Modia Minotaur

Trawling the airwaves to spare you the agony!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Iemma vs Debnam, Blogged Live

Well, he we are at the greatest of all great debates (I'm buying the hype, yes) - the first ever televised debate between a Premier and Opposition Leader.

A flurry of initial thoughts as Debnam speaks first. First thought: Peter Debnam looks slightly stoned. Second thought: Peter Debnam is a grandfather? He's kept that quiet. On purpose, or just because it wasn't relevant? Third: Debnam has been around since the Greiner days. What a long, depressing slog it must have been. And fourth: Lord, a flag lapel badge.

Both Debnam and Iemma look nervous, though Iemma quickly warms to the camera. He was a very uneasy media player early on in his leadership. He's doing much better nowadays, though he would hardly set the world on fire with his inspiring words.

Iemma's leading line? It certainly made me choke on my cup of tea! `Who can you trust!' Where have we heard that one before? It's undoubtedly an effective line for incumbent leaders, and I think this is the reason behind the government's negative campaign against Debnam. Considering a protest vote? You better not - you just can't risk it.

Water looms as a deciding issue now that both sides have settled on definitive points of difference - the Opposition, to plump for recycled drinking water; the government to reserve it only for industry and, in carefully chosen words, not to `force' the public to drink. Debnam argues that the government has `pushed the panic button' in commissioning the desalination plant. I would argue that, had it stuck to its guns, it would be built by now and we may not be having this debate (well, this part of this debate). Neither man will offer an answer on why Sydney has not moved to Level 4 water restrictions. Foolishly, the notion that there is a stark political motivation behind opposing desalination - two crucial seats within Coo-ee of Kurnell - has never occurred to me before.

The debate warms up. Iemma leans towards his opponent. This is not the bland, kindly talking headfest I feared it could be.

Fifth thought: Nobody should bring props to debates. Ever.

One interesting point - does Debnam's water plan recognise climate change? Does Debnam recognise climate change? He refuses to mention the concept. Iemma notices and begins to pick at the scab. His rhetoric turns to emphasising the urgency of the climate change fight. This, he implies is the real crisis - not the crises of such things as housing affordability that Debnam listed at the beginning of the debate.

As an aside, I note that climate change is a unique sort of policy issue, in that neither side can legitimately blame the other for causing it. Thus, the response comes from a particularly rarefied political atmosphere - that of theory, speculation, and ideology.

Debnam continues not to mention climate change - something quite notable. Discussion moves to the Opposition policy to scrap the Native Vegetation Act - a little known policy in wider circles, but, depending on how you look at it, one that prevents farmers from clearing land for farming at the expense of the environment, or `makes land management illegal'. Doctors' wives, take note.

Debnam's environmental policy continues on its shaky course. He opposes co-operation between states on carbon trading, yet supports the idea of such trading being advanced in the Federal sphere. Odd.

The conversation moves to the economy, and gets stuck. Iemma blames national interest rates for the stalled NSW economy. This is disingenous. Debnam knows it, but he can offer no riposte. Throughout the debate, whenever money is mentioned, the rhetoric descends into mud slinging.

Debnam makes one last attempt to tie Iemma to the Carr Government, an angle that never stuck, and doesn't again. With development, he makes a clearer hit. The unpopular Frank Sartor is a sore point, with his policy of increasingly centralised policymaking (it's interesting that people are so aggravated by this, given the unprecedented centralisation in Canberra). Isn't it interesting, though, to see the party of Bob Askin painting themselves as passionately anti-development?

Iemma is particularly strong in emphasising the effect of public service cuts on the health system - it's easy to forget that he was once a well regarded but low key Health Minister, who helped bring NSW out of the times when - rightly or wrongly - people feared setting foot in a public hospital. The issue of dental service is one that is destined to loom once more in the Federal election.

Sixth thought: If Debnam hopes to be Premier, he MUST learn to speak of `Directors General', not `Director Generals'.

I'm pleased that law and order is one thing this election will not hinge on. Think of the Carr era advertisements that implied we should all be cowering inside our homes waiting for the government to get out their big stick. There's nothing like that this year, even despite the riots at Redfern, Cronulla and Macquarie Fields. Debnam's determined opposition to the so called `softly softly' approach sounds outdated to my ears, and Iemma's emphasis on early intervention would sound encouraging if I didn't know that the government won't throw the book at whatever boneheaded teenager is delivered a `lenient' sentence by one of those know-nothing judges. Though given the opportunity, Debnam does not rescind his promise to `arrest 200 Lebanese'.

Dempster's focus on alcohol abuse is odd initially - I don't know that there's a great anxiety about this in the community - but his linking of the issue to the government's closeness to the hotels industry elucidates it. Neither Debnam nor Dempster (nor certainly Iemma himself) hold onto this potentially lucrative thread.

Finally, the debate moves to education. If there is any section in which Debnam scores a victory it's this one. A support for public schooling that is rare in a Liberal leader, countered mostly by motherhood statements from Iemma in response. The government must have been glad that it was so short.

A curve ball whizzes past in the form of a brief discussion on Federal/State relations. Neither want to touch this one with a ten foot pole, and neither do.

The debate ends abruptly, and it's been a surprisingly quick one hour.

Iemma sums up his position. First thought here - Iemma has been Premier for only eighteen months. Once one leader's gone, the other one seems like they've been there forever (and very little Iemma speaks of extends back more than eighteen months either). I like Iemma's message about looking the community in the eye and facing up to the state's problems. I don't know how much of it I really believe, having seen many courageous decisions - from Egan's land tax to the poker machine tax - either diluted or rescinded altogether.

Debnam pushes the `twelve long years' argument, and reminds the public that they'll be stuck with the government's least popular ministers for the next four years. This is persuasive, though the situation's not much better in an Opposition which has seen a large proportion of its front bench dumped in favour of the likes of Greg Smith. I wonder how the pledge to cut 20,000 public service jobs is playing in the public? In this industrial relations climate, I'd imagine many people hear `20,000' and `jobs lost' and need to hear nothing else.

Seventh and final thought: The first time a politician has namechecked his website in a televised debate.

Some interesting stuff to chew over, and keep an eye out for the transcript available on Monday.