2016 AU Election

Jocic: Turnbull wins Leaders’ Debate

Judge: Wayne Jocic

Winner: Mr Turnbull

Scores: Turnbull 76 | Shorten 75

This was a close debate, mainly because both leaders lacked the confidence to answer questions directly. In this context, Mr Turnbull’s storytelling approach provided a more compelling and thus marginally better performance.

Mr Turnbull appeared more comfortable as leader. His physical presence was obvious, his gestures expansive and his delivery energetic. His relaxed command of language was marked by personal pronouns. His primary technique was storytelling: predictably, of his own experience (coming to Parliament ‘as an adult’), but also of Coalition policies. At his best, Turnbull almost succeeded in distracting from his wilful refusal to answer questions directly.

Generally, Mr Turnbull was able to hold his ground on the issues. He repeatedly tried to refocus the debate on the need for economic progress as a condition of all else. These attempts were unsubtle, but they were consistent. On occasion, he raised more authoritative, more detailed argument: notably, on an essentially shared policy on asylum seekers.

Mr Turnbull squandered opportunities to counter concerns about trust and his convictions. His responses were too generic and too short on detail. Yet he avoided making mistakes, he was consistent and confidently energetic. In this debate, that was just enough to succeed.

Mr Shorten’s style of speaking suffered from amateurish preparation: he stared too much at the camera, and his gestures were mostly below screen. To this he added an unexpectedly operatic quality in his over-enunciated recitation of awkward libretto. At its worst, an actorless passive voice was clung to: ‘Labor can be trusted on education. Labor can be trusted on …’

Whenever Mr Shorten departed from these lifeless formulations, he became greatly more persuasive. When pursuing proposed changes in company taxes, in his own language, his more casual approach was effective. Here, he told a persuasive story of ‘the same old Liberals’ abandoning a 15% GST and State-based income taxes in favour of a ‘tax giveaway’ to ‘the big end of town’. His message finally cut through.

Mr Shorten seemed to ease into the debate slowly. By the end, he was comfortable and themes he had recited earlier had force in his closing address. His earlier references to fairness were barren by contrast with his conclusion that that economic development and fairness cannot be put in different columns. All this came too late in this debate.

Despite their best efforts, both leaders occasionally revealed an impulse for genuine, spirited argument. We can only hope further debates uncover these two capable speakers’ skills.


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