The second leaders debate of the federal election quickly became bogged down in a slanging match of claim and counter-claim on Sunday night.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, and Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, each attempted to live factcheck their opponent but time-limit rules, often highly restrictive, moved the cut and thrust on before either was prepared to concede the point or both could agree on central facts.
We’ve revisited five of the biggest clangers of the second debate to sort fact from fiction.
On aged care, there was a pair of howlers from the leaders, both seeking to grab credit for the royal commission.
Morrison declared “I was the one who blew the whistle”, in reference to calling the royal commission in September 2018.
That seems like a gross embellishment, when the abuses and neglect in aged care were already well known at the time, particularly through reporting on the Oakden aged care centre in South Australia, which had already been examined by a Senate inquiry.
Albanese responded that the government had called a royal commission “under pressure from the Labor party” which “took it to elections”.
“You did it reluctantly because you lost the numbers on the floor of the parliament,” he said.
Albanese appears to have been mistakenly referring to the banking royal commission, which Labor took to the 2016 election and several government MPs threatened to support before the Turnbull government reluctantly called one in November 2017.
Although the Coalition did resist the aged care royal commission for many months, Labor never took the policy to an election, and the then leader, Bill Shorten, declined to support one in June 2018, just months before it was called.
Asked if he had ever seen any corruption on his side of politics, Morrison boldly responded: “No, I haven’t.”
Panellist David Crowe gave a quick example: the New South Wales branch funnelling donations through the Free Enterprise Foundation to subvert state donations laws. Morrison replied that the question assumed he had “some knowledge or awareness or involvement in those issues”.
So, provided a politician doesn’t read front-page news stories alleging corruption in their own party, they can say they’ve never seen it. Right.
That’s before one gets to the $100m sports rorts saga and $660m for commuter car parks – both blasted by the auditor general, with the car parks scheme described as “amount[ing] to corruption” by a former New South Wales auditor general during a Senate inquiry.
Albanese also overreached by claiming “oppositions don’t draft legislation, governments do”. He was on firmer footing claiming there would have been no point in doing so, because the government wouldn’t allow a Labor bill to be voted on or debated.
Early on, Chris Uhlmann challenged Albanese over whether it was a lie to claim he “wasn’t given the opportunity” to give the six points of Labor’s NDIS policy.
Albanese replied: “No, it wasn’t.”
At a media conference on Thursday, Albanese was interrupted several times when asked for the six points, because his answer was not directly responsive to the question.
Albanese said the six points were “outlined by Bill Shorten” and “all around the theme of putting people at the centre of the NDIS”.
But, ultimately, Albanese chose to give the call to another journalist despite being asked four times for the points. It is not true to say he wasn’t given the opportunity to answer.
Albanese said when Morrison was a minister the Port of Darwin was “sold to a company with links to the Chinese Communist party”.
When Morrison responded that the commonwealth had no role, Albanese said it was his party – the Country Liberal party in the Northern Territory – who had sold it and Morrison had “ticked it off”.
Morrison is correct that the Foreign Investment Review Board did not have direct power to veto the deal but federal agencies including the defence department and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation could have raised concerns, and did not.
The commonwealth has legislative power to override territory governments, and later gave itself powers to veto deals with sub-national governments that don’t fit Australia’s foreign policy – which could now be used to reverse the deal.
Morrison started the debate by saying Australia had “faced down 15% unemployment”.
As Treasury officials told the Senate Covid committee in April 2020, unemployment was projected to reach 10% by mid 2020, 5% lower than it might have been without jobkeeper wage subsidies. In fact, unemployment peaked at 7.5% in July 2020.
So while it’s true that Australia faced down the prospect of 15% unemployment, it is an exaggeration based on a projected scenario.
Note that when the government claims it saved 40,000 lives from Covid, it is measuring itself against the OECD average, not worst case projections like 50,000 to 150,000 possible deaths in Australia. The same should apply for unemployment.