are popular. Tough apparently now is standing up to unions.
Speers made note of this to Julia:
SPEERS: Prime Minister, can I just pull you up on the main example you cited there of your courage on My School. You had overwhelming popular support for that. It was the unions who were the only ones opposed.
Laura Tingle then had her first go:
TINGLE: I’ve got a question for you, Mr Abbott, and it goes to that point you’ve just been making about the Intergenerational Report. The Coalition in government actually pursued big population policies, partly driven by that report. Everything from the baby bonus through to luring overseas students here with a promise of permanent residency. It was this policy that produced the 300,000 peak in population in 2008 in net migration. Isn't your policy announcement today just really undoing the damage you caused on population policy in government?
Brilliant question from the best political journalist in the country. Abbott had no hope in even approaching a direct answer to it as Speers’ noted:
SPEERS: Tony Abbott, just to pull you up on that, getting back to Laura’s question, wasn't it the Howard Government that set the laws in place that started to allow, particularly the foreign students that you seem to be concerned about, to come in?
It was Abbott’s worst moment because Julia got in on the question and drilled him with the facts.
Next up Malcolm Farr:
FARR: Ms Gillard you’ve started canvassing the region to find a host for a processing centre for asylum seekers, before they touch Australian territory. What is a reasonable time frame for having one of those centres operational? Would you guarantee you'll have a processing centre operational in your next term of Government?
Oh here we go – asylum seekers. Yep the big issue that we are all worried about. Sigh. An ok question from Farr I guess – but I would have asked what was Plan B. Still it was a fair question. Julia didn’t give a guarantee – in fact she ruled out giving one saying that dialogue is ongoing. Speers piped in:
SPEERS: Just to be clear, no guarantee on when it....
Next up Chris Uhlmann for his second go:
UHLMANN: Well Tony Abbott you talk about a ‘pre-election fudge’, do you think you should tell the Australian people 90% of the asylum seekers that went to Nauru ended up in Australia, anyway? Don’t you think you, shouldn't you be upfront with the Australian people and say this is weigh station on the way to Australia?
Excellent question. And “fair dinkum”, Tony dodged it. At this point it really would have been nice if Speers was a bit more proactive on the follow ups – but I guess time was a wasting (one hour for these things is utterly useless).
Laura Tingle up for her second dig:
TINGLE: Ms Gillard, the economic statement released by the Treasurer notes that the world economic outlook is very uncertain. Last week seven European banks failed regulator stress tests, and another seven US banks were taken over by regulators. The Government has committed to return the Budget to surplus in three years. Are you prepared to reassess your policy settings, stimulate the economy further to protect jobs and delay the return to surplus if the economy is dragged down by the global economy?
A major policy wonk question, but I have to say an unanswerable one. If the US and Europe do go into a double dip recession the Government will need to assess things at that time – you can’t say what you will do if something happens at some unspecified time. The truth is no one would know what would be the best thing to do at that time until they get to that time – as Julia pointed out in this little follow up exchange with Speers
SPEERS: But PM just quickly, the question is about double dip recession. If that happens are you going to stimulate the economy again?
PM: Well whilst there are some troubling international signs, I am not, not predicting that.
SPEERS: You’re not ruling it in or out.
Abbott of course completely ignored the issue and just blathered on about waste and debt. It rated nicely with the worms because as I have previously stated the Rudd Government wouldn’t know how to sell ice-cream to a bunch of kids at the beach on the hottest day in December. Useless they were at selling the stimulus. They got us out of a recession, and yet people think the BER and insulation schemes were wasteful. Geez, who are advising these guys? They really need to be shown the door.
Farr comes in for his second innings:
FARR: Mr Abbott I think it was last Sunday you were in western Sydney and you were listing the increases in the cost of living that had been hitting families. I think at one stage you mentioned bread prices had gone up 11%.
ABBOTT: 12% I think. 11.7%.
FARR: I’m glad you remembered that, I had forgotten that detail. Can you remember what policies you would implement in Government specifically referring to groceries, that would keep prices down?
Great question by Farr – one that Abbott had no chance of answering, because there is no chance that any Govt could keep grocery prices down. Abbott also looked very smarmy jumping in with his correction. Abbott then fudged by saying what he wouldn't do. Speers’ did some good follow-up:
SPEERS: But just to be specific on Malcolm's question, what would you do to reduce grocery prices, or keep them down?
Abbott of course did not answer it. Gillard was able to get in with some good jabs about Abbott’s idiotic levy on businesses to pay for his stupid paid parental leave scheme. We’ll be hearing a lot more of that over the next four weeks.
Onto the third go round:
UHLMANN: Ms Gillard, Australia is committed to a target of 5% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 and you're committed to putting on a carbon price. How long can we go before we reach the point of no return? What year will we get to where Australia can't meet that cut because you've delayed for too long. And you yourself said last year, you said, “to delay is to deny?”
Dumb question because it depends on what efforts we put in place to cut the emissions. Julia didn’t say this – which she should have – so Speers came in again:
SPEERS: But PM the question is, have you been advised, there's a point at which, a date at which it's too late and we fail to meet the target we've committed to?
PM: I think we can do what we have committed to do. I believe we can get there. We’ll get there with the cap on carbon pollution.
SPEERS: When does that have to happen?
Pity she didn’t give him an exact date – you know 18th June 2016. I guess that’s what they were after. Abbott didn’t say anything of any worth on the issue because he has nothing of any worth to say on the issue.
TINGLE: Mr Abbott, you've declared industrial relations reform essentially off limits for the next term of Parliament in the last week. How does this fit with the productivity agenda, particularly when you're proposing taxes to go up on companies by three percentage points?
Excellent question – though were I Tingle I would have quoted some of Abbott’s Budget reply speech at him. Abbott dodged it, so Speers came in:
SPEERS: But Tony Abbott if you believe that reform is in the interests of boosting productivity why don't you lead on this. Why don't you convince Australians that this is the way to go?
He fudged again – because of course he has no credibility at all on this issue.
FARR: Ms Gillard, your award modernisation process. You said that no employees or employers would be worse off. There have been some workers who've had to apply for some sort of relief because of changes in awards. There's no such facility for employers. Many of them, who are small businesses, they are paying more. Will you change the structure of the revamped awards so that these employers - again I say, many of them small businesses, can get some relief, as well?
Bit of a nothing question really.
UHLMANN: Julia Gillard, you’ve said that you won't speak about the conversation that you had with Kevin Rudd. Fair enough. You've said you won't speak about what happens in Cabinet. Again, fair enough. But can you give us a simple number. How many times did you warn Kevin Rudd that his government, your government was on the wrong track before you took his job? Was it once? Was it twice? Was it three strikes and you're out? How many times did you tell him, did you warn him, before you took his job?
Worst question of the night. Has nothing to do with policy, has nothing to do with the next 3 years. Very much a “look at me” question. Speers also wanted to get in on the act.
SPEERS: Just quickly, Prime Minister, Chris’ question is not about what was said in confidentiality but just how many warnings? Were there three, were there none?
Bad work by both.
TINGLE: I had a question for both of you, or questions for both of you, on Afghanistan. A conference of a lot of Australia’s allies in Kabul last week was talking about a 2014 exit strategy. Ms Gillard, do you intend sticking with the former Prime Minister’s stated ambition to withdraw troops in two to four years time and, Mr Abbot, in light of the Kabul conference, is sending more troops still an appropriate strategy to pursue if you were in Government?
Nice question, but given the almost bipartisan nature on Afghanistan it didn't yield much.
So all in all some very good question. Some bit dopey ones, but at least no hack-Liberal shill questions like there were in the Health Debate. Well done to all four journos involved, as good as one could hope given the format. Only Uhlmann’s last question should have been left un-asked, other than that no side could have any reason for complaint.