August 12, 2013 | Graham

Why Abbott won the debate

Immediately after last night’s debate I scored it a draw. Rudd was more fluent and less reliable, Abbott more wooden, but more “fair dinkum”.

Others scored it a win to Abbott, including even the SMH online poll.

But it could have been a narrow victory to Rudd, and still be a loss.

This was the debate that Rudd claimed Abbott was running away from.

Rudd might have cast himself as the wimp, but there is no doubt he wanted the debate because he sees himself as anything but and thought he could best Abbott by a significant margin.

If this is Rudd’s strong suit he might as well throw all his cards away now.

I thought Abbott’s body language was better. His stance was more open, and the chiselled jaw made him look more determined. However, I’ve seen tweets of photos of his handshake with Rudd after the debate that make him look aggressive, a la Mark Latham in 2004, with the tagline “Rudd is smug but Abbott’s all thug”.

The shot’s not what it appears. Abbott seems to have a bad back and walks slightly tilted forward from the pelvis (those of us who also have bad backs know the stance). He’s probably feeling it even more than usual after his 14 km run yesterday morning.

What this image doesn’t catch is that it was Abbott that went across to shake hands with Rudd after the debate, and Abbott who actually spoke to his opponent during the debate.

All of this underlines that, while wooden, Abbott was the more comfortable with the forum which was supposed to be all Rudd’s own.

No doubt Abbott’s woodenness was partly due to a wish not to appear too aggressive.

Rudd’s Brer Rabbit (“I’m the kid in the library with glasses”) pitch to Abbott (“you’re the Oxford Boxing blue”) was transparently “please don’t hit me”, and it would have been potentially disastrous for Abbott if he had.

So that’s another loss for Rudd, twitter images notwithstanding.

There is a lot of doubt in the mind of the public about Abbott, and he’ll probably look like he’s on Mogadon until the day after the election.

Discipline is what Australians want and need at the moment, and that’s what Abbott showed and projected in the debate. Discipline is what has been sorely lacking for the last 6 years.

He was lacking in vision, but Australia’s had 6 years of visions that have turned-out to be delusions, and again it was a handy contrast.

So it wasn’t anything Abbott said that won him the night, but what the context underlined about the past 6 years of Labor governments.

Rudd appears to be a confidence player. In 2007 he declared he would “play with John Howard’s mind”.

It appears to be his own mind that he’s playing with now, and I’d expect his performance to deteriorate further over the next 4 weeks.

Posted by Graham at 8:36 am | Comments (13) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Bad back?

    Mr Aggro more likely. Take a couple of inches off Rudd and it would be even more reminiscent of the infamous Latham/Howard scene.

    Comment by Decided — August 12, 2013 @ 10:14 am

  2. Tony Abbott has been criticised for being wooden, cautious, and un-exciting by the media pundits, but these are the same people who used to lampoon him for being too aggressive and engaging his mouth before his brain.
    Labor and the “progressive” press have been waiting for him to self immolate for the past 5 years and it hasnt happened. It wont happen, and he is not being given the credit for the discipline he has exhibited and instilled into his parliamentry team.
    The labor campaign is a “one trick pony” emphasising Rudd, all colour and movement with “announcables” and twitter posts. By contrast, the coalition campaign is emphasising the team, not very sexy but safe.
    Mr Rudd looked rattled in the debate, and desperate to make his hypothetical point about the GST going up under an LNP government, even carrying this over to another question and having to be shut down by David Speers.
    With so much of the campaign riding on Kevin Rudds shoulders, it will be interesting to see if the facade can hold.

    Comment by Chris Lehmann — August 12, 2013 @ 10:31 am

  3. I wasn’t aware that there was a “progressive press” in Australia! Plenty of attackers though.

    As for Tony, in the coalition mindset it is very hard to make a mistake if you don’t actually do anything. Ask John Howard.

    Comment by Decided — August 12, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

  4. I think Rudd disproves your thesis Decided. Done nothing and made a heap of mistakes along the way.

    It must be really disappointing to the Labor Party attack that Abbott refuses to conform to his caricature as a thug. Which I guess is why you need to fabricate a “Latham moment” along with an increase in the GST.

    Comment by Graham — August 12, 2013 @ 2:01 pm

  5. Decided.

    “progressive press” = David Marr, Laura Tingle, Paul BonGiorno, Phillip Adams, Barrie Cassidy (and almost anyone that appears on Insiders), Tony Jones…… etc, etc, As for attackers and the dreaded Murdoch press, it does not seem to be a co-ordinated “attack” the Courier Mail here in Brisbane could not be seen as pro- conservative at all….
    And the reality of being in oppostion is that you don’t have the power to “do” anything, your job is to hold the government to account, point out their weaknesses and at propose an alternative method by which you would achieve your policy goals.
    John Howard…… implemented the GST (biggest reform to tax systems since the states ceded their taxation powers during WW2). legislated the most effective gun control regime anywhere in the world, freed East Timor. negotiated a free trade agreement with the US, Thailand, and Korea. reformed the workplace laws and vastly increased labour productivity (including the 2 most unionised sectors, the waterfront and construction industry). not only weathered the Asian Financial crisis, but provided economic assistance to our Asian trading partners (the AFC was arguably much more dangerous for us than the GFC). established the future fund to pay for our unfunded superanuation liabilities in the public sector and provide capital for the private sector in Australia. regulated/reformed the banking and financial sector such that our governence and liquidity levels were really not in peril from the GFC.privatised Telstra and opened up the telecommunications market…….. need I go on? If you are going to make sweeping statements, at least back them up with some examples

    Comment by Chris Lehmann — August 12, 2013 @ 3:59 pm

  6. As I said “progressive press” is hard to find. Yes, there are a few individual journalists, but that doesn’t constitute majority of “the press”.

    And I’m standing by my comment re Howard government – apart from the GST, which does not favour low income folk btw, that’s about it for substantial reform. As for other financial reforms, you can thank Hawke /Keating for those.

    Largely “doing nothing” (obviously when “in” government, Tony has had a go at that too) is what “conservative” means – yes?

    Comment by Decided — August 12, 2013 @ 5:09 pm

  7. I’m sorry decided. You are just wrong about financial reforms (Wallis enquiry), and have not addressed any of the other examples i listed just off the top of my head.
    Hawke and Keating were very prudent reformers and have been given credit by their successors in howard/costello.

    Comment by Chris Lehmann — August 12, 2013 @ 8:17 pm

  8. So sorry, my first time in this environment and I didn’t realise it was an exam.

    As for sweeping statements – I’ll stick with that so that we all know where we are coming from – akin to a “one trick pony”.

    In 4 weeks Tony will have his chance – let’s hope for all our sakes that he and his “team” (a few subs will be required there) can not send us into recession.

    Comment by Decided — August 12, 2013 @ 8:36 pm

  9. Chris Lehmann and others
    Howard and Costello left the Australian Economy in a parlous state. Private debt was exceedingly high so that when the bubbles (housing and financial market) started to sag in Australia (and burst dramatically overseas)those in debt had no alternative but to try and recover their situations by curtailing their expenditure. A commentator on Insiders a few weeks ago stated when looked back on in history the Howard era will be seen as one of Australia’s worst. I agree with that. Howard refused to follow the regulation guidance of the then Governor of the Reserve Bank and even Professor Harper, the economic expert on the Wallis Inquiry, see up by Howard, admits that that inquiry largely got it wrong.

    Economist John Quiggin recently wrote,
    “Australia has benefited from good economic management. Advance warnings from the collapse of Bear Stearns in March 2008 gave the government and monetary authorities time to prepare a response to the meltdown that took place the following September. The reserve bank relaxed monetary policy, and the Australian government responded more rapidly and vigorously than many others with fiscal stimulus – an immediate cash handout in December 2008 and a much larger stimulus package in early 2009, softened the recession to the point where it has been one of the milder downturns of the period since the 1970s. This was accompanied by a decision to guarantee banks retail deposits and (temporarily) their wholesale borrowings. Broadly speaking this response was effective in insulating the Australian financial sector from the global collapse.

    Unlike the relaxation of monetary policy, which received broad support, the fiscal policy response to the crisis was controversial, with the stimulus package being rejected by the main Opposition parties. The success of the stimulus now seems clear. In the context of the forthcoming election, it is important to remember that on the biggest economic policy issue in decades, the Rudd-Gillard Government got the choices essentially right, and the Coalition Opposition got them completely wrong.”

    Abbott’s claim that the Coalition would always be better managers that Labor” is completely misleading, ignores past performances, and is wrong. In fact Hockey doesn’t seem to understand economic fundamentals

    Comment by John Turner — August 13, 2013 @ 11:27 am

  10. I thought Rudd was smooth and polished, and won the debate? But that was before I learned he was reading from notes.
    Tony was very subdued for Tony, and blinked a lot! [The body language of the dishonest, or the rabbit caught in the headlights?]
    I don’t believe either Leader won the debate. The moderator made a fair dinkum debate almost impossible, which ought to have compared fully costed policy paradigms!
    Perhaps next time? I just won’t hold my breath!
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan goulding — August 13, 2013 @ 12:26 pm

  11. John, quoting from Quiggin, who is essentially a Labor gun for hire doesn’t really help your argument. He totally disregards the flexibility in the currency and the workforce, at least one of which he has argued against. And he puts his weight on a spending program, most of which had no impact on the recession because it was spent after the danger had passed, squeezing out productive investment for unproductive investment.

    Your argument on household savings is also beside the point. It is not just Australia where household savings have kicked up, but everywhere. The world was in a credit bubble. The difference between Australia and most of the rest of the world is that while private households and businesses went along for the ride, the government didn’t.

    Proof that Howard had it more or less right, even from Labor’s point of view, lies in the fact that they have made no major economic reforms at all in the last 6 years. If Howard was wrong, then they should have.

    Instead they have ramped-up government borrowing at an unsustainable rate and for no tangible return.

    Comment by Graham — August 14, 2013 @ 1:35 pm

  12. John.

    In a liberal westminster style democracy, the government has very limited control over private debt.

    Private debt is largely a product of consumer confidence, when people have confidence that their level of income is secure they will project their spending decisions further into the future… ergo… a greater comfort with debt.

    Government debt is something different, governments do have control over their levels of debt, and have to balance increases in spending on infrastructure with prudent management and putting money away for when the cycle ineveitably turns.

    The howard government did this with the future fund, the education fund, and with running budget surpluses. On some levels, this is very similar to Keynes’s basic premise that governments should save when times are good and support the economy when times are bad.

    There is no doubt that the coalition would of provided stimulus spending during the GFC but it would of been more targeted, better monitored and been partnered with some appropriate savings in other areas…. the gang of three just opened the throttle and it has been left open…..

    It makes perfect sense that in a bouyant economy that private debt would be higher. Yes… the initial response had some merit, but the tap never got turned off again…..

    Comment by Chris Lehmann — August 14, 2013 @ 10:46 pm

  13. Chris Lehman wrote;
    “Government debt is something different, governments do have control over their levels of debt, and have to balance increases in spending on infrastructure with prudent management and putting money away for when the cycle ineveitably turns”.
    Currency issuing governments cannot put money away for a rainy day internally. The dollars of a budget surplus are in effect key stroked out of existence. The Future Fund is the residue of Telstra not sold. Where is the benefit of the part that was sold. Unlike citizens such governments have to spend first and raise tax afterwards and their expenditure should aim at putting people to work in jobs that improve the wellbeing of the society. Removing people from the welfare roll moves the budget toward the surplus end of the budget spectrum as does the increase in profits that flows from the extra spending by the government on construction materials and the extra spending by those previously unemployed.
    Graham commented that John Quiggin is a Labor gun for hire. In his paper Quiggin repeated the view of Professor Harper, a conservative economist on the Wallis Committee. I tend to take most of my current economic knowledge and values, accumulated and modified by 50 years of reading and observation, from the blogs of Bill Mitchell and New Economic Perspectives. They base their view on empirical evidence and are miles in front of neo-liberal theorists at making predictions that are borne out by outcomes.
    The present Euro situation is one set of outcomes UMKC and Bill Mitchell predicted. Europe verifies the view that all austerity measures, adopted for any extended time, will result in a significant recession.
    Australia’s growth has been better than almost any developed nation since 2007/8 but aiming for a budget surplus will make sure that that growth does not continue.
    I agree too much of the forecast income was handed out wrongly rather than being spent on job generating projects.

    Comment by John Turner — August 15, 2013 @ 1:35 pm

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