2010 AU Election, Fenja Berglund, View by election

Berglund: Gillard wins Australian leaders’ debate

Judge: Fenja Berglund

Winner: Julia Gillard

Scores: Gillard 77 | Abbott 75

Reasons:

There is a fine line between driving home a consistent line and repeating platitudes unsubstantiated by evidence.  Although both speakers at times skated towards the latter, Julia Gillard helped herself stay on track by establishing and following a clear line of argument from the outset.  Ms Gillard won this debate with consistency, more detailed content and a slight edge in direct rebuttal, turning significant opposition points to her own case.  Tony Abbott argued strongly and answered questions well, but was hampered by his decision to run an overwhelmingly negative case without substantiating claims with direct, detailed examples or providing alternative solutions.

Ms Gillard opened with a clear statement of her case and supporting examples, a classic debating tactic which set up her consistency for the whole debate.  She relied on relatively detailed material throughout.  Her conclusion was particularly strong, building on earlier argument with an added spin of optimism and confidence not seen earlier in the debate.

Mr Abbott lacked a strong, consistent line.  His closing raised points not previously referred to in the debate, leaving unfinished business in his case and denying his opponent (or the panel) a chance to challenge points he claimed as significant.  In the case of the fleeting reference to whether candidates’ gender ought to be an issue, the late inclusion might well have been a calculated risk.

It is acceptable in some circumstances, if not often wise, for an opposition to run a largely negative case.  However, accusations as forceful as “a hopeless government” need to be supported by strong examples, adequately explained.  These were simply lacking, or mentioned in passing bundled into “pink batts and school halls” without sufficient detail or analysis of implications.

Both speakers’ rate of answering questions directly was improved by a diligent moderator. Mr Abbott’s answers tended to be less detailed but more to the point.   Ms Gillard took her time to admit she was declining to answer questions.  In the limited chances for direct interaction with each other, Ms Gillard won more points.  The superior detail of her examples helped her here, immigration numbers and the Nauru alternative being stand out examples.

Both speakers projected calm confidence.  Ms Gillard was more fluent but Mr Abbott perhaps more natural in the early stages. Although manner was not a deciding factor, Ms Gillard’s closing deserves a mention as taking her performance and the debate to a new level.  It memorably defined the issues of the debate on Ms Gillard’s terms – a very helpful position to be in when the last word will not literally be yours.

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