Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Rudd-Abbott Debate

The rest of the world (and probably most of Australia, too) probably doesn't care about the political debate between the current Australian Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader which took place last night here in Australia. So this blog is probably just me, shouting into the ether. It will no doubt sink without a trace. But there is so much to say about it, that I refuse to keep quiet, whether anyone bothers to read this or not.

Who Won?
This, of course, is one of the big questions that everyone wants to ask (and answer). I thought that the current Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was the clear winner. He spoke with a much greater command of the facts, and with much greater authority. I think he made a mistake repeating the 'GST scare'. I don't think anyone buys this. That lost him points in my book. But Mr Abbott, the Opposition Leader, seemed to have nothing more to say than the usual slogans. Rudd may also have lost points for using notes which, apparently, was against the 'rules'. More about that later.

Most of the polls I have seen gave Rudd the edge in the debate. An ABC Twitter poll, run for 30 minutes immediately following the debate, had Rudd ahead by 72% to 28%. I have seen no subsequent mention of this. On 'average'—although how you actually average such polls needs to be explained—Rudd seemed to win. So why did the headlines all say it was a draw? But what is one to make of such polls anyway?

Did Rudd Cheat?
Unfortunately, the actual content of the debate was almost completely lost, because the headline of almost every web page and every newspaper ran with the 'Rudd cheats' line. Apparently the rules agreed to by both parties precluded the use of notes. Did Rudd simply disregard these rules? Was he given the wrong advice? Why did no one prevent him from using the notes on the night? Whatever the answer to these questions, I suspect it cost Rudd dearly, since the issue completely dominated the news. It seems to have been, at the very least, a tactical mistake.

Notes or No Notes
The more important question, it seems to me, is whether this is a sensible requirement. My answer to that is a most definite NO. There are two important points to make. First, no leader can be expected to be completely on top of every issue and every policy that could be raised in such a debate. It is ridiculous to expect them to be so. This is why we have a cabinet of ministers, with advisers. A leader has to delegate, and be prepared to let others make important decisions, because they are in full possession of the relevant information.

Second, in a debate such as this, what do we, the public, want from our leaders and aspiring leaders? Do we want well-considered responses, backed up with accurate information (notes) or off-the-cuff, ill-informed, generalised slogans (no notes)? I know that I want the former. 

A debate such as this only serves to encourage slogans and sound bites. Let's do better than this. For the next debate I strongly suggest that the rule about no notes be abandoned. If it is not, then I strongly encourage both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader to break the rule. Let's have an informed debate. And please let's stop expecting our politicians to know everything about everything. It is simply ridiculous.

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