Leaders play it safe as first debate ends in a nil-all draw

Morrison held back from reminding the audience of that history, however, and did not go for the jugular.

“If the government has had a good idea, we’ve been prepared to embrace it,” Albanese said.

“Scott raised the issue of boat turnbacks. It’s true that wasn’t our policy in 2013. It’s a good idea, it worked, therefore we embrace it. That’s what we do.”

This was an unusual moment. Albanese was giving Morrison credit for a policy outcome. But he did it in a way that sought to assure Australians he would pose no threat if given the keys to The Lodge.

Morrison had a greater challenge at this debate than his counterparts in recent campaigns. For the first time since 2007, a prime minister has had to run on his record after serving a full term of parliament in the job.

So Morrison brought everything back to the results of the past three years and especially the performance of the economy.

But a question about the National Disability Insurance Scheme did not go smoothly for Morrison.

“We’ve had our funding cut by 30 per cent at his first review with no reason why,” said Katherine, whose son, Ethan, relies on the scheme.

Morrison said he was happy to look into it. The host, Kieran Gilbert, said staff would be in touch to follow up. But the prime minister was put on the spot. He could guarantee future funding for the NDIS but not fix the individual case.

“But it’s always the Liberals that have to pay for these things,” Morrison continued. He returned to what he clearly felt was his advantage – “a stronger economy” – to argue only he could be trusted to fund the NDIS and Medicare.


This fired up Albanese, just a little. He pointed to Labor changes including the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which funds medicines, and the reform era of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating to argue that Labor could oversee grand reforms as well as expand the economy.

The interaction was careful. It was not personal and certainly not nasty. In that sense, it was a successful debate.

Sky News declared Albanese the winner after counting responses from the 100 undecided voters and finding that 40 per cent supported the Labor leader while 35 per cent backed Morrison.

That left one quarter of the room undecided. That result is similar to the findings in this week’s Resolve Political Monitor, which showed that 27 per cent of voters described themselves as uncommitted to either side.

Albanese gained an edge for a moment with a memorable line. He made his case. But so did Morrison. Both leaders emerged with a draw.

More than anything, it seemed a small debate. Like the campaign itself, it lacked a sharp division on a big idea.

Cut through the noise of the federal election campaign with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Sign up to our Australia Votes 2022 newsletter here.

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