A majority of 48 undecided voters at the first televised leadership debate of the 2019 election campaign sided with Labor leader Bill Shorten over Prime Minister Scott Morrison, marking a small and somewhat strange win for the opposition leader in his quest to become the next leader of Australia.
25 audience members said they’d vote for Shorten and the Australian Labor Party after the debate, compared to 12 who’d pick Morrison and the Coalition. 11 audience members remained undecided.
The debate, which aired live on Channel 7 last night, was billed as an opportunity to pitch their vision for Australia’s future to the nation. What actually transpired was an hour of debate frequently punctuated with interjections from host Basil Zempilas and guest panellists, on a set which The Guardian’s Naaman Zhou likened to a Nickelodeon game show.
why does this look like someone’s gonna get slimed pic.twitter.com/WFjCxLL5Kn
— Naaman Zhou (@naamanzhou) April 29, 2019
The debate began with a recap of Australia’s tumultuous leadership situation over the past six years, and affirmations from both leaders that if they are elected next month, Australia will actually have them as prime minister – not a colleague with the factional backing to roll them at the next available opportunity.
With expectations set, discussions coursed to Australia’s offshore detention regime and Morrison’s insistence that reopening the Christmas Island detention centre was a necessary deterrent to the people smuggling industry, despite the fact it spent millions upon millions of dollars to reopen the centre and process exactly zero asylum seekers.
Shorten also commented on Morrison’s opposition to the Medivac bill, which gave doctors more authority when requesting the transfer of seriously ill asylum seekers detained in offshore detention to Australian medical facilities.
Other issues facing young voters were briefly addressed, including a spat over penalty rates. Shorten was said his party would step in to secure penalty rates, which were cut in 2017; Morrison took issue with that stance, asking why the calls of the Fair Work Commission should be tampered with.
Climate change was also a topic of contention. Again, neither leader had a chance to really outline their plan to stop Australia’s contributions to making the planet boil, but Shorten was left stumbling over questions about how his party’s emissions reduction target would be financed. He did mention the fact that saving the planet is itself an investment, so there is that.
While Shorten may have squeezed out a win among those audience members, the latest Essential poll tells a slightly different story. On a two-party preferred basis, the Coalition bounced up one percentage point to 49% versus Labor’s 51%.
The next televised debate happens on Friday. Maybe this was just a test-run and they’ll present more cogent arguments by the end of the week.
You can watch last night’s debate HERE.