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Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese went head-to-head on Wednesday night at the first leaders’ debate of the 2022 Federal election campaign.
The forum was moderated by Sky News anchor Kieran Gilbert and attended by 100 undecided voters.
Here are some of the key issues discussed during the debate.
Mr Morrison refuted the suggestion it was a policy failure, saying Australia had done its bit.
“This is a very serious issue and one that we’ve been conscious of for a very long time,” he said.
“That’s why we’ve increased our Pacific step-up funding to $1.8 billion a year to be supporting our Pacific family.”
Mr Morrison said he had been called racist for calling out China.
He said to Mr Albanese: “Why would you take China’s side?”
Mr Albanese was not happy with this question.
“That’s an outrageous slur from the Prime Minister,” he said.
“National security shouldn’t be the subject of that sort of slur.”
Mr Albanese said the government’s move was “not so much a Pacific step-up” but “a Pacific stuff-up”.
“The truth is that we all know that China has changed. China has changed. It’s more aggressive. It’s more active in the region, and we need to understand that and respond to it,” he said.
POLITICAL TRUST AND CORRUPTION
The pair were asked by different voters about how they would restore lost trust in the democratic process and address political bullying as well as their stance on a Federal integrity commission.
When voter Roger asked how the leaders would prevent a federal corruption commission from being a “toothless tiger”, the Prime Minister said those types of commissions were at state levels, while the integrity commission he was proposing would have a different scope.
“You’re dealing with things like immigration decisions and tax office and things of that nature,” he said.
“So the different set of issues.”
Mr Morrison said the government’s proposal for a Commonwealth integrity commission had “357 pages in legislation and a budget of $60 million”.
Mr Morrison also said social media was having a “corrosive” effect on public debate.
Mr Albanese said there wasn’t faith in the democratic process in Australia at the moment, which was needed.
“I want an anti-corruption commission that will hold the political system to account,” he said.
Mr Albanese agreed there was “so much” disillusion within politics at the moment, telling one questioner who noted the record low level of faith from the Australian public: “Unfortunately, you’re right on the money.”
He said his government would solve the lack of faith with its proposed national integrity commission and would look for ways to unite the country
A woman with a four-year-old autistic son asked the leaders how they would support the National Disability Insurance Scheme, referencing funding cuts.
Mr Morrison told the woman he was “blessed” he and his wife did not have children who faced such obstacles.
He paid tribute to former Prime Minister Julia Gillard for initiating the NDIS, saying his brother-in-law who had multiple sclerosis was one of those supported by the scheme.
“We are fully funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It’s a difficult scheme to manage, because every single person who has a disability is different.”
He said it cost more to run the NDIS than it did to run Medicare, but it was worth the investment.
The woman said that her son’s funding had been cut by 30 per cent at his first review.
“I’d be happy go have a look and have my ministers look at your case,” the Prime Minister said.
Mr Albanese said her son’s story was “not an isolated one”.
He noted that the scheme was a proud Labor-born one that his party would fix.
“If we’re sensible about this, and get it right, one of the things about the NDIS is that it is certainly isn’t welfare. All of the analysis shows if you allow everyone to participate in society you will get better outcomes, obviously better social outcomes, but you’ll also get better economic outcomes as well.”
What seemed to be the biggest clash of the night was on the topic of border protection.
The Prime Minister said policies from his government had effectively worked to stop boats of asylum seekers attempting to gain passage into the country.
“It’s not easy. And you have to believe in it. You have to understand it. You have to understand how to do it safely,” Mr Morrison said.
Mr Albanese said he also possessed the determination to turn back the boats.
“I was the Deputy Prime Minister when we established offshore processing. I was the deputy prime minister when that happened,” he said.
Mr Albanese was continuing to talk on offshore processing, when Mr Morrison cut in to say “Can I ask a question though?”
Then a fiery exchange began.
“So when you were Deputy Prime Minister, why didn’t you support boat turn backs then?” Mr Morrison asked the Opposition Leader.
Mr Albanese attempted to provide a response saying “You weren’t proposing back then …”
But the Prime Minister continued.
“So why did you not support turn-backs?” Mr Morrison asked.
“We had established offshore processing just in 2013 when I became Deputy Prime Minister; that was the first step, that was the first step,” Mr Albanese replied.
“So you were going to do turn-backs?” Mr Morrison went on asking.
“No,” Mr Albanese said.
“But why is it, Scott, that you’re always looking for a division?”
“No, I’m just looking for the truth,” Mr Morrison replied.
“Well, the truth is we support boat turn-backs,” Mr Albanese expressed.
The first question of the debate broached the topic of housing affordability, asking what a future government would do to make housing more affordable and address foreign ownership.
The Prime Minister said it was tough to get into the housing market when he and his wife Jenny bought their first home 30 years ago, but conceded it was tougher now.
He spoke of schemes his government has already brought in to improve housing affordability, including the scheme to allow single mums have smaller deposits than usually needed.
“Those programs are working and we are expanding,” Mr Morrison said.
Mr Albanese said some of the moves the government had already made were “terrific”, but said more action was needed, particularly around public housing and affordable housing units to enable frontline workers to live close to work.
He said the government also needed to address the rental crisis.
In response, Mr Morrison said rental assistance was already available and that 15,000 affordable dwellings had already been built.
NURSING AND AGED CARE
The second question asked was about support for the nursing workforce and the aged care sector.
Mr Albanese said nurses needed to be placed in nursing homes — not just aged care workers — and that more nurses needed to be trained.
He said Labor’s plan for the aged care system involved more aged care workers, better pay for aged care workers, better nutrition for residents and more transparency about money being spent in the sector.
“Our aged care plan isn’t something that we’ve dreamed up, it’s something that comes from the Royal Commission,” he said.
Mr Morrison said there were around 50,000 nurses in aged care homes across the country, but agreed more were needed.
He said the government couldn’t just make nurses “fall out of the sky” to go into aged care homes 24/7, with a plan instead to achieve nurses in homes at all times by 2025.
“We are training more nurses and we need to train more nurses,” Mr Morrison said.