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Rooty Hill people’s forum: experts respond

Prime minister Kevin Rudd and opposition leader Tony Abbott faced off tonight for the third time in the 2013 election campaign at the Rooty Hill RSL Club in Sydney’s western suburbs. In the town hall-style…

Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott have faced off in a televised debate for the third and final time this election campaign. AAP/Lukas Coch

Prime minister Kevin Rudd and opposition leader Tony Abbott faced off tonight for the third time in the 2013 election campaign at the Rooty Hill RSL Club in Sydney’s western suburbs.

In the town hall-style debate, Rudd and Abbott took questions from 100 undecided voters, covering economic management, Labor’s leadership, education funding, paid parental leave, dental care, aged care, election promises, disability care, underemployment, environmental safeguards, foreign ownership of agricultural land, trade and superannuation.

Kevin Rudd talked up the government’s economic credentials and its ability to pull the nation out of recession. He dismissed claims of policymaking on the fly during the election campaign.

Tony Abbott focused on the opposition’s infrastructure plans in his opening address but later said he would rather under-promise during the election campaign and over-deliver when in government.

When asked what question the leaders would like to put to each other, Abbott said he would like Rudd to give voters a positive reason to vote for him “rather than just run the mother of all scare campaigns which has been the dominant theme throughout this election”.

Rudd responded by asking Abbott to release the Coalition’s 200 policies and its budget bottom line.

Our experts were watching the debate. Their comments follow.


Tom Clark, Senior Lecturer in Communication at Victoria University

Tonight was far and away the best debate of the three. Pity it was the last; pity the last two dreary affairs have so strongly persuaded voters not to take notice.

Both the questions and the answers came clear and fast this time. The sixth question came inside 20 minutes tonight, compared with 40 minutes last week.

Tony Abbott was sharp on several points tonight. He distanced himself from the “waffle” he rudely rebuked Kevin Rudd for seven nights ago. He quite reasonably pointed to Rudd’s negativity — I counted four mentions of the word “frightened” in the prime minister’s opening address.

But Rudd, for all his waffle, was conspicuously the stronger contender. He managed to corner Abbott into dodging more questions than him, just as he subtly cornered him with body language. Rudd continuously walked into Abbott’s zone on the dais; he offered a cheeky smile and a handshake – awkwardly declined – when he asked Abbott to vote Labor.

Last time around, Rudd would have won a dismal affair, just off the back of Abbott’s snarking, until his own rudeness towards a makeup artist became the issue. After tonight, it will take something much bigger to eclipse the debate win — but how much does this help his struggling cause, when so many have switched off an underwhelming campaign already?


Andy Ruddock, Senior Lecturer, Research Unit in Media Studies at Monash University

The star of tonight’s people’s forum wasn’t Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott. It was Ian. Ian took both leaders to task on their fiscal common sense, and then probably enraged much of the audience with a sexist crack about subsidising “pretty little lady lawyers”. Every (wo)man and panto villain all in one. Perfect.

We didn’t know it would be Ian. But we should have known it would be someone like Ian. Television guaranteed it. Amidst concerns about the Murdoch media, the people’s forum powerfully represented a much more important sort of media power: the power to define what politics is and how it happens by organising voters as audiences and performers. Voters don’t get to speak, think, or become visible until they can play these roles.

The winner of the forum? Television.


Stephanie Brookes, Lecturer, School of Journalism, Australian and Indigenous Studies at Monash University

Tonight we returned to the setting of 2010’s first “people’s forum”: the Rooty Hill RSL Club.

Town hall-style debates offer an unpredictable element: “the people”. The presence of “ordinary” undecided voters (carefully selected by Galaxy Research) means that tried-and-true responses often sound hollow and sharp or aggressive retorts are out of place. Hitting the right tone is the key. It is imperative to balance being approachable with appearing “prime ministerial”, to answer audience questions simply without being condescending, and deliver substance without drowning in detail.

Both leaders have had some practice with this now, and tonight managed moments of connection, humour and warmth. Kevin Rudd, in particular, seems comfortable in this setting. He was more relaxed than his opponent and more engaging than in most of his other campaign appearances. Rudd thrives on the crowd and feeds on their energy (though at times this wanders too far into folksiness, and his opening story about “young James” who was building the Australian future was particularly awkward).

Don’t underestimate the role of the moderator in these forums - David Speers is an active participant. He cautioned audience members at the outset that he wanted to get through “more questions” than last week and policed wandering off topic or waffling, both in questions and responses.

Speers also won the first audience laugh of the night, asking whether the prime minister would stop “running a line” on cuts to Medicare Locals after Tony Abbott explicitly ruled it out.

Hosting these debates is a coup for Sky News – they allow the network to position itself as the home of election coverage in Australia.

Last week’s people’s forum debate added some excitement to a campaign that has been less than inspiring. People’s Forum II: Return of the Leaders was worth watching, but delivered little in the way of new information or insights for voters.


David Holmes, Senior Lecturer, Communications and Media Studies at Monash University

With a guaranteed larger commercial TV audience and the bare-knuckle billing that the last debate was given, Kevin Rudd must have skipped the make-up from Sky News as he looked much more confident this time, kicking off with a personal story of his Loyola College visit “next door to the RSL”, and finishing with a critique of Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme.

Abbott began with his disciplined repetition of scripted sound bites - “we will end the waste”; “stop the boats”; “cut the tax” - but the slogans subsided when he exchanged with Rudd. Oddly, Abbott declared his loyalty to a western Sydney constituency, rather than addressing the national audience. Abbott didn’t risk repeating a personal attack on Rudd - as he did in Brisbane - mindful that playing a straight bat, here and on the campaign trail, is all that is needed to move into The Lodge.

The first two questions were a grilling for Rudd: one on the leadership change and the next on deficit, which he handled better than Abbott did the thorny question of costings for Coalition pledges. Abbott later had an accountability question on whether he would honour the Coalition’s promises on which he was unconvincing, wavering between keeping promises and drawing down the deficit.

Rudd was accused of “policy-on-the-run” by one questioner: whether he had consulted on the Northern Australia tax haven, high speed rail and the Navy move from Garden Island to Brisbane, which he had to deflect.

But Rudd was much stronger on employment and environmental policy, with a command of facts and figures that offered more practical remedies than Abbott’s vague solution of “building a stronger economy” and the Coalition’s Green Army policy of making Australia “beautiful” which didn’t connect with the issue of climate change.

Both leaders finished with scripted lines of vision and critique that added nothing to what we have already heard in the campaign.

All in all, Rudd’s weakness was having policy-on-the-run brought up, which pointed to a disorganised campaign; whilst Abbott had no answer at all to climate change, an issue which has had little or no coverage during this entire election campaign.


Joseph Fernandez, Head of Department, Journalism at Curtin University

This debate, like the earlier two, was preceded by the usual anticipation couched in the language of a “face off” and going “head-to-head”. Minutes before the debate ABC24 crossed live to a reporter on the ground for an update on the “atmosphere” at the scene.

The event itself, however, was more sober and measured this time. Two indicia of this are worth mentioning.

One was the palpable restraint in making election commitments. Tony Abbott, in response to a question concerning assistance for small business, declined to make a commitment. He said it would be “irresponsible to promise something that isn’t funded”. He went a step further when answering a later question saying he was “determined to under promise so that people are likely to be pleasantly surprised rather than disappointed”. Mr Rudd likewise admitted in response to a question that he did not believe he could “do much better for younger people” in relation to access to superannuation funds.

The other indicia was how, amidst the inevitably adversarial nature of the campaign process, both leaders acknowledged that major governance milestones can be achieved through consensus and bipartisanship. One such milestone was the establishment of the NDIS. Mr Rudd not only acknowledged the Coalition’s support of it but also the work done by his predecessor Julia Gillard and her team.

Happy families.

Join the conversation

46 Comments sorted by

Comments on this article are now closed.

    1. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Geoff Anderson

      Hey Brain Surgeon, we had people losing there homes and businesses when Labor decided to shut down the live beef export. It wasn't a case of 'if' they got into power this 'might happen' - no hypothetical here. It happened in the real world, not your mind. Was action taken after careful study of the facts or discussions with the stakeholders? No it was the day after watching 4Corners segment. Policy by TV! And you guys whinge about Murdoch's influence.

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    2. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Geoff Anderson

      We need to look at history to predict the future.

      So then........ it will be business as usual? During an energy and food crisis, neither of which EVER get discussed during an election because it might frighten the children....

      Take it from me, looking backwards is the worst thing anyone could do now.

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    3. John Armour

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      "We need to look at history to predict the future."

      I think Geoff is just rephrasing Santayana's famous aphorism Mike.

      When the electorate is mesmerised with an imaginary threat, the debt/deficit bogeyman, what chance is there for any engagement with issues such as food or energy crises.

      The message has been necessarily a simple one, for the simpletons.

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    4. Rick Sullivan

      Vast and Various

      In reply to John Phillip

      John, It's just downright sad that you could suggest in any way that our Australian government should have delayed for one second the inhumane treatment of those animals shown on the Four Corners program. Surely, thereis no way as a human being you can defend that standpoint? And as for your comment, "you guys whinge about Murdoch's influence", the difference is that the Four Corners program simply showed factual visual evidence of defenceless animals being inhumanely and indecently treated, as opposed to Murdoch's character assassinations motivated by self-interest.

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    5. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Rick Sullivan

      No Rick, It's worse than sad that a government makes a decision to shut down an entire industry as a knee-jerk response to a tv show. Remember this is a tv show that represents images from individual situations and then promotes them as being representative of the whole. That is not democracy. It is emotionally driven stupidity. Where was the consultation, where was the fact-checking, where were the damn date stamps? There was NOTHING other than a closed industry. If you want to close down every industry because of a tv show's images there wont be much left will there? It was a great victory for activists and a defeat for common sense and rational government.

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    6. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      "We need to look at history to predict the future"
      Trust me, as someone who has looked at an awful lot of history, it does not give you a crystal ball.

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    7. Rick Sullivan

      Vast and Various

      In reply to John Phillip

      John, I can't agree with ANYTHING you wrote in EITHER of your posts. I stand by my comment that your opposition to the immediate halting of the inhumane treatment of animals is indefensible in any way at all. And as for your comment: "It was a great victory for activists and a defeat for common sense and rational government", that's exactly what I will believe if your LNP wins government. The Murdoch-led media in this country have been on a witch hunt/advertising campaign against federal Labor since the idea of an inquiry into the media was first suggested, and it will be a travesty if they are successful. I can only feel pity for the poor mugs who get conned.

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    8. Alex Njoo

      Architect/academic (ret.)

      In reply to John Phillip

      Remember what JFK once said? And please, don't forget the rorting by (largely) L-NP voters on both Labor initiatives; the insulation scandal and the "nation building programs". Related small businesses all over the country were having a bonanza under an overly generous and "heart on sleeve" government.
      You will have your wish. You will have an L-NP government 'bankrolled' by Murdoch, the tobacco, gaming industry and a host of small businesses who are out for themselves. Where does the 'national good' come in the equation?

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    9. John Armour

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      I had a look at your link Steve.

      The environmental stuff I'm fully on board with, but the economics is a shocker.

      The resident economics guru is a bog standard neoliberal with a grasp of banking and public funding no better than Joe Hockey's. I could hardly believe I was reading such nonsense.

      That's really sad because the economics Bill Mitchell writes about opens the way to addressing a lot of the concerns of that particular readership.

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    10. Steven Waters

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Geoff Anderson

      i was going to say an average of 44 small businesses per day are closing their doors. Skyrocketing electricity prices, escalating labour costs and red tape are among reasons being blamed for the closures

      if small business is the engine room of the economy and are our largest employer then how much worse does it have to get.

      oh that's right labor saved us from the GFC and our economy is doing great according to Mr Rudd.

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    11. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Steven Waters

      You think things are bad........ you wait 'til the US economy finally gets its comeuppance now they've realised printing more money out of thin air will only lead to disaster... lots of pundits expect a serious correction before the end of the year.

      http://www.peakprosperity.com/blog/82748/periphery-failing

      And then there's oil.... or rather the lack of it in cheap and abundant quantities. Australia is due to run out ~2020.

      Expect an Egypt like final solution.

      You can blame politicians for some of the crap (I prefer blaming banksters), but in the end we have all COLLECTIVELY lived beyond our means for a very long time, and the chickens are coming home to roost.

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    12. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Alex Njoo

      Yea, Alex. Of course. It's all someone else's fault when labor makes a meal out of something. If it's not the miners, it's got to be Dr Evil Rupert ( or Gina). Face facts, Alex.The current lot are less organised, more fractious and incompetent than anything even Whitlam could put up. How big is the budget surplus this week? The4 government wouldn't know. Hell's Bells, they even started out claiming Abbott had a $70B hole in his costings. Now Labor has dropped that (gu)estimate to $10B. Like the PM says (It's quoted regularly on Gruen Nation) "Just f!#*$en hopeless."
      Got ANY evidence to back up your statement:
      " don't forget the rorting by (largely) L-NP voters on both Labor initiatives; the insulation scandal and the "nation building programs". Related small businesses all over the country were having a bonanza under an overly generous and "heart on sleeve" government. "
      Just more of the class 'warfare' drivel from the left side of politics.

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    13. John Armour

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      "You think things are bad........ you wait 'til the US economy finally gets its comeuppance now they've realised printing more money out of thin air will only lead to disaster... lots of pundits expect a serious correction before the end of the year."

      The pundits could well be right Mike, but for the wrong reasons.

      I take it you're referring to Quantitative Easing.

      The proceeds of all those asset purchases by the Fed are safely sequestered in the reserve accounts of the commercial banking…

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    14. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to John Armour

      "Banks don't lend reserves (except between themselves)"

      And THEN what do they do with them? Doesn't that money get lent out to private/corporate borrowers?

      And what about inflation........??

      "

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    15. John Armour

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Here's an article written by the chief global economist at Standard and Poors:

      "Repeat After Me: Banks Cannot And
      Do Not "Lend Out" Reserves"

      http://www.standardandpoors.com/spf/upload/Ratings_US/Repeat_After_Me_8_14_13.pdf

      Last I heard, S & P, weren't exactly some radical Marxist outfit and if they said the Sun rose in the East I'd get a second opinion.

      But their paper just reinforces what Bill Mitchell and the modern monetary theory people have been saying for years.

      I sent this link with some comment to your friend The Overthinker but it seems to have been moderated into the trash bin.

      It's funny you should mention inflation when we're on the cusp of a dangerous deflationary vortex. The Japanese government is desperate for some inflation, as is the US Fed.

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    16. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to John Armour

      OK then...... what's the point of Reserves then? Money is designed to be spent, not hoarded.....

      The result of the inflation/deflation argument won't be solved until we can see it in the rear view mirror... I'm actually of the opinion we could get BOTH..... inflation in prices of resources as they become harder to access and mine, and deflation of assets as housing bubbles burst (among other assets..) which will lead us to nobody being able to afford resources, with the result nothing gets built/done leading to the mother of all depressions....

      We need a reboot....

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    17. John Armour

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Reserves (or Exchange Settlement Accounts) are required to ensure that the commercial banks have sufficient liquidity at the central bank to ensure the smooth running of the payments system.

      Start there and when you've read those articles you'll know as much about the subject as me.

      The "mother of all depressions" will only happen if people let it, that is, by willfully staying ignorant and letting the predators control the debate.

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    18. John Armour

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      "I already knew all that..."

      Really ?

      So what was the point of asking me those questions about the role of reserves ?

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  1. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    As far as the content of the debate went as most leaders debates do, it was probably line ball though there were differences.
    Tony Abbott had some difficult questions to answer in so far as any challenger will who has to show some detail of what is in store with changes and not all changes will be favourable to some, removal of a small business subsidy being one and obviously his PPL for which a broad grasp of the concept is needed.
    Kevin Rudd did not really answer too many questions as directly…

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  2. Rod Govers

    Retired IT administrator

    Just two comments from me:

    David Speers certainly played an active role - mostly bullying Rudd.

    Anyone who is still 'an undecided voter' at this point shouldn't be allowed to vote.

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    1. COLIN BENJAMIN

      DIRECTOR GENERAL, 'Life. Be in it.'

      In reply to Rod Govers

      Hi Rod,
      Any one who is undecided at this moment is showing admirable constrain in the face of the context that Handy sets out below:
      Did they make up your mind how to vote with propaganda like this?

      Some recent front page Murdoch headlines - all featuring various caricatures of Prime Minister Rudd - include:
      • "Kick this mob out" -- The Daily Telegraph
      • "It's a Ruddy Mess" -- The Herald Sun
      • "I know nuthink!" (featuring the PM as Colonel Klink)-- The Daily Telegraph
      • "Does this guy ever shut up" -- The Courier-Mail
      • "Dear Leader" (featuring the PM as Kim Jong-Un) -- The Daily Telegraph

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  3. Hardy Gosch

    Mr.

    Agree, the winner was television!

    We soon find out how many deluded citizens still believe that Murdoch and Abbott’s IPA crowd have the slightest interest in the common good.

    Did they make up your mind how to vote with propaganda like this?

    Some recent front page Murdoch headlines - all featuring various caricatures of Prime Minister Rudd - include:
    • "Kick this mob out" -- The Daily Telegraph
    • "It's a Ruddy Mess" -- The Herald Sun
    • "I know nuthink!" (featuring the PM as Colonel Klink)-- The Daily Telegraph
    • "Does this guy ever shut up" -- The Courier-Mail
    • "Dear Leader" (featuring the PM as Kim Jong-Un) -- The Daily Telegraph

    The biased campaign is an insult to readers and the journalists who work on the papers.

    Check out:
    http://www.getup.org.au/you-decide-this-election

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  4. Bill Buchanan

    Electrical evaluator at Recovery

    If you are going to use fancy Latin - wouldn't 'indicium' be the singular?

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  5. Decortes Fleur

    Writer Researcher Producer at creative industry

    Tony Abbott plays hardball.
    Kevin is shrewd.
    'Frankly' on the night Kevin 's 'barrier reef blue' silk tie proved a standout feature of the debate.
    Rooty Hill is so far out of Sydney it was bravely environmentally revealing for both leaders to face a 'tough' folks forum of fork lift drivers, shop owners and classique suburban never-landers.

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  6. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    Are we approaching the proposition of the least unpopular party will win?

    There seems to be a wave of unpopularity on both sides of the debate.

    We are getting plenty of yabber and little substance........the current crop of pollies gracing our political stage are pretty lacklustre.

    They more content to shout each other down rather than present cohesive policies that will lead us forward.

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  7. COLIN BENJAMIN

    DIRECTOR GENERAL, 'Life. Be in it.'

    The Conversation teaser suggests that the expert respondents may have something to say about the winners of the third debate instead of laying off on "television" etc.

    The audience of Galaxy "undeideds" gave it to Rudd, 45-38, with 19 remaining undecided once they had finished chatting with the politicians afterwards.

    The Morgan Research Reactor all party audience of 700 on-line viewers indicated a "decisive victory"for one side and Channel Seven's party manipulated audience gave it as 68…

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  8. wilma western

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    So when Rudd's in a good mood and self-controlled, he has a more convincing sales line than either Tony Abbott or Julia Gillard. Not really news.

    This alone does not qualify him for the Prime Ministership . What do those academics who insisted on casting past PM Gillard as the worst PM Oz has ever had etc etc mostly it seems on the basis of uninspiring delivery of mundane speeches and so-called "lack of vision" (despite the successes she and her team achieved in getting important reforms passed) now think about Rudd's populism and transparent attempts at vote buying? Do they regret playing along with the covert Rudd propaganda? Have they tried to assess fairly how much damage was done to the standing of the Gillard government by their contributions to the Rudd campaign 2010-2013?

    Be interesting to see how Rudd tackles next week's Q & A. Gillard's several solo performances shone; Rudd's previous effort in early 2010 before a young audience soon became defensive and uptight.

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    1. Decortes Fleur

      Writer Researcher Producer at creative industry

      In reply to wilma western

      I agree Gillard shone on Q&A - until a western sydney question from a young woman on how to afford a home and start a family.
      Gillard was flummoxed and spoke - but it led nowhere.
      She was lucky to get away from a Slater&Gordon 'top drawer' 'groping' of the construction industry for cash, on that occasion.

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  9. Emilie Choukry

    artist

    Did anyone count the number of times when Mr.Abbott was asked an important question last night on policy and he slipped in the word ..aspirational as his answer ?
    Was it 2 or 3 times?
    He hopes to do some big things but he didn't promise he would do them.
    Mr. Abbott is more slippery than a greasy pole.
    Aspirational
    Web definitions
    A person with aspirations; Being ambitious; Desiring success; expressing a hope or intention but not creating a legally binding obligation.

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Emilie Choukry

      Speaking of polly statements...

      Chris Bowen -
      "we will bring the budget back into surplus in 2015-16"...

      don't these guys EVER learn.........

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    2. Emilie Choukry

      artist

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      I agree with you Stephen , but do think at least the politician who promises something and falls flat on his/ her *rse is transparent and can be called to account .
      This to me is better than the politician who offers no commitment but an aspiration because the "get out of gaol free card " is inbuilt and thus unable to be called to account.

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    3. John Armour

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      "we will bring the budget back into surplus in 2015-16"...

      Not with an external deficit you won't.

      Unless of course you're relying on the private sector to go on another debt binge.

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  10. David Thompson

    Marketing Research

    Good grief, how on earth are ANY of these people "experts" on the good folk of Rooty Hill?

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  11. David Thompson

    Marketing Research

    "Amidst concerns about the Murdoch media..."
    Andy, I can assure you that these are concerns of Melbourne's media luvvies, not the people of Rooty Hill.

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    1. Rotha Jago

      concerned citizen

      In reply to David Thompson

      I did not see the Forum, but heard on ABC News 24 TV's Breakfast
      program that there was a question from a farmer about the loss of insects (Christmas beetles), agricultural poisons? The anchor people
      seemed to think it very funny and said they must return to "more serious matters". Can anyone help with detail?

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  12. David Wright

    Electrician

    Can't believe Tony is not going to DESTROY the enemies of the liberals in the medicare locals.

    Can't he see that they are NHS by stealth in the future? Pull them up by the roots now, and shove those bureaucrats onto the streets!

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  13. Steven Waters

    logged in via Facebook

    dont you think a lot of people have switched off. we are now critiquing their style and people are not listening anymore.

    the election campaign has been going on since Julia gillard announced it back in January and people have switched off. most have already made their minds up i dont think anything will change that now.

    one of the reasons gillard announced an early election was to have time to expose Abbott. i think after 8 months there would be time so if it hasn't happened now its not going to happen in the last 2 weeks.

    i dont think anything that either Rudd or Abbott said is going to make any difference we will have a new prime minister in 2 weeks time.

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    1. COLIN BENJAMIN

      DIRECTOR GENERAL, 'Life. Be in it.'

      In reply to Steven Waters

      We can follow reactions from voters who follow the debate rather than pre-determined priorities. There appear to be three distinct patterns that represent 20% of the electorate that are still to make up their mind at the time that they walk into the polling booth and may very well determine the outcome in a week’s time.

      I have characterised these “undecided” into three categories:
      • NOTs – those who are determined not to vote for any the major parties because “None Of Them” are addressing…

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