Sunday, October 21, 2007

Election Debate: Skills Crisis

A John Howard and Kevin Rudd exchanged insults during the "Election Debate", it became apparent that, as always, it was about many things. Debating wasn't one of them. It was about TV image and political point-scoring before a panel of journalists, and a government tantrum about "the worm"

John Howard was critical of the use of the "worm" to show audience reaction to his and Mr Rudd's statements: he knows he doesn't always argue well. However, the journalists panel was critical of his attitude, saying that there was ever-more government interference in the media for purely political purposes. Indeed, the Federal Government cut Channel 9's feed when the "worm" went to air. Media manipulation by the Federal Government is, indeed, something that ought to frighten voters.

Among the issues raised during the debate were:

  • education: Mr Howard looked uncomfortable when Mr Rudd talked about a recent OECD report that was critical of Australia's investment in public tertiary education. It is certainly true that John Howard, Julie Bishop and Andrew Robb have been responsible for funding cuts to universities and TAFE across Australia, as a % of GDP. They have also used threats to withhold funding unless universities and TAFE adopted the Liberal Party's agenda on WorkChoices.
  • optimism: despite both leaders expressing optimism, John Howard's response was to assert that Kevin Rudd is "pessimistic". No argument, just an assertion.
  • industrial relations: John Howard was very careful to NOT mention the "W" word (Workchoices) when IR was discussed. He does not like voters' response to the lowering of wages, and tries to avoid the issue, or rattle off statistics hoping to confuse people.
  • climate change: Mr Rudd wants to set targets, sign the Kyoto Protocol and work locally and internationally to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Mr Howard has a reactionary view that "whatever you do, don't damage the economy". The reality is that climate change will damage the economy, to our land, our rivers, our coastal living if we do nothing; if we do, there will still be some damage to the economy in reducing carbon emissions, but it can adapt and remain strong.
  • economic management: Mr Howard is still seen by many voters as economically responsible. It is an assertion he repeats often, hoping that voters will not remember the 5 interest rate rises since the last election, that his economic management redistributes wealth to those who have most, that poverty has risen from 7% to 10% of our people. Those are parts of his economic management he tries to avoid people remembering.
As I have said before, to win this election both sides must target the 12-15% of voters who are "undecided". Whether this debate helped either leader do that, or whether voters see it like as one long policical ad remains to be seen.