Leaders clash over wages in third debate: 'Two cups of coffee'

Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese have squared off in a third debate just 10 days out from election day on May 21.

The two leaders clashed in a fiery and at times unseemly debate on Sunday night, which was widely criticised by viewers and produced some truly bizarre moments.

On Wednesday night, Channel 7 took a different tack as the two men vying for the highest office in the land made their case to the nation in a 9:10pm slot (AEST) following an episode of Big Brother.

The two leaders toned things down on Wednesday night. Source: AAP
The two leaders toned things down on Wednesday night. Source: AAP

Ahead of the event, host Mark Riley said he wanted the debate to improve upon the "spectacle" of Sunday night. And the host delivered a decidedly more civil and coherent affair – however one that failed to sway, one way or the other, most of the undecided voters interviewed by Channel 7 following the showdown.

Wages in the spotlight as Morrison warns of dangers

With rising inflation and cost of living pressures, the leaders' contrasting stance on wages featured heavily on the night after Mr Morrison cautioned against seeing wages rise to the level of inflation.

The Fair Work Commission is due to set the level of the minimum wage in the coming months, with the Labor leader supporting an increase of more than 5 per cent to match current inflation.

Bringing a $1 coin as a prop, the Mr Albanese said he supported an extra $1 per hour (the current minimum wage is $20.33) for those working in industries like retail, hospitality and the caring profession.

The Labor leader brought a $1 coin as a prop to make his point. Source: 7News
The Labor leader brought a $1 coin as a prop to make his point. Source: 7News

"The idea that those heroes of the pandemic, those low-wage workers, people on the minimum wage, they are cleaners, they're people working in the care sector, they're people who work in retail, they are people who helped get us through the pandemic. They deserve more than our thanks. They don't deserve a real wage cut," he argued.

The Labor leader said such a rise to the minimum wage amounts to just "two cups of coffee a day".

Mr Morrison appeared to ease his earlier position, saying he wanted to see wage rises, but warned against the flow-on effects.

"What type of pay rise do Australians deserve?" the host asked Mr Morrison.

The PM dodged the question, saying: "The Fair Work Commission is the right place to do that.

"I'd welcome pay rises obviously for all workers, not just those on the minimum wages, but we need to have an economy that's strong into the future," he said.

"And if you have wages that rise at 5.1 per cent, which is exactly what Mr Albanese said yesterday, that means that can feed into inflation which pushes up interest rates and pushes up the cost of living even more."

"The idea that two cups of coffee a day is something that would damage the economy is, I believe, just not the case," Mr Albanese retorted.

Despite warning that a 5 per cent wage rise meant "real risks" for the economy, some noted the PM's seemingly softened stance.

Morrison prosecutes 'argument for no change'

The two leaders went head-to-head on a number of issues including housing policy, boat turn backs, temporary protection visas, energy policy, productivity, and the behaviour of their MPs in parliament.

Both men hammered talking points seen throughout the campaign – and the previous two debates – while casting aspersions on the other's character.

When possible, Mr Morrison tried to paint Mr Albanese as inexperienced and untested, repeatedly calling him "loose with the economy".

Referring to immigration, the PM said he didn't think Mr Albanese "had the stomach" for border protection.

"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," he said.

Mr Albanese argued the government has no plan other than abuse and excuses.

"That's just an argument for no change, which is consistent with what this election is about. Consistent with a government that is saying; 'Just give us three more years of the same'.

"Three more years of the same cost of living pressures, three more years of not acting on climate change, three more years of the same viewing of everything through a political frame rather than through the national interest frame."

With early voting already open, the third debate was unlikely to move the dial too much.

But it's not long now until Australians will have a chance to raise their own voice.

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