Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese have clashed in a fiery debate over China’s expansion into the Pacific, as the prime minister attacked his opponent’s history on asylum-seeker boat turnbacks and the Labor leader fought back on the NDIS.
In a sign of the lack of significant policy differences between the two leaders, Morrison last night stuck to his attacks on Labor over asylum seeker boat arrivals in 2013 and accused him of siding with China, while Albanese continued his claim that the Coalition could extend the cashless welfare card to pensioners.
The most tense exchange at the Sky News forum in front of 100 undecided voters in Brisbane – the first debate between the two leaders – came when they were questioned over a new security pact between China and the Solomon Islands.
Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong yesterday accused the government of the “worst failure of Australian foreign policy in the Pacific” in almost 80 years.
“This isn’t so much a Pacific step-up, it’s a Pacific stuff-up,” Albanese said, referring to the Coalition’s Pacific foreign aid program.
Morrison said the deal came after years of increasing Chinese interference in the region. He suggested Labor’s criticism of the government’s actions showed it was “taking China’s side”.
“That is an outrageous slur from the prime minister,” Albanese replied. “And national security issues shouldn’t be the subject of that kind of slur.”