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Turnbull and Shorten draw Australian Leaders’ Debate

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have split the Election Debates panel 1-1.

In what was a very close debate, Mr Turnbull’s more fluent style was countered by Mr Shorten’s aggressive positioning. In debate parlance, it was a manner versus matter debate, with both judges split but agreeing it was a very close debate.

Former Debaters Association of Victoria president Wayne Jocic gave the debate to the Prime Minister. In his decision he noted Mr Turnbull’s manner advantage:

This was a close debate, mainly because both leaders lacked the confidence to answer questions directly. In this context, Mr Turnbull’s storytelling approach provided a more compelling and thus marginally better performance.

Mr Turnbull appeared more comfortable as leader. His physical presence was obvious, his gestures expansive and his delivery energetic. His relaxed command of language was marked by personal pronouns.

Despite the desire of the National Press Club panellists to raise a broad range of issues, Mr Shorten sought to narrow this debate into a single question: is the Government’s proposed corporate tax cut a good thing for Australia?

Mr Turnbull went along with the hijack – it suited his central argument that voters could only have health, education and other funding priorities if his better economic plan was adopted.

In his decision, Logan Balavijendran, former Chief Adjudicator of the World Universities Debating Championship felt that Shorten was able to gain a decisive advantage when attacking on the economy:

Turnbull’s approach was simple – trickle down economics. Lower corporate taxes encourage growth, build small companies, encourage employment. He used his business background to build credibility to back his argument.

Shorten came back strongly to attack the tax cuts, painting them as gifts for big companies. He attacked the coalition for flip flopping on the GST and provided a diverse list of examples of failing services. It was an impressive attack and harmed Turnbull’s credibility – the Prime Minister struggled to respond to every detail and could only offer more jobs and more growth.

Unusually for a Coalition leader in recent times, Mr Turnbull lacked voice when attacked for tripling the deficit without the excuse of a GFC (implicit self-absolution from the Labor leader).

Mr Shorten didn’t have it all his own way on the economy though, struggling to advance a credible economic agenda of his own. He relied more on an economic philosophy that pairs growth and fairness. To cast his own plan more persuasively, he needed to explain how spending on middle class education and health, and renewables and infrastructure could meet the growth standard that Mr Turnbull had set. He didn’t.

In the end it was a draw – the manner advantage gained by Mr Turnbull neutralised by Mr Shorten’s economic attack.

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Election Debates is dedicated to improving the quality of election debates and debate commentary for the benefit of voter education and engagement. Election Debates is independent. Our judges are experts in competitive debate and apply the rules of debate to ensure objective analysis.

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