2010 AU Election, Ray D'Cruz

D’Cruz: Gillard wins Australian leaders’ debate

Judge: Ray D’Cruz

Winner: Julia Gillard

Scores: Gillard 78 | Abbott 76

Reasons:

This was a close debate, won by Julia Gillard. In the end, the only discernible difference was in the guts of the debate, where Ms Gillard slowly accumulated a matter advantage.

This advantage was generated on an issue-by-issue basis. On immigration her use of figures and critique of the previous government worked. On workplace relations she contrasted the values of both speakers to question her opponent’s credibility; Mr Abbott twice referred to the current laws as “imperfect” before declaring he would support them. While this was a political manoeuvre, in the context of this debate it was a significant concession. On grocery prices Ms Gillard zeroed in on the Coalition corporate tax increase and its flow on effect while Mr Abbott passed up a chance to be specific. On economic uncertainty Ms Gillard (relying largely on assertions) could have gone further on how the Coalition approach would have damaged the economy. Mr Abbott was too vague, missing a significant opportunity to contrast his alternative economic philosophy, relying on slogans too often when trying to establish economic credentials.

It was not all to Ms Gillard’s advantage. On the issue of demonstrated leadership, Ms Gillard chose some peculiarly uninspiring examples, while Mr Abbott produced what was probably the highpoint of his debate: his proposition for the Liberal paid parental leave scheme. It was the closest thing to an inspiring argument in a dull debate. On border security and asylum seekers Ms Gillard looked uncertain. On the Rudd issue, Ms Gillard simply dwelt too long without saying anything convincing.

Ms Gillard’s matter advantage can be distilled to this: she simply had more specific ideas and policies to mention at the right moments. Mr Abbott did not use his time well enough to set out an alternative plan. When Mr Abbott did set out a plan, it invariably involved a return to previous policy.

In this debate, neither speaker provided a strong vision or compelling claim to election. Usually in debates, the best place to position a compelling claim is the introduction and conclusion. After a promising start decoding the meaning of ‘moving forward’ Ms Gillard’s opening was a series of small picture initiatives. Mr Abbott repeating his ‘action contract’ without bothering to explain it and then spent too long on what he wouldn’t do. The same could be said for the conclusion.

This was a close debate. Partly it was close because neither speaker offered a vision. Partly it was close because neither speaker really took on the other. And partly it was close because it was not a real debate: barely any rebuttal and precious little questioning of each other. The last criticism sits with the parties and media for negotiating such a contrived and stilted outcome.

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