Federal election: Channel 9's 'brutal' rule sees second debate turn into 'farce'

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With less than two weeks to go until Australia goes to the polls, Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese have faced-off in a second leaders debate.

Just hours before the event, the prime minister was met with some disparaging news as an Ipsos poll showed Labor extend its lead on a two party preferred basis to a whopping 57 to 43.

Scott Morrison's personal approval rating dropped 2 per cent to lag Anthony Albanese while the Coalition's primary vote, among those surveyed, dropped 3 points to just 29 per cent.

With that surely in his mind, Mr Morrison was keen to make up some ground.

The second and final leaders debate left a lot of viewers underwhelmed. Source: Channel Nine
The second and final leaders debate left a lot of viewers underwhelmed. Source: Channel Nine

An audience of undecided voters in Brisbane gave the first debate, hosted by Sky News, to Anthony Albanese in what was a fairly rudimentary but cordial affair.

In this debate, hosted by Channel Nine, both leaders took questions from a panel of three political journalists with each answer capped at 60 seconds, meaning the night had more interruptions than the hiccups as leaders were frequently cut off.

On issues such as improving the electricity market, drawing up legislation for a federal integrity commission, and how to deal with China, things devolved into a rather unedifying shouting match.

The 60 second rule and the inability for the leaders to be reined in made for uncomfortable viewing.

Many watching struggled to contain their frustration over the disjointed event, with viewers labelling it "a horrible format", "bad vibes", "truly terrible" and "a farce".

Leaders deliver duelling visions

Before things kicked off proper, moderator Sarah Abo asked for one simple request of both men which reminded us of something that has been all too absent from politics.

"I would like to get commitment from both of you that we will have truthful answers tonight," she asked.

Of course both leaders were quick to agree, but the imputation certainly hung in the air.

The prime minister stuck to his message, painting Labor as offering an unknown and risky future and trying to drive home the message that the Opposition was weak and would lead to a weaker economy.

“This is a choice between strength and weakness, a choice between certainty and uncertainty. What you know about the government and what you don't know about the Labor Party and the Opposition who have had three years to tell you but haven’t," he said

The cost of living has polled as a top concern for voters. Source: Channel Nine
The cost of living has polled as a top concern for voters. Source: Channel Nine

In response, Anthony Albanese laid out an arguably more rosy vision.

"I believe a better future is within our reach and if I lead Labor into government, this is what a better future will look like. We will have cheaper childcare, we will have stronger Medicare including cheaper medicines … We will have more secure work and we have a plan to lift wages. We also have a plan for clean energy through renewables," he said.

The cost of living was a big issue

Both leaders effectively ruled out extending the 22c cut to the current fuel excise due to expire in the months after the election.

Mr Morrison backed his record by pointing to the low unemployment rate which has sunk to just 4 per cent.

“We have the [equal] lowest level of unemployment in 48 years, a job is what gives Australians security to deal with rising costs and rising pressures on interest rates,” he said.

In contrast, Mr Albanese criticised the government’s self-proclaimed “targeted and temporary” economic relief for Australians to help with rising inflation.

“The cost of living measures that he spoke about are all temporary, they have all the sincerity of a fake tan, they disappear once people have cast their vote,” he said.

The Labor leader spruiked policies like its $5.4 billion for more affordable childcare and tackling insecure work as ways that his party is promising to “address structural issues” to boost wages and productivity and help Australians with the cost of living.

Both leaders face questions over their identity

Much to the chagrin of some voters, the campaign has focused on character more than policy at times. And the latest debate didn't miss its chance to interrogate both men on who they are.

“The hard truth is, a lot of people don't like you,” journalist Deborah Knight told Mr Morrison.

“Those on your own side have called you and hypocrite, a liar and horrible person, shouldn't a leader unite and not divide?”

In response, Mr Morrison spoke of unity in his own party during his time at the helm.

“I am the first prime minister to face an election after having been elected for the first time three years ago. When I became prime minister, our party needed to be united and that is what I have done,” the PM responded.

“We have not seen the revolving door under my leadership. I brought my party together, brought the Coalition together.”

Ms Knight effectively charged the Labor leader with the opposite sin – voters not knowing who he really was.

“Mr Albanese, you have been in the public eye for almost three decades now in Parliament, but a lot of people still say they don't know you and don't know what you stand for,” she said.

“I think Australians know what I stand for. I had the same values my entire life. The values of supporting a fair days pay for a fair days work. The values of supporting essential universal services, such as Medicare, supporting universal superannuation, now we want to extend that.

“I was raised by my late mother who I pay tribute to today. I came out with three great faiths: the Labor Party, the Catholic Church and the South Sydney rugby league football club, and I remain true to all three.

“I learned very early on through my life the power of government to make a difference to people's lives.”

In what was at times an ugly and combative affair, host Sarah Abo perhaps summed up the sentiment of many people at home.

“The truth is, the voters are feeling disenchanted. Neither of them are thrilled with either of you as a choice for prime minister,” she said.

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