By MICHELLE GRATTAN
Tonight’s debate was not a debate. It was a joint news conference and a dull one at that. There was not the head-to-head exchanges and jousting that a genuine ‘’debate’‘ requires.
There was no knock out, no big break though, little new information. It’s hard to see that anyone would change their vote on the basis of tonight, or even recall much of it in the morning.
Also, Rudd apparently broke the rules by using notes.
In my mind, Rudd narrowly “won” the encounter. But to get any benefit he needed to trounce his opponent. Moreover, the row about the Rudd notes was taking off tonight in the popular media. The last thing Rudd needs is the accusation that he cheated the system. That is gold for Abbott when the PM is already being ferociously pursued by the tabloid media.
On substance, Abbott was handicapped by what he was never going to do – that is, give his costings.
More significantly, he seems to be pledging that the GST would not be changed under a Coalition government. The Coalition policy is for a review of taxation in the first term, which would have the GST on the table, and then take any tax changes proposed to the following election.
Is Abbott is now giving a longer term commitment of no change? That is what he has seemed to be saying in recent days, and quite strongly tonight. This is something that needs clearing up.
The Daily Telegraph reporter on the panel, Simon Benson, asked a very Sydney-based question about Sydney airport which Rudd treated dismissively. He said there were more airports in the country than Sydney and more issues to the productivity agenda. How this plays out in Sydney remains to be seen.
Rudd, a recent convert to gay marriage, went hard on the issue, indicating there would be a bill brought forward in the first hundred days of a re-elected Labor government, with Labor MPs having a conscience vote. Abbott was able to say that his gay sister was in the audience but could not say yes to a conscience vote for Liberals. That would be up to the next party room, he said.
Abbott started the day of the leaders’ debate by running a 14-kilometre City to Surf, acting as guide to a visually-impaired man.
Exercise is for Abbott politically toning – all the better when combined with a good picture opportunity and a gesture of goodwill. And there was some Coalition money announced for life saving thrown in.