The Tony Abbott/Julia Gillard town hall double billing at Red Hill last night, pulled together quickly and smoothly by The Courier-Mail, threw up many issues that had seemed to have disappeared from the election agenda in recent weeks.
An audience of 200 supposedly undecided voters, chosed by Galaxy Research, proved they were well-informed and genuinely curious about the major parties’ differences in economic approach, perspectives on welfare, health, technology and education. A little surprisingly given the heated focus of the last federal election, the environment barely rated a mention.
Abbott used his three-minute introduction to remind the hall the PM they’d elected had been unceremoniously and undemocratically dumped by his party, but that Labor was still pursuing the mining resources tax and causing dramatic increases in energy costs.
He fielded questions on household affordability and cost of living; whether he would ban abortion (he would not); his readiness to govern; his approach to drought subsidies; why gay marriage is different from mixed racial marriage; how he would fund his election promises; why his campaign was focusing on stopping boat people instead of on mending indigenous disadvantage; why he’d refused Bob Brown a leadership debate; how he would lift youth unemployment and help students pay back their HECS debts. He announced a new “pilot policy” of giving students who volunteer for registered causes a deduction against their HECS debt.
On the issue of peak oil he became tangled in his own language: oil reserves were always there and would always be there, but challenged by the moderator, Sky News’ David Speers, agreed that they weren’t limitless. Work Choices was dead under any name, he said, and so was any chance of an increase in pensions. He gave equal short shrift to a question about incentives for high income earners, and then did the same for middle income earners: today $100,000 is “not a high income”.
On the economy, and the likelihood of further global challenges sending Australia into recession, he said the Coalition had supported the government’s first stimulus package but not the second, and hedged his bets on what would happen if more stimulus was needed under his government. The global financial crisis had only lasted eight weeks, he said, and did not warrant the overspending which had weakened Australia’s ability to cope with future crises.
Abbott’s understanding of the national broadband network proposal and rationale seemed not to have improved over recent days: fibre cable chains us to our homes, he said, and would not allow people to use the internet away from home. The government’s proposal suggested we should outspend New Zealand and South Korea, and he couldn’t see any reason why we would want to do that.
Universities were selling immigration rorts, not education, and he would not be looking to change existing student visa conditions to stop the drop in education exports. He would not change the current superannuation contribution limits, nor would he support any increases in the super guarantee.
Abbott finished with a statement that he was ready to govern and wants to govern.