2010 AU Election, Ben Richards

Richards: Gillard wins Australian leaders’ debate

Judge: Ben Richards

Winner: Julia Gillard

Scores: Gillard 79 | Tony Abbott 75

Reasons

Are we so jaded with the current Government that there is a wave of nostalgia for the previous one? This appeared to be Tony Abbott’s gambit as he resolutely looked backwards; the language of attack repressed but not personable.

It was a legitimate tactic against a fresh if not untainted opponent in Julia Gillard whose language seated itself resolutely at the kitchen table and spoke vaguely of the recent past and loftily of the future.

Julia Gillard won this debate. By focussing so much on the past, Abbott conferred upon his opponent the appearance of stable incumbency. This was a narrow margin as a debate, but its impact in terms of image positioning may be greater in the long run. Gillard spoke to us like Rudd could not.

Neither debater won a knockout blow. On immigration – tellingly the first issue – both debaters used safe clichés. People smugglers were evil and boats could be turned around. Puerile.

On the economy post GFC, Gillard ran the ‘we did it’ line while Abbott ran the ‘we would have done it better’ line. Significantly, Gillard’s empathy with cost of living pressures seemed genuine while Abbott’s attack on a failed grocery website sounds jarring.

On climate change – Gillard’s policy of achieving consensus seems less incredible when being attacked by a man whose leadership rests upon the numbers of climate change sceptics and whose language reflected this. It was a weak challenge to a weak policy.

There was one area where Gillard looked back relentlessly – workplace relations. Here her opponent looked the least comfortable promising only, ‘a period of stability’ ‘at this time’ and ‘for the foreseeable future’. It was an underwhelming and unconvincing response from a man so set upon dwelling upon the record of his opponent.

Neither candidate has led their party to an election. Each was keen to cast themselves as independent of their respective power bases, ironically both using examples where they have overwhelming popular support in the MySchool website and paid parental leave respectively.

Tellingly, for Tony Abbott, that was one of the few times in the debate where he spoke about what things could be as opposed to merely carping about what has happened. In an election where incumbency is very much up for grabs, he seemed proud of being yesterday’s man.

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