Key takeaways from a docile encounter

Federal Election: Key takeaways from the first leaders debate

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Here are the key flashpoints from the first leaders debate of the campaign.


Debates are rarely about landing knockout blows, but avoiding self-inflicted ones.

On that score, both leaders will be happy. Audience members would have left the Gabba with much the same opinions they entered with.

This was a polite, docile affair. Here are the main takeaways.

National security flashpoints

But in what was a relatively temperate debate, there were some prickly moments.

It's a sign of the time that they centred on national security, until recently firmly bipartisan ground.

But pressed on the Solomon Islands' deal with Beijing, the Prime Minister revived an attack line he was forced to withdraw in parliament: Labor as the party of the Manchurian candidate.

"What I don't understand is that when something of this significance takes place, why would you take China's side," he said.

Mr Albanese described the comment as an "outrageous slur", lashing the government for failing to "understand and respond" to a more assertive China.

"This isn't so much a Pacific step up. It's a Pacific stuff up. This is a major foreign policy failure by Australia," he said.

Mr Morrison also seized on comfortable Coalition territory, boat arrivals, to pin Mr Albanese on his opposition to turn backs in 2013.

In a pattern that sums up his campaign thus far, confusion from the Labor leader was eventually followed by a clarification, when he used the reversal as proof he'll be pragmatic in government. "It was a good idea that worked. Therefore we embraced it," he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and (right) Australian Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese speaking during the first leaders' debate of the 2022 federal election. Pictures: AAP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and (right) Australian Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese speaking during the first leaders' debate of the 2022 federal election. Pictures: AAP

Aged care ruptures

One government approach Mr Albanese will not be embracing is aged care, the centrepiece of Labor's budget reply.

Maybe the most meaty policy debate focused on the sector, after shocking findings from the royal commission.

The opposition is promising to supply every aged care centre with a nurse every hour of each day.

"It seems so fundamental. It just seems such a common sense thing," he said.

There are questions over where Labor will source the nurses, particularly given they aim to have the system up and running within a year.

Mr Albanese said a large portion of the gap would be filled by giving casual nurses more hours, while Labor has also opened the door to overseas workers.

Mr Morrison insisted both sides of politics have the same aims. But with problems in aged care lasting for three decades, he warned against believing in overnight fixes.

"They're complex and they're difficult problems. We can't just make nurses all of a sudden fall out of the sky," he said.

Mr Morrison warned the mandate could force a host of regional and rural aged care centres to close their doors.

Contrast in personal anecdotes

The Prime Minister consistently cites family when asked to explain policy positions, and the debate was no different.

Whether it was home ownership - "It was tough for Jenny and I, but it's tougher now - or NDIS cuts - referring to his brother-in-law who uses the scheme - Mr Morrison consistently lent on his inner circle.

Mr Albanese also leant heavily on anecdotes, but largely from outside his orbit.

After a question on cuts to the NDIS, he pivoted to a woman whose plan included reusable colostomy bags. That story was met with the strongest murmur, from what was an otherwise docile crowd.

Albanese seizes on corruption 'stench'

A sore point for the Coalition is its broken promise to implement a federal anti-corruption commission.

Unfortunately for Mr Morrison, that failure and a declining trust in politicians was brought up multiple times.

Mr Albanese was at his most blunt, attacking the government over a series of scandals plaguing the last term - sports rorts, the Leppington Triangle deal, and Christian Porter's blind trust saga.

"We need to restore faith in the political system ... the truth is, is a stench around a whole range of issues in Canberra," he said.

The Prime Minister was at his least direct, diving into an explanation about the various topics state commissions investigate.

But he eventually got to what has been his major attack line: the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption brought down the popular Gladys Berejiklian.

"It is not a kangaroo court. It is not something that is trying to trial people in the media. It's not about who your boyfriend is or things like that," he said.

"I've gotta say I haven't been impressed. And that's not the model I would like to see at the Commonwealth level."