2013 AU Election, Fenja Berglund

Berglund: Rudd wins Australian Leaders’ Debate

Judge: Fenja Berglund           

Winner: Kevin Rudd

Scores: Rudd 73 | Abbott 72

Reasons

Prime Minister Rudd narrowly won an uninspiring and substance-light debate.  Although at times Mr Abbott was a more engaging speaker, Rudd provided genuine answers to more of the questions he was asked, introduced more substantive facts to back his claims and had a slight edge in engaging with his opponent’s arguments.

The format did not lend itself to real interaction between the speakers.  Given the propensity of both speakers to avoid questions completely, there were certainly some positives to the format, and the moderator and panel did a good job on the whole.  However, there were limits to the extent to which the speakers could deal with each others’ arguments, which is normally the crux of a debate.  To the extent that there was any engagement with the other’s position, Rudd had a slight edge due mostly to his quick comebacks such as Indonesia’s opposition to turning back boats, and why GST would be included in a tax review if there was no possibility of raising it.

Rudd’s opening did a reasonable job of seizing the initiative on important issues such as jobs and the economy, while Abbott’s closing came across as a genuine address to viewers.  However, on the whole, both speakers’ opening and closing statements had the same problem as the answers to questions, in that they were padded with platitudes, leaving no room for enough facts or analysis for either speaker to really substantiate their claims.  To be fair, three minutes is not long enough for detailed policy development, but neither speaker made the best use of the time they did have.

Rudd’s manner was consistent and confident but as time went on the level of almost robotic consistency became distracting in itself, along with those repetitive hand gestures.  Abbott veered between oddly reticent and exuberant, and at times fumbled his lines.  Nevertheless, overall Abbott came across as warmer and more engaging, and gave the impression, particular as he warmed up, that he was talking with viewers rather than lecturing them.

It was not a very good debate and provided very little enlightenment.  Neither speaker had enough substantive facts to back their claims, there was very little real rebuttal or engagement, and neither speaker really grabbed the viewer’s attention with their style.  The format was heavily skewed towards answering questions and in that respect Rudd engaged in a meaningful way with more of the questions and had significantly more substance to his answers.  For that reason I have awarded Rudd the debate by a narrow margin.

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