Australian election debate debacle

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister of Australia, of the Australian Labor Party.
Image: Adam Carr.

Tension is rising over the arrangements of how many debates the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard of the Australian Labor Party, and the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott of the Liberal Party, should have prior to the upcoming federal election.

Gillard told the National Press Club yesterday that she planned to conduct only one debate with her opposition, saying that "I've debated (Opposition Leader) Tony Abbott a lot, as people in this room know". However, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party had committed in 2007 to having three debates prior to an election.

The federal director of the Liberal Party then wrote to the national secretary of the Labor Party to confirm the arrangements. In the letter the director writes: "I note the Labor Party's request before the 2007 campaign to hold three debates and confirm that Mr Abbott is available to debate Ms Gillard on three occasions [...] Given the level of public interest, the Liberal Party believes it is appropriate that each debate be conducted in a different format to allow both leaders to reach as many Australians as possible and permit discussion of a wider range of issues [...] Please confirm Ms Gillard's agreement to honor the Labor Party's commitment to three debates as soon as convenient".

A member of the Labor Party later told The Australian that the commitment was Rudd's and not Gillard's, as suggested.

Phillip Hudson, president of the National Press Club's Canberra gallery, which usually hosts and organizes the debates, said in a statement that the gallery committee remains optimistic that both parties will honor their promise of participating in the Three Leaders' Debate which would include Gillard, Abbott and Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens party, set to take place on the first Sunday of the campaign, which has yet to be announced.