3 experts assess the second electoral debate
On one key issue, the debate did nothing but expose the lack of direct controls a federal government has in the war on inflation, writes Gregory Melluishfrom University of Wollongong; Joshua Blackfrom Australian National Universityand Sana Nakatafrom The University of Melbournein this article republished from The conversation.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese met during the second election debate on Sunday evening, before a panel of Nine Network reporters.
In the often heated debate, leaders answered questions about the cost of living, elderly care, national security and a federal integrity commission, among other issues.
Here’s how our panel of experts rated their performance.
Gregory Melluish, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong
It was an odd hour for an election debate, 8:45 p.m. on a Sunday evening – hardly a slot that would guarantee a large audience. It was a frustrating affair, not least because the app downloaded to provide feedback didn’t seem to work properly.
The format was better than the first debate, with no audience and often quite pointed questions from three interrogators, which Albanese and Morrison had to answer in a minute. This format, I think, didn’t work in Morrison’s favor because he tends to be talkative.
Morrison and Albanese’s response was to try to be “on message”. Morrison continued on the quality of his government in economic affairs, blaming the current situation on external and international factors. Albanese focused on raising wages, elderly care and the cost of living. He spoke at length about the “plan”, although it was unclear what plan it was.
At this point, the whole thing seemed somewhat tedious, resembling a replay of the first debate. We started looking at his watch to see how long it would go on. Then the first elements of aggression began to emerge in the debate, with rather heated exchanges between Morrison and Albanese on what seemed to be technical questions of particular policies.
I felt like Morrison was somewhat frustrated with the format and felt the need to assert himself, although Albanese was also quick to react. A colleague of mine texted me that Morrison was now engaging in Trump-style tactics, but it seemed to me that Morrison’s aggression wasn’t calculated, as it is with Trump, but rather born out of frustration.
Then came the real highlight of the contest, when Albanese mentioned that the Liberal government had sold the Port of Darwin to a Chinese company. This ignited Morrison and made him quite aggressive, perhaps an indication that he felt Albanese landed a very effective punch.
In this regard, I must give the debate to Albanese on points. He stood up to Morrison and made his point quite effectively. He didn’t back down in any of the confrontations with Morrison.
Morrison, I think, had trouble with the debate because he restricted his natural marketing style and that caused him to be more aggressive than he might have liked.
One wonders if Morrison and Albanese have done each other any good when it comes to how they are viewed by women. Sarah Abo has done a brave job of trying to keep them both in line. But, as the debate became more heated, she found it difficult to control them. Maybe not a good look for the two leaders.
Verdict: Albanian, on points.
Sana Nakata, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Melbourne
The losers in this debate were the Australian public. At various points in this debate, Morrison and Albanese yelled at each other in a way that was unedifying and nearly impossible for the audience to follow.
While there were the expected questions about the cost of living, national security, corruption and elderly care, three issues stood out from the issues that otherwise preoccupied daily election coverage.
Most interesting was the issues for young people in this election, eliciting two different responses: social housing and the Albanese purchase assistance scheme, and Morrison jobs. It was surprising not to hear more about climate change from Albanese, given the priority he places on young voters. A disappointing response from Morrison and a missed opportunity for Albanese.
The worst question (and answer) of the night was “How do you define a woman?” The question was terrible because it was not asked to clarify any specific policy, nor explicitly about Katherine Deves’ campaign in Warringah.
Worse still, in the rapid pivot to “women’s issues,” there has also been no call to take seriously the lives of trans people and what is at stake for them and their families in this election. In the end, it turned out to be a question designed to create another “gotcha” moment for the reporters’ enjoyment, rather than to help the voting public decide which leader best represents their values and concerns.
It would also be remiss of me not to comment on what was not discussed tonight – there was not a single question about First Nations politics, nor any reference to Aboriginal and Islander Torres Strait in no response. It’s as expected, but it’s important to name what can and cannot be debated in front of the Australian public.
And it turns out that trans lives and black lives still don’t matter.
Verdict: Albanian, with a slightly less showy mustache.
Joshua Black, PhD Candidate, School of History, National Center for Biography, Australian National University
“Le Grand Débat” was an unedifying spectacle emblematic of the wider election campaign.
There were several tense and boisterous exchanges between Morrison and Albanese, over energy prices, foreign policy and the long-promised National Integrity Commission. Most sensationally, Morrison accused Albanese deputy chief Richard Marles of kowtowing to China, a brazen attempt to red bait and echoing his earlier assertion, Albanese was China’s preferred candidate.
Panelists later claimed to have enjoyed the “entertainment,” but the refusal to maintain any semblance of decorum came at the expense of both contestants.
Sometimes the two men would yell not only at each other, but at the moderator, Sarah Abo. Given that the treatment of women in politics remains an issue of great importance, the optics of the two men ignoring the young moderator as they attacked each other was decidedly poor.
On one key issue, the debate did nothing but reveal the lack of direct controls available to a federal government in the war on inflation. In an exchange about the price of lettuce, Nine political editor Chris Uhlmann pushed Morrison to accept that the government had no direct control over prices. For his part, Albanese promised that he would “try” to achieve the “objective” of keeping wages above inflation. For all the hollow rhetoric about ‘falling prices’, neither leader gave much cause for confidence given the Commonwealth’s historic powerlessness on prices and incomes.
There would be a lot to be gained from watching tonight’s debate without sound, not just because the rhetoric was so often elusive. Morrison is a voice actor. Without sound, his body language and that of his opponent told a distinctly different story.
Albanese looked serious but frustrated, determined to show his strength and wit but clearly exasperated by the repeated efforts to skewer him. Morrison oscillated between smug placidity and high-octane dominance of space, smiling at times and gesturing wildly at others.
In the end, Albanese might have narrowly won the contest, his tenacity winning against Morrison’s hysteria and aggression. But after this shouting match, Nine Entertainment was the real winner, and the public the loser.
Verdict: Albanian, narrowly
Gregory MelluishProfessor, School of Humanities and Social Research, University of Wollongong; Joshua BlackPhD student, School of History, National Center of Biography, Australian National Universityand Sana Nakatalecturer in political science and indigenous researcher ARC Discovery, The University of Melbourne