Australian debate: It's all about trust

By Debra Killalea

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, left, and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten at the leaders' debate in Canberra. Photo / AP
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, left, and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten at the leaders' debate in Canberra. Photo / AP

It was the question on every Australian's lips and during last night's leadership debate it was answered. Well, sort of.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Labor leader Bill Shorten went head-to-head in a live televised debate at the National Press Club.

Turnbull opened the leadership debate in Canberra after Shorten won the coin toss and elected to speak second.

The party leaders faced off in their first formal debate of the election campaign with the debate focusing on economic trust and secure leadership.

And it wasn't long before the T-word came up when journalist Laura Tingle asked the one question all Australians wanted to know.

Tingle said to the Prime Minister that many voters felt he had abandoned some of his beliefs.

"Gentlemen, when this election was called three weeks ago you both said it would be about trust and Mr Turnbull you particularly urged us to trust you on the economy and Mr Shorten you urged us to trust you on health and Medicare.

But how can the people of Australia trust either of you when you, Mr Turnbull deposed a sitting Prime Minister and you, Mr Shorten deposed not one but two."

She then asked: "What do you say to those voters and, most importantly, will they see a different Malcolm Turnbull if you win your own mandate to the one that they see now?"

However, while Turnbull talked of the economy Tingle reminded him that he didn't actually answer the question.

Referring to the Rudd ousting, Shorten said Labor had learnt its lesson about that "difficult period" and he was fortunate to lead a very united team.

"Labor can be trusted on Medicare. We will make sure bulk-billing is preserved," he said.

"We will ensure GPs get regular modest increases in payments from Medicare so they don't have to introduce upfront fees for patients."

"Labor can be trusted on education. We want to make sure every child in every school gets every opportunity because we would properly fund schools, government and non-government schools according to the needs. Labor can be trusted on climate change. I never thought when Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister that I'd be debating Tony Abbott on climate change."

The PM thanked Shorten for "name calling" but maintained the big issue was strong economic leadership.

The debate continued with Turnbull focusing on economy and growth while Shorten spoke of trust, fairness and solid financial leadership.

It then moved on to asylum-seeker policy, and ended up with the Opposition leader getting a little hot under the collar over one comment in particular.

Turnbull said that if Labor wins the election, Shorten's Government "will be tested by the people smugglers".

"The regrettable, the melancholy fact of the matter is that Australians cannot trust Labor to keep the border security," Tunrbull said citing the previous levels of boat arrivals under the Rudd/Gillard Government.

The comment drew a sharp reproach from the Opposition Leader who then interrupted with: "Shame on you Mr Turnbull for what you just said. The people-smugglers..."

Turnbull was quick to respond: "For telling the truth".

But Shorten continued: "Shame on you for giving the people-smugglers any hope they could be back in business".

It wasn't the first time the debate between the leaders got a little heated.

The two leaders were discussing the issue of trust when Shorten raised the possibility of the Liberals raising the GST and border protection and how Australians could trust him more for one reason.

"In terms of what he said about the Labor Party there's a big difference between me and Mr Turnbull. I genuinely lead my party whereas your party genuinely leads you," he told the PM.

And Turnbull called it "another cheap shot from Bill".

But there was more.

When discussing climate change, Shorten questioned what had happened to Turnbull's views.

"Malcolm, whatever happened to the old Malcolm Turnbull on climate change? You were so impressive when you were leading on climate change. Now you're just implementing Tony Abbott's policies," Shorten said.

Turnbull also tried to appeal to the masses by revealing how tough his childhood was and why cutting tax for business will improve the nation.

"I was brought up by a single dad who didn't have much money. And he struggled to send me to school," he said.

"I had some really charismatic teachers that transformed my life. I would not be where I am today without them."

Shorten was having none of it, accusing the PM of double standards.

"He has the mother all of all spending plans and it's called a A$50 billion tax giveaway to big business," he said.

The debate continued with the PM focusing on cutting corporate tax to create these jobs while Shorten used the Liberal's business tax cuts to focus on a fairer nation with greater education investment.

The leaders were grilled by three political journalists during the hour-long debate, and fielded questions from moderator Chris Uhlmann, the ABC's political editor and three journalists.

Overall however, both leaders appeared to dodge the bulk of questions they were asked and the response on Twitter seemed to indicate neither man actually won the fight.

- news.com.au

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