Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and opposition leader Tony Abbott went head-to-head yesterday in the first debate of the country’s election campaign, an encounter which focused on the economy and divided viewers.
Rudd, who some commentators said looked nervous initially, 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 former Australian prime minister John Howard’s government, countered that a new way of government would require an end to the Labor Party’s six years in power.
Rudd launched the hour-long televised debate 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 comes as the decade-long resources boom is starting to wind down, with the Reserve Bank of Australia scaling back its near-term growth forecasts.
Liberal Party of Australia head Abbott, who leads a conservative coalition that is narrowly ahead in opinion polls, said he would strengthen the economy, as he committed himself to scrapping 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 to Australia.
He also rejected Rudd’s attack that, if elected, the conservatives would embark on billions of dollars of spending cuts, including in government services.
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.
Audience responses to TV stations differed, with those tracked by Channels 9 and 10 giving victory to Rudd, while Seven Network’s online poll found Abbott the winner.
The latest Galaxy poll in the Sunday Telegraph showed Labor’s primary vote fell from 40 percent to 38 percent, while Abbott’s coalition rose from 44 percent to 45 percent.