2010 AU Election, Sam Greenland, View by election

Greenland: Gillard wins Australian leaders’ debate

Judge:  Sam Greenland

Winner:  Julia Gillard

Scores:  Gillard 80 | Tony Abbott 78

Reasons:

Julia Gillard narrowly won this debate after a stilted start, finishing more strongly and landing a few key blows in the final exchanges.  Abbott, on the other hand, started well but was reduced by the end of the debate to reading pre-rehearsed and uninspiring attacks on the government’s record from notecards on his lectern.  Although both candidates ducked many of the panel’s questions, Gillard was more willing to respond directly to Abbott’s statements and successfully exploited his contradiction between claiming Howard’s legacy on immigration yet denying it over WorkChoices.

Julia Gillard’s opening statement was a shopping list of talking points read straight from a teleprompter, whereas Tony Abbott spoke far more engagingly. This difference continued for the first few exchanges, but Gillard warmed to the audience as the debate wore on, whereas Abbott became defensive.  His switch to pre-scripted negative attacks on the government allowed Gillard space to engage with his attacks.  She responded well to them and from then on her impromptu responses sounded more natural and persuasive.

This trend was highlighted when Abbott tried to defend his position on WorkChoices, where Gillard scored some key points, whereas Gillard’s own response to how and why she replaced Kevin Rudd was handled with sincerity and aplomb, and Abbott’s attempts to tie it to factionalism and the failings of State ALP governments didn’t come off.  By the end of the debate, the roles were reversed: it was Gillard speaking off the cuff and straight to the audience, delivering key messages as if they were impromptu, whereas Abbott was reading from notes on his lectern and sounding rehearsed and stilted.

Both candidates ducked many of the questions that the panel put to them, instead preferring to resort to a series of speaking points.  However, the moderator did a reasonable job of refocusing them, and Gillard in particular was forced into several admissions that she was unwilling to answer the question directly. She was better than Abbott, though, at taking a question, answering it and then tying it to a separate point she wanted to make, for example taking a question on the rise in cost of living and turning it into an attack on Abbott’s position on WorkChoices.

As the debate went on, both candidates became willing to respond specifically to each other’s statements.  At times, they were even prepared to override the moderator and engage in some back-and-forth exchanges – to the overall benefit of the debate.  But in the end, Abbott’s main message, that the government wasted money and would continue to do so, was repeated perhaps a few times too often, at the expense of detailing specific policies that he would implement.  In contrast, Gillard defended the government’s record well enough to avoid defeat on that front, and meanwhile had more effective lines of her own, pointing to past policies defending Australia from the GFC, making a number of commitments for another government term and attacking Abbott’s “conviction politics” over WorkChoices.

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