Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten go head-to-head in the leaders debate. Picture: AAP Image/Seven Network
Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten go head-to-head in the leaders debate. Picture: AAP Image/Seven Network

Shorten wins bitter smirk-fest

COMMENT

The competing cases of this federal election managed to peek out from the untidy first leaders debate held in Perth.

Scott Morrison said Labor won't tell you the expense of change; Bill Shorten said the Liberals are afraid of the future.

And Mr Shorten had the better of his opponent because for much of the debate he was able to use Mr Morrison's narrow line of attack to expand on major policy points such as climate change and wage growth.

It was a standard negative defence against the positive.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten took part in a smirk-athon at the Seven West Media Studio in Perth. Picture: 7NEWS
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten took part in a smirk-athon at the Seven West Media Studio in Perth. Picture: 7NEWS

 

Bill Shorten is said to have won the smirk-fest.
Bill Shorten is said to have won the smirk-fest.

The Prime Minister wanted to talk about the cost of measures; Bill Shorten got to talk about the value of them.

The first of two bursts of spontaneous audience applause for the Labor leader came when he spoke of the need to invest in the reduction of carbon emissions through such devices as household solar panels.

The second burst came after Mr Shorten attacked the record of Mr Morrison's new preference vote pal, Clive Palmer. The Liberals should expect more of that disapproval in the coming few weeks.

A central interest was the conduct and style of the two men as they faced each other directly for the first time since parliament rose 25 days ago.

Mr Shorten and wife Chloe leave the Seven West studios in Perth after he managed to get the better of his opponent by talking positives. Picture: Kym Smith
Mr Shorten and wife Chloe leave the Seven West studios in Perth after he managed to get the better of his opponent by talking positives. Picture: Kym Smith

The polite tolerance of a rival's on-set presence quickly disintegrated as Mr Morrison and Mr Shorten got down to some serious smirk exchanges. That barely-restrained disdain stopped just short of open contempt.

Perched on stools, with only Mr Shorten having notes by his side, they began with contrived goodwill.

Mr Morrison then accompanied his attacks on estimates of Labor's possible outlays and tax increases with a fixed grin, which said, "Can you believe this mad spending?"

Mr Shorten soon joined the smirk-athon with something like a grimace, which said, "Can you believe how afraid they are of doing something?"

It was far from an inspiring encounter, and both leaders know they will have to do better in the next round if they are to sway voters.

 

Eleven of 48 undecided voters in the audience said they were not won over by either leader after the debate. Picture: Nic Ellis /The West Australian
Eleven of 48 undecided voters in the audience said they were not won over by either leader after the debate. Picture: Nic Ellis /The West Australian

 

'YOU HAD A GOOD CRACK'

A count of the audience's undecided voters showed Mr Shorten comfortably ahead, winning over 25 out of 48, to Mr Morrison's 12. Eleven audience members were still undecided after the debate.

But the Prime Minister did manage to nail his opponent on one issue, telling him he couldn't "slink away" as he had done before.

Audience member Ron asked Mr Shorten about the impact on pensioners of Labor's crackdown on franking credits, one of the party's most contentious policies.

"We are not interested in affected pensioners at all so our policy doesn't apply to people who receive a pension or part-pension," Mr Shorten said.

But Mr Morrison couldn't let that remark pass, saying: "Sorry … I've got to pick him up here because it does hit pensioners".

He said it hit pensioners who created self-managed super funds, to which Mr Shorten replied that he wasn't talking about those people.

"You don't get to slink away from it like you did at the press conference the other day," Mr Morrison said.

When he tried to interject again, Mr Shorten dismissed him, saying, "you had a good crack".

The Labor leader eventually acknowledged there would be a small number who created self-managed super funds after March 2018 who would be impacted.

But he said it wasn't sustainable to give a tax refund to those who don't pay tax.

AWKWARD START

The debate got off to an awkward start, with the two leaders sitting on stools well away from each other and staring into the camera for their three-minute opening statements.

As the debate continued, Mr Morrison started to interject and address Mr Shorten directly about some of his points on climate change.

They continued to grin as they left Seven West studios. Picture Kym Smith
They continued to grin as they left Seven West studios. Picture Kym Smith

 

Another debate will follow soon. Picture: AAP Image/Darren England
Another debate will follow soon. Picture: AAP Image/Darren England

 

"I think Australians deserve to know, what is the cost of the change?" Mr Morrison said.

Mr Shorten started to respond but was interrupted by one of the hosts Lanai Scarr, who said: "Mr Shorten you can speak directly to the Prime Minister as well, you guys are sitting next to each other, you don't need to look directly down the barrel of the camera".

Mr Shorten said "your people" told him to talk to the camera, but that he was happy to chat with the prime minister.

Social media users commented on the uncomfortable-looking bar stools, joking that the two leaders looked like game show contestants as they struggled to win over sceptical Australians with their sniping over climate change, electric cars and boat arrivals.

Another debate has been scheduled to be broadcast on Sky News from Brisbane on Friday, but the Prime Minister has already called for a third at prime time.

Mr Shorten wants a third debate to be held at lunchtime at the National Press Club but Mr Morrison released a letter on Sunday evening calling for a third debate to be moderated by ABC journalist Leigh Sales on the evening of May 7, 8 or 9.


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