If TV debates were won on the delivery of detail about policy, Kevin Rudd would have won this debate hands down. It poured out of him in long, wordy paragraphs, too fast to really take in.
But if presentation and style were the decisive thing, Tony Abbott took the prize. Where the prime minister read from notes, glancing repeatedly downwards and rarely meeting the viewer’s gaze, his opponent looked and sounded confident. Abbott spoke to his TV audience in simple and direct terms - ‘We will Stop the Boats’ - and skilfully avoided any major hits from Rudd on economic policy.
Rudd, meanwhile, spoke mechanically, without feeling or apparent empathy, as if giving opening remarks to a press pack and being in a bit of a hurry to get out of there. As a piece of political communication, this was a minor disaster for Rudd, and a reminder that in these live media debate formats, previous form is no guide to performance. Also, expect the unexpected. Nearly every commentator has suggested that leaders’ debates would be risky for Abbott, and play to Rudd’s strengths. On the contrary, Rudd emerges weakened, and Abbott’s earlier refusals to debate vindicated.
Abbott has won an important battle with this exchange - convincingly answering Rudd’s earlier accusation that he was running away.