Economy the focus of Australian election debate; no clear winner
AFPSYDNEY--Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and conservative rival Tony Abbott went head-to-head Sunday in the first debate of the election campaign, an encounter which focused on the economy and divided viewers.
August 12, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
Rudd, whom some commentators said looked nervous initially and appeared to check his notes, called for a “new way of politics” and promised to introduce a bill to legalize same sex marriage within 100 days of re-election.
“A new way of politics which puts to bed wall-to-wall negativity and puts to bed the politics of division and gets industry and unions and government around one table focusing on our country's future,” Rudd said.
Abbott, a veteran politician who served as a minister in John Howard's government, countered that a new way of government would require an end to Labor's six years in power and a change of leadership.
Rudd kicked off the hourlong televised debate in the national capital Canberra stressing his center-left Labor government's credentials in keeping the economy out of recession during the global financial crisis.
“This economy is strong. This election is about the future strength of our economy and how best to secure it,” he said.
“The election is about a clear choice on the economy, on jobs, on how we support families under (cost of living) pressure, and how we support education and health.”
The election comes as the decade-long resources boom is beginning to unwind, with the central bank this week scaling back its near-term forecasts for economic growth.
Abbott, who leads a conservative Liberal/National coalition which is narrowly ahead in opinion polls, said a government he led would strengthen the economy, as he committed himself to abandoning Labor's industry tax on carbon pollution.
“We can't afford another three years like the last six,” Abbott said. He also vowed that his government would stop asylum-seeker boats embarking on the dangerous journey to Australia.
“Mr. Rudd talks about a new way, well, if you want a new way you've got to choose a new government.”
Abbott also rejected Rudd's attack that, if elected, the conservatives would embark on billions of dollars of spending cuts, including in government services.
“This idea that the coalition is ready with a great big scalpel to slash health, to slash education, to slash jobs is simply wrong,” he said.
Sky News' David Speers, who moderated the debate, said he believed Abbott had narrowly won the encounter in which the leaders took questions from journalists.
But audience responses to television stations differed, with those tracked by Channels 9 and 10 giving victory to Rudd while Seven Network's online poll gave victory to Abbott.
Rudd, who retook the Labor Party leadership in late June, has repeatedly maintained he is the underdog in the Sept. 7 national poll against Abbott.
The latest Galaxy poll, published in The Sunday Telegraph, showed that while it remained a tight race, Labor's primary vote fell from 40 to 38 percent while Abbott's Liberal/National coalition rose from 44 to 45 percent.
In a two-party race between Labor and the conservative coalition, the government was trailing 49 percent to 51 percent, according to the poll of 1,002 voters taken at the end of last week.