Hey remember that amazing leader's debate where that PM just destroyed the opposition leader? It was amazing. The opposition leader was useless. For example he said of the PM, “Now, he's going to throw a big word at you – ‘unfunded mandate’” but then the Prime Minister responded with “"Well, first of all, let's clear up a couple of things. 'Unfunded mandate' is two words, not one big word.”
And then later after the opposition leader said a great line about tax cuts, the Prime Minister responded saying,
“There it is. That's the ten word answer my staff's been looking for for two weeks. There it is. Ten-word answers can kill you in political campaigns. They're the tip of the sword. Here’s my question: What are the next ten words of your answer? Your taxes are too high? So are mine. Give me the next ten words. How are we going to do it? Give me ten after that, I'll drop out of the race right now.”
It was such a slaughter that CJ the Prime Minister’s press secretary invoked the Ali-Forman fight, and my God if the PM’s speechwriter Rob Lowe wasn’t pumped about how good they all were. It was incredible. The debate win was so huge that the election was over from that moment.
Oh wait. No that was The West Wing.
I don’t know what people expect when they watch a debate, but here in Australia our candidates certainly don’t score big wins. Mostly this is because the debates aren’t scripted by Aaron Sorkin in such a way that one of the candidates happens to have struggled to achieve the chew gum and fart at the same time level of intelligence.
No one is going to score a knockout blow because both of the candidates have spent over a decade in parliament. American presidential candidates can rather avoid any great Socratic debate in their career – especially if they’re a state governor – and so you might find one of them can get caught out a bit in a debate.
But regardless of what you think of either Abbott or Rudd, both have spent a bit of time debating in parliament and answering questions from journalists. They are not stupid, and they’re not going to have a caught-in-the-headlights moment.
And going for the big knockout also means taking a bit of a risk – usually because it will involve mocking your opponent. There is no need to even take such a risk in Australian politics, where you don’t need to worry about the get out the vote aspect. Certainly taking a risk last night was pointless, when due to it being screened on GEM and ONE it rated much less than in 2010.
Yes it had around 2.3m viewers national wide (including regional areas), but at the same time, 3.4 million were watching Australia's Got Talent and The X Factor. So it was never going to be a pivotal moment.
The reporting of the debate was, let’s be honest, for the most part, pointless.
The general consensus over in News.corp was that Abbott won because Rudd failed to deliver a “knockout blow”.
KEVIN Rudd won the head-to-head debate tonight but he needed to leave Tony Abbott's election bid lying bloodied on the floor. And he didn't.
PM unable to land a knockout
KEVIN Rudd needed a convincing victory over Tony Abbott in the first national debate to revive his flailing campaign. Rudd failed to achieve that victory
Elsewhere we had:
Kevin Rudd has kept alive his election hopes with a hard-fought debate against Tony Abbott in which neither leader landed a knockout blow but Mr Rudd was the chosen winner by undecided voters.
I swear you could have written those before the debate.
The boxing analogy seemed to have been taken to heart by Tony Abbott who gave Rudd a handshake like he thought it was a contest of strength. Given how often Abbott likes to talk about being “man enough” he probably does think being PM should be about who can do the most push ups.
At least that was the worst it got.
Oh wait, no we had to worry about whether or not Kevin Rudd cheated by using notes.
Even while the debate was going the Liberal shills took to Twitter to profess that Rudd was cheating because he was using notes and the rules of the debate said no notes..
It apparently went to his character.
Geez. Just when you think commentary can’t get any more up it’s own arse. At best I’ve read people describing it as a silly rule, but that it’s the rules and therefore… snore.
Please. Who gives a damn?
Most people couldn’t be bothered tuning in to watch the debate and now we’re supposed to think they care about the rules of that debate?
Here’s how people this morning at work were discussing Rudd’s ‘cheating’ in the debate.
SWINGING VOTER 1: Hey did you see the footy on the weekend?
SWINGING VOTER 2: Yeah, it’s was great.
OK, maybe I’m being cynical. Let’s try that again:
SWINGING VOTER 1: Hey did you watch the debate?
SWINGING VOTER 2: Nope, you?
SWINGING VOTER 1: Nah. But geez, did you see the footy on the weekend?
OK, OK. Still too cynical? Try this:
SWINGING VOTER 1: Hey did you watch the debate?
SWINGING VOTER 2: Nope, you?
SWINGING VOTER 1: Nah. Apparently Rudd cheated.
SWINGING VOTER 2: How?
SWINGING VOTER 1: He used notes.
SWINGING VOTER 2: Oh.
SWINGING VOTER 1: Yeah. Hey did you see the footy on the weekend?
No doubt in future we shall read academic articles, “Historians generally agree that Rudd using notes in the debate was the moment the election result was determined”.
Look, let’s not be too cynical, at least the debate gave us definitive proof that Kevin Rudd has spoken to both Simon Benson and Peter Hartcher about things other than the undermining of Julia Gillard.
On the use of the panel, for mine, I didn’t think we needed it. It flowed quite well when it was just David Speers asking the questions. Some suggested he butted in a bit too much, but I thought he had a good handle on it, and the debate mostly became stagnate once the panel came in. The US Presidential debates last year just had one moderator and now panel. It;s a tough gig, but I think Speers is up to it.
But if you want the debate summarised, for me here was the key moment:
CURTIS: Firstly to Tony Abbott and then to Kevin Rudd about aged care. About 6 million voters in this election are aged 50 and over, 2 million aged 70 or over, that's lot of people who are thinking about care for themselves or their parents. The Government made a change in policy legislated earlier this year with almost no publicity. Mr Abbott, you don't have a detailed aged care policy in your Real Solutions booklet, I think your aged care statement ran to about a paragraph. What would a Coalition Government do? Mr Rudd, can you explain what the central changes are and whether there would be any more?
After a lot of blather, here is Mr Abbott’s conclusion:
ABBOTT: We have no plans to make significant changes to the system that the Government's put in place.
And after a lot of blather here was Mr Rudd’s conclusion to the same question:
PM: I'm of the view, and I note carefully what the Productivity Commission has said, I believe because this is a growing challenge for the nation, this must be kept under continue review. It's only fair to seniors who have served our country so well, that they are guaranteed proper are into the future.
And that ladies and gentleman is why more people cared about The X Factor than the debate.
Today Kevin Rudd was talking about skills – a “Step into Skills” policy. It isn’t a big policy, but it is crucial if we want to improve our productivity (I wrote something along these line in my Guardian post today). He pledged
a $35 million initiative (over three years), that will provide around 8,900 training places. Funding for this project is already included in the budget.
What is it all?
The Step into Skills program aims to empower and educate its participants, and will provide:
- 8,900 training places to the most disadvantaged young people between 16-24 with $35 million investment over three years.
- Training in core employability skills such as language, literacy and numeracy.
- Simulated work experience opportunities to ensure that young people are equipped with the practical skills they need to secure employment, such as communication and time management skills.
I’m generally in favour of skills programs. This one doesn’t have a big “wow” cost factor, but these thing do matter to people. And it sure beats his incredibly lame policy announced in Tasmania on the weekend to fund the redevelopment of the Hobart Showgrounds. For a state with ongoing unemployment problems, I hope that isn’t all he’s got for the state. The least thing it need is piecemeal stuff.
Today for Abbott it was about infrastructure. His big ticket item is the East West Link in Melbourne. The ALP is not funding the East West link. They are instead funding the Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel. The reason they are doing this is Infrastructure Australia has a list of infrastructure projects listed in its annual report to COAG.
It put the projects into the categories:
Initiatives in this category have strong strategic and economic merit. It is highly likely that the project will deliver economic benefits exceeding costs incurred.
Initiatives in this category clearly address a nationally significant issue or problem and relevant options are being considered.
Here’s the latest list for Victoria:
The Metro is a “threshold” project, the East-West Link has “real potential”.
Last week when talking about this (today’s announcement was not new), Abbott was absolutely slaughtered by some journalists on their game:
Have you seen the business case for the East West Link?
Infrastructure Australia, as I understand it, has recently published one and it’s $1.40 worth of benefit for every $1 of spending.
But you haven’t seen the business case?
But I’ve been briefed on it…
That’d be a “no”
… and I want to make it absolutely crystal clear, absolutely crystal clear, that we committed to funding the East West Link, or to assisting the East West Link to the tune of $1.5 billion after discussions with senior people in Infrastructure Australia who made it absolutely crystal clear to me that the number one road infrastructure project in Victoria should be the East West Link.
Which I guess means we shouldn’t care about the one infrastructure project just the number road infrastructure…
Mr Abbott, just on that point, I don't think Infrastructure Australia has published a business case. The state government’s put out a short form business case which just didn’t have much information. It just said the cost ratio was 1.4. Are you aware that there is actually a business that Infrastructure Australia has put out that we don’t know about?
The fact is there is a business case. It’s an absolutely crystal clear business case for getting on with this.
You haven't seen it?
Lovely work nailing him. There isn’t a report. If there was it would be published, and to think that Infrastructure Australia are privately briefing Tony Abbott is absurd. Time for Tony to dodge:
Look, there is a business case, there is a business case. I mean, Kevin Rudd maybe hadn't seen all of the links between the tobacco company that funded his travel to Europe when he was a backbencher. I mean, there are lots of things that I haven't seen but I know, and I know that there is a business case for the East West Link. It says there is $1.40 worth of benefit for every $1 of spending. That's why the East West Link will go ahead under the Coalition, it won't go ahead under Mr Rudd.
And that is what happens when you keep asking a question to a bloke who is making stuff up.
So today he makes the big announcement again – he even has Dennis Napthine next to him. Go hard press gallery. Nothing has changed, the project is still a lower order priority for Infrastructure Australia than the Metro. Last time when pushed on this he ended up saying he knew things he hadn’t seen. This is a an easy one for you guys.
He even said in his press conference:
Today, I announce that an incoming Coalition government will publish, will make an annual infrastructure statement to the Parliament. Every year in the Parliament there will be an infrastructure statement. It will be an implementation statement. It will be designed to ensure that we don’t just talk about infrastructure, we actually get it built.
Now that just begs to be asked how is he going to decide which projects to invest in. It begs to be asked why is he investing in a project that is below other projects on Infrastructure Australia's list.
And so here we have the only question he was asked in his press conference on the East West Link:
When do you expect to start digging this tunnel? Warren Truss has said its going to take years of planning before big projects like this can actually be started?
Now look, there wee some decent questions asked. For example:
You keep saying that the economy will be stronger under a future Coalition Government. Specifically on what basis do you make this statement? Do you have modelling to back it up and can we expect in your economic costings an estimate of growth, unemployment, those sorts of data?
This was of course dodged and went to talk about company tax cuts.
But given we also had:
Mr Abbott, the Coalition’s primary figures in the latest Newspoll have gone up while Labor’s have gone down. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think you are doing better?
Mr Abbott, do you think you won the debate last night?
Mr Abbott, do you think Kevin Rudd’s use of notes was cheating?
When will there be a second debate and can you promise it won’t be as boring as the last one?
I think we can say he was let off the hook on his big policy announcement today.
But look as Abbott said earlier in the day, “No one, however smart, however well-educated, however experienced, is the suppository of all wisdom”.
As someone who has written many typos, I’ll just say, ain’t that the truth.