2010 AU Election, View by election, View by expert, Wayne Jocic

Jocic: Gillard wins Australian leaders’ debate

Judge: Wayne Jocic

Winner: Julia Gillard

Scores: Gillard 77 | Abbott 75

Reasons:

This was a cowardly debate. Both leaders were too reliant on the advice of their assistants, too reluctant to deal in facts and too shy for anything but scripted disagreement. Of the three major issues in the debate, and presumably the campaign, Julia Gillard won on immigration and at least held her ground on the economy and the environment. Accordingly, she won the debate. Tony Abbott’s more direct manner of speaking was appealing, but Gillard won by better controlling the issues and was helped her air of competence.

Ms Gillard tried to link asylum seekers with immigration levels, and then to express her opposition to a ‘big Australia’. This broad theme of ‘immigration’ was manufactured, but Ms Gillard’s views were clear and consistent. Moreover, she out-argued Mr Abbott on two issues. First, she described Mr Abbott’s views on immigration as ‘a trick’, and explained that point forcefully and coherently. Second, she soundly rebutted Mr Abbott’s suggestion that asylum seekers be processed at Nauru by pointing, diplomatically, to Nauru’s political difficulties. Ms Gillard was clearly more impressive on these issues.

Neither leader showed much interest in economics. Important concepts like GDP growth and interest rates were never raised and neither leader provided details when discussing employment, for example.

Gillard was at her worst in her rehearsed material. It is hard to see how her references to economic ‘settings’ and policy ‘settings’ could appeal to ‘the Australian electorate’, let alone voters. Her references to Work Choices and her attempts to link company tax and grocery prices seemed too contrived to be very persuasive. However, she responded well to the question about whether she would introduce further budgetary stimulus if needed. When she dealt with more concrete matters like the consolidation of industrial awards, she did even better.

Mr Abbott’s appeal that governments, like individuals, must to live within their means had strong intuitive appeal. He frequently supported this by reference to the accumulation of government debt, but provided too little evidence of such a problem. This lack of evidence made his account less credible. Ms Gillard was probably the more convincing on the economy, but both performed badly.

Environmental issues were discussed in brief a number of times. Mr Abbott’s most persuasive point was his criticism of Ms Gillard’s proposed ‘glorified focus group’ on climate change, which he argued parliament should decide upon. (Beyond this, he said little of note about the environment.) Ms Gillard countered this reasonably effectively by arguing that consensus would minimise the risk that future changes in sentiment would lead to disruptive changes in policy. She also frequently mentioned environmental issues such as dirty power plants and old cars, but provided too little detail to be very persuasive. There was no clear advantage to either leader in this third area of debate.

Mr Abbott gave a decent performance overall. He did not blunder. He expressed his views in clear, simple language, and his manner of speaking was appealing. He did especially well in his opening and closing speeches. Ms Gillard’s speeches by contrast were too confected, her language somehow unnatural and her gesture a work of artifice. Ms Gillard’s great strength was in responding to questions. She displayed a good command of the issues and remained in control of the process. She was calm and confident, and in short, gave an impression of competence. These are the reasons she won the debate.

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