As it happened: Scott Morrison, Bill Shorten go head-to-head in first leaders debate

Morrison began the debate the most nervous but grew comfortable as he had Shorten on the ropes on franking credits and boats, extracting two major concessions out of the Labor leader. 

But Shorten was most comfortable revisiting climate change and flipping the «strong economy» argument into questions about who the economy is working for. 

So who won? I’d call it a draw. Neither leader delivered a lethal blow.

Our political editor David Crowe says Shorten won it but «by a whisker.»

«There wasn’t much in it but Shorten’s praise for Morrison’s stance on mental health was interesting and he ended the debate looking relaxed. Morrison was more aggressive with his interruptions but this may have lost him support from viewers,» Crowe texts.

The ABC’s political editor Andrew Probyn gives it a draw but says Shorten won it on substance.

730’s Laura Tingle also declares it a draw but you have to consider that with Shorten the one under pressure, Shorten’s left Morrison looking «quite knackered» on policy terms. 

Perhaps the more bizarre aspect of this debate is that it was streamed on a free-to-air network’s second channel and was not the major prime-time event we’d expect of the first Leaders debate. The bigger question — was anyone even watching?

And that’s where we’ll leave our coverage of tonight’s debate. Thanks for joining me. 

And that’s a wrap for the first leaders debate — Seven’s audience verdict is due later tonight.

We’ve got extra time and so journalist Mark Riley asks the leaders to stop praising each other and point out what voters don’t know about the other that they should know. 

Morrison begins by saying Shorten is not being honest about the costs of his policies: ‘people deserve to know what the cost of change is.»

Shorten responds: «the cost of not changing is this, longer waiting lists…the cost of not changing is that we hand on a worse environment to our kids.»

Morrison goes first in the closing pitches. 

He says the election is about a choice and brings it back to the economy. 

Shorten wraps up. 

He says it really comes down to the case for change. He brings it back to the leadership changes and scores a laugh when he says if you vote for Scott Morrison this time, «who knows you might get Clive Palmer or Pauline Hanson» next time.

But he too closes on the economy and asks who the economy works for. 


Even the audience laughed.

Morrison says he admires anyone who chooses to serve in the parliament.

Bill Shorten says he respects Morrison’s views on mental health and he raises the prime minister’s Pentecostal faith, saying he admires the prime minister’s «deep conviction».

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at Horizon Church on Easter Sunday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at Horizon Church on Easter Sunday.Credit:AAP

Scott Morrison says Labor is sore that Clive Palmer is directing preferences towards the Liberals rather than Labor because he thinks Bill Shorten will be a danger to the economy. 

Morrison says Palmer should obey the law and pay his workers properly. 

Shorten heckles Morrison through his answer. He targets Palmer over the collapse of his nickel company and not paying workers. 

Now Shorten gets personal, targetting Morrison’s smirk (which has been on full display tonight). 

«If Mr Morrison wants to smirk about doing a deal with Mr Palmer, so be it,» says Shorten. 

He questions the price of Palmer’s preferences and the «debt» Morrison will owe him.

Shorten is now forced to make another major concession. 

He now concedes a small amount of people who have self-managed super funds created after last March will be affected by the proposed changes to franking credits. 

«[The cost of franking credits] is now $6 billion dollars, it not illegal, it’s a gift, the nation can’t keep giving a gift…» he says before being cut off as the debate cuts to a question on Clive Palmer. 

We are on to audience questions. 

The first comes from Ron Ryan, a white-haired gentleman who asks Bill Shorten about franking credits changes that Labor is proposing. (Liberals would be delighted!) 

Shorten says a lot of people don’t understand the franking credits policy. He says Labor wants to close a tax loophole «We’ve decided to fund pensioner dental care.»

He tells Ron that Labor’s policy doesn’t hit pensioners. 

Morrison jumps in and says if you have a self-managed super fund c»you will get hit by the retirees tax.»

Another aspect of the Coalition’s border policies despised by Labor’s left is temporary protection visas. 

Morrison says Labor doesn’t accept these and that Shorten’s claim there’s no difference between the two parties on border protection is untrue. 

Shorten ‘listen we are going to have boat turnbacks…I didn’t say our policies were identical,» he says. 

He reiterates: «I have learned the lessons of the past. I accept some of the experience which Mr Morrison has said.» 

But he says he does take issue with the Coalition for the amount of time its taken for the government to resettle people on Nauru and PNG.

Scott Morrison is now spruiking his achievement as Immigration Minister in stopping the boats. 

He says he knows what it takes to stop the boats and Labor doesn’t because it hasn’t learned the lessons.’ 

Bill Shorten makes a major concession. «…we now agree. I accept that boat turnbacks work and I’ve convinced my party to accept that.»

He says Labor will not wind back turnbacks, easily the most controversial policy for Labor’s left when it comes to border protection policies.




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