Judge: Wayne Jocic
Winner: Kevin Rudd
Scores: Rudd 78 | Abbott 75
In a debate of reasonable quality, Rudd recovered from a bungled opening speech to gain, issue by issue, a clear advantage over Abbott. The central concerns of the debate were economic. Here, Rudd built a small advantage, helped mainly by Abbott’s evasiveness on budgeting. On subsidiary issues like climate change, homosexual marriage and above all aged care, Rudd was clearly more persuasive.
This assessment would perhaps surprise anyone who saw the opening and closing speeches alone. Rudd’s manner in his opening speech was thoroughly unappealing. His gestures were especially noteworthy: unnatural fisting motions and repeated, menacing finger-pointing prevailed. More importantly, his unsystematic approach was a shock, not least given his amateurish use of written notes. Even in his closing speech, Rudd’s attempts at explaining four issues methodically quickly collapsed. Abbott’s presentation was by contrast natural and persuasive.
Abbott used this good manner to support his economic arguments, some of which were persuasive. His consistent arguments for the combined benefits of abolishing the carbon and mining taxes, reducing bureaucratic impediments and reinstating the ABCC were effective. Nonetheless, Abbott’s early failure to explain how he would seek to offset the effects of a reduced company tax rate and the abandonment of the carbon and mining taxes was fatal. Given the significance of the issue, Abbott’s reference to a prior speech and hints at the Howard government’s record were not good enough.
The quality of Rudd’s argument on economics was more consistent. He was regularly able to rely on relevant statistics, including regarding taxation as a percentage of GDP. He neutralised Abbott’s commitment not to raise the GST by emphasising that Abbott would not exempt the GST from review. He also sought to correct past ALP and Coalition misrepresentations about the legislative restrictions on raising the GST. Finally, Rudd was persuasive in telling the story of a modern, highly productive economy built on education reforms and the NBN.
The journalists’ questions were mostly rambling, and often seemed unprepared. The unexpected benefit of this was that the debate covered topics typically overlooked. Rudd dealt well with these surprises. On the topic of a second airport for Sydney, Rudd carefully put the issue in its proper context and focused on the underlying question of productivity. On aged care, Abbott was unprepared, whereas Rudd showed an appreciation of a variety of issues: finance costs, potential benefits of the NBN, nurses’ conditions and the importance of home care.
The result was that Rudd looked less like a man responding to individual issues and more like a Prime Minister seeking to run government in its entirety.