Morrison and Albanese face off over climate and border protection
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Anthony Albanese have faced off over border protection, climate change, integrity and key questions of character in a debate that saw both leaders keep their hostility in check.
Morrison sought to convince voters they could not trust Albanese to turn back asylum seeker boats or manage the economy, while Albanese declared that border protection policies would not change if he took power at the May 21 election.
Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison face off in the final debate.Credit:Mick Tsikas
The debate, called The Final Showdown and aired on the Seven Network from 9.30 on Wednesday night, featured measured comments from both leaders in a marked departure from the rowdier debate on the Nine Network on Sunday, which provoked criticism of the way the leaders interrupted each other.
The two leaders were at odds on the urgency of a national integrity commission, with Morrison saying he had a plan to create one but could not say when he would introduce the bill because it would depend on whether the Opposition would support it.
Asked when he would put the bill to Parliament, he said: “This year, if we can ensure that our bill can be passed.”
Albanese cited that argument as proof that the government did not deserve to be kept in power.
“The idea that somehow the opposition’s responsible for the government not even introducing legislation – that, taken to its logical conclusion, why would you vote for Scott Morrison on Saturday week because what he says is unless the opposition support legislation it won’t even come before the parliament?” he asked.
The Wednesday debate, moderated by Seven Network political editor Mark Riley, saw both leaders address viewers directly by speaking to the camera rather than looking at each other and becoming too heated in their disputes.
It also featured verdicts from viewers in a “pub test” broadcast from audiences of 25 voters at hotels in the electorates of Bass, Boothby, Chisholm, Hasluck, Lilley, Macquarie and Solomon.
On border protection, Albanese said he would adopt the boat turnback measures Morrison put in place as immigration minister after the 2013 election as well as making sure asylum seekers who arrived by boat would never gain visas to enter Australia.
“You know what we need in this country? We need leadership that is prepared to accept a good idea and
accept something that is working when it clearly is,” he said.
“And the truth is, the truth is that boat turnbacks have worked, I’ve said we support it. We clearly are sending that message. None of those policies will change under a Labor government.”
Morrison argued in response that Labor could not be trusted because Albanese did not know how tough the decisions would have to be in government.
“He doesn’t know all the circumstances you’re faced with when you are implementing this policy,” he said.
“What I know is my team know how to do it, have done it, we know what to expect, and we know how to deal with it.”
Albanese said that was merely an argument for “three more years of the same” because it meant no change.
Anthony Albanese says he has more experience than former Labor leaders Gough Whitlam and Bob Hawke had when they took office.Credit:Lukas Coch
On the gender pay gap, Albanese promised more money for childcare and a review into universal childcare to encourage women in the workforce, while Morrison said the government was funding skills and apprenticeship schemes for women.
When questions turned to the status of Alan Tudge, who stood aside as education minister late last year, Morrison said he remained a minister and would return to the portfolio after the election.
Morrison said he could not comment further on the minister’s behaviour because a financial settlement with his former press secretary had not been reached, but Albanese called for more transparency about reports of a settlement worth more than $500,000.
The leaders avoided fiercely combative remarks about each other but Albanese used the debate to tell voters that the Prime Minister had a key characteristic of being too late to act in emergencies, such as the bushfires two years ago, and sought to blame others for his mistakes.
“Whenever this prime minister is confronted with any challenges he blames the states, blames someone else consistently,” he said.
Morrison responded with a warning that Albanese was an “armchair critic” rather than a leader.
“We still don’t know how he would run the economy. He still didn’t know three weeks ago what the unemployment rate was, let alone what the cash rate was,” he said.
“What we are dealing with is a leader of the Labor Party who is great on criticism, great at pointing at problems, but he doesn’t have solutions for them and even more importantly, he doesn’t know how to pay for them.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison.Credit:Mick Tsikas
On wages, Albanese stood by his support for a 5.1 per cent increase in the minimum wage while Morrison warned that it would push up costs and lead to job losses.
“If Mr Albanese thinks small businesses around the country can have a 5 per cent increase in their wages bill on top of all the other things they’re facing and see their ability to come through then people won’t be worrying about what their wages are, they will be worrying about whether they have a job,” he said.
When Riley asked both leaders whether they would make commitments that families would be able to watch sport on free-to-air television rather than pay-TV, the Labor leader said “yes” but the Prime Minister talked of reviewing the issue after the election.
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