politics

Election 2016: Leaders' Debate sees Malcolm Turnbull, Bill Shorten make pitches to Australia.

By political reporter Matthew Doran

The first major leaders’ debate of the marathon 2016 election campaign has centred around the issue of trust, with the past demons of both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten being used as weapons in the battle.

Both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader were questioned on why Australians should vote for them, considering they had both ousted sitting leaders — Mr Turnbull removing Tony Abbott to take the top job and Mr Shorten instrumental in removing both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard as Labor leader.

“I am a well-known quantity in Australian public life,” Mr Turnbull said, when questioned on whether he had abandoned his personal beliefs on issues such as climate change to take the Liberal leadership.

“I did not come into this role as a political activist, I did not come in here as a political staffer.

“I came into this role as an adult, at 50, after a lifetime of working, building businesses in many, many areas, creating jobs.”

Mr Shorten said his party had moved on from the tumultuous leadership changes between 2010 and 2013.

“The Labor Party have learnt from that difficult period and we have demonstrated more unity of purpose than we have in a very long time,” Mr Shorten said.

“We have learnt our lesson.”

“There’s a big difference between me and Mr Turnbull — I genuinely lead my party, whereas your party [Mr Turnbull] genuinely leads you.”

Asylum seekers sparks fiery exchange

The debate was fairly measured, with many well-rehearsed lines of party rhetoric from both sides.

That was until a question on asylum seekers.

Mr Turnbull said the nation’s borders were at risk from a Labor government, arguing the former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd wound back asylum seeker legislation so far it led to an increase in people travelling to Australia by boat.

“[People smugglers], they’re out there marketing now, telling their customers that if Labor is elected it will be all on again,” Mr Turnbull said.

“Bill says that’s not the case but, of course, they know what Labor was like in government just as we do.”

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It led to a fiery response from the Opposition Leader.

“Shame on you Mr Turnbull for what you just said,” Mr Shorten shot back.

“I have made it very clear what the Labor government would do. We would defeat the people smugglers. We accept the role of boat turn-backs as we should because we don’t want to see the people smugglers back in business.

“Mr Turnbull is playing with fire when he says that somehow Labor would be a better deal, and he shouldn’t say that because he just conceded in his own remarks that the people smugglers are efficient and watching every bit of the debate.”

Trust and taxes

The Prime Minister’s other attack on Mr Shorten centred on the economy, and what he described as a lack of direction and detail on costings for his party’s policies.

“They have no plan for economic growth and no plan for jobs,” Mr Turnbull said.

“It’s the same old Labor — just spending.”

Mr Shorten replied: “Same old Liberals, just give tax cuts to the top end of town and let the rest of the people make do with not much at all,” he said, in regards to the Coalition’s planned company tax cuts.

He pushed Labor’s social policies as its key strength, arguing it was in touch with public expectation.

“You can trust Labor to protect Medicare, trust Labor to stand up for education and training, trust Labor to ensure fair taxation and housing affordability,” Mr Shorten said.

Personal stories key to election pitch

Both leaders used stories of personal experience to sharpen their pitch to voters.

Mr Turnbull was quick to highlight his success in business and his partnership in both enterprise and marriage with his wife of 36 years, Lucy.

Mr Shorten said that as a former union leader and son of a single mother, he understood the pressures facing ordinary Australians.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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