Despite the audience being restricted to hand-picked party loyalists from both sides, you didn’t have to watch a worm to realise that Rudd won the National Press Club’s televised debate in the Great Hall of Parliament on Sunday.
In the most viewed political debate in Australian history, Howard looked out of touch and flustered – at one point looking like he was on the verge of a heart attack. But that’s not to say he hasn’t previously lost a debate before going on to win an election.
But this time things are different – the scare campaign on unions isn’t sticking and, after Labor’s ultimate blunder of not countering the Government’s propaganda on interest rates at the last election, Rudd made sure to hammer Howard’s own record as Treasurer again and again.
The PM’s counter response was pathetic in comparison – questioning whether Rudd would have the diplomatic ear of the Chinese and American presidents when Rudd speaks Mandarin and constitutional limits mean G.W. Bush will be gone next year. What was he thinking?
And thankfully for us, neither leader felt the need to drag up the old wedge code words – “Australia’s Christian heritage” and “family values” – despite the whole debate being targeted solely at those in our “working families”, a.k.a. Middle Australia. There were no exceptions – and no mention of our rights either.
Earlier that same night another kind of forum occurred – and voters were invited. Having been left out of the debate, Bob Brown and the Greens Senators addressed a packed house in the Parliament’s Theatrette, taking questions from journalists and the general public. Everyone was invited.
Viewable through YouTube, the Greens’ People’s Forum gives an idea of the wider scope of debate that would have been available had the minor parties been allowed to speak alongside the big guns.
And multi-candidate election debates of that kind are not uncommon overseas – most years Canadian TV hosts three-way debates and in the US primary run-offs it’s not unusual to see televised debates featuring four or even five candidates. So surely a four- or five-way debate would be feasible here with minor party candidates admitted.
Until then we’ll be left with more of the same, stale debates pitched to the lowest common denominator and in that sort of forum we’re never going to hear our needs debated.
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