Monday, October 22, 2007
With Australian Prime Minister, John Howard and Labor leader Kevin Rudd facing off in a leader's debate on Sunday night, political analysts and body language experts declared Mr Rudd the clear victor. Experts said that Mr Rudd came across as believable and enthusiastic while Mr Howard appeared too negative.
The focus of the debate was on the economy, Iraq war, leadership and climate change.
On the economy, the Labor leader said that the cost of living had increased in Australia and that increasing the childcare rebate to 50 percent would help struggling families.
"That's putting several thousand dollars extra into the family budget," he said.
The Prime Minister tried to reassure voters on industrial relations, one of the key topics of the election, saying that despite his WorkChoices legislation being controversial it has largely achieved what the government aimed it to do. "Our whole design with WorkChoices was to underpin further growth in the Australian economy. It wasn't easy. It was heavily criticised, but the general evidence is WorkChoices has been good for the Australian economy," said the Prime Minister.
Mr Howard also ruled out making further changes to Australia's industrial relations system saying that the government had "gone far enough".
Mr Howard also dismissed claims that his planned AU$34 billion of tax cuts would cause inflation and a rise in interest rates.
"They will dampen wage demands that might otherwise be much stronger because of those cost of living pressures," he said.
The leaders debated over who the genuine economic conservative was. Mr Howard said that Mr Rudd's voting record in parliament seemed to contradict his claim. The Prime Minister warned that a Labor government would run budget deficits. "Being an economic conservative is more than a slogan in a TV advertisement, it is believing in things," he said.
"Everyone knows Labor governments equal budget deficits and Liberal governments mean budget surpluses."
Mr Rudd said there was now consensus between both sides of politics on economic issues and took the opportunity to remind voters of Mr Howard's performance as treasurer in the Fraser government of the late 1970s to early 1980s. Mr Rudd said that the prime minister was a treasurer at a time of high interest rates and ran four out of five budgets with deficits. "Let's have some honesty on the table here. Let's get the record straight," said Rudd.
Mr Howard dismissed his record attacking Labor's record of interest rates in the 1980s under Bob Hawke. "There is one interest rate figure that is seared in the memory of most Australian families - the level of 17 per cent," he said.
The Prime Minister attacked the Opposition's front bench saying that there were far too many former union members. Mr Rudd hit back by saying that Mr Howard's frontbench was disproportionate in its make up. "If something's out of whack in terms of an unrepresentative group in the community, a cocktail of lawyers and former Liberal Party staffers would have to be high up the list," he said.
The Prime Minister also used the forum to announce new climate change initiatives and an update of the role Australia is playing in Iraq. Mr Howard promised that low-income earners would be compensated for the "inevitable" rise in costs for electricity that moving to cleaner production would bring. By comparison the Labor leader reiterated his support for the Kyoto protocol and promised to ratify it if elected.
Mr Howard said that Australian commanders in Iraq would this week start discussing taking on a broader training role in Iraq to help train Iraqi soldiers.
Rudd questioned Howard on the shift of policies in Iraq and asked the Prime Minister why Australians should believe him after ruling out an increase in troop numbers before the last election, only to double them when elected. The comments sparked an argument between the two leaders with Mr Howard accusing Mr Rudd of involving the military in politics.
"You chose to use it in a very political fashion. I was providing some information to the Australian people and I was pointing out the evolving nature of the commitment of our ground forces in Iraq," said Howard.
== Sources ==
Kathy Marksin Sydney. "Howard declared clear loser in Australian election debate" — The Independent, October 22, 2007
"Money talk dominates leaders' debate" — Australian Broadcasting Corporation, October 22, 2007
Katharine Murphy and Misha Schubert. "Rudd's decisive win" — The Age, October 22, 2007
Gemma Daley. "Rudd Beats Howard in Australian Election Debate (Update1)" — Bloomberg, October 22, 2007
Michelle Grattan. "PM weighed down by too much baggage" — The Age, October 22, 2007