Shorten under fire for dodging major election debates

The Coalition has launched an election fight over the traditional campaign debates between the competing leaders, accusing Opposition Leader Bill Shorten of asking voters to "rubber-stamp" him without scrutiny.

The statement seeks to dare Mr Shorten into agreeing to a major national debate with Prime Minister Scott Morrison in addition to debates in Perth on Monday and Brisbane next Friday.

The National Press Club also expressed concern that its proposal for a national debate, provided to all television networks in prime time, had not been taken up by the major parties.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Photo: AAP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Photo: AAP

The statements escalate a political dispute over the scrutiny of the two leaders as early voting stations open on Monday ahead of the May 18 election.

"The Liberal Party has also been in discussions with Nine and the ABC to participate in two further leaders' debates in the final weeks of the campaign," a statement from the Coalition campaign headquarters said on Friday.

"Mr Shorten is so far refusing to participate in either of these nationally televised debates.

"Mr Shorten is treating the Australian people in this campaign as if their sole purpose is to rubber-stamp him as prime minister, no questions asked."

It has taken several weeks for the Coalition and Labor campaign teams to agree on the two debates, raising concerns there will not be time for a major national debate broadcast to all Australians in the final weeks of the campaign.

Monday's debate is being hosted by The West Australian newspaper and the Seven Network and will air on the lower-rating 7TWO channel rather than the network's main channel. It will air at 7pm AEDT.

The debate in Brisbane on Friday, May 3, is a "people's forum" hosted by Sky News, airing at 6.30pm.

Nine Entertainment, the owner of the The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, sent a proposal for a debate to both major parties in early March. The Coalition wants to accept the offer but Labor is so far refusing.

The Coalition is seeking to link the argument over the debates to the questions Mr Shorten has faced during the campaign, including over taxation and superannuation.

"It's become apparent during this campaign that Mr Shorten is either unwilling or unable to competently and honestly answer questions about the details of his plans for higher taxes and increasing the cost of living from his reckless emissions reduction policies," the Coalition campaign headquarters said.

Labor has been asked to comment on the Coalition complaint.

National Press Club chief executive Maurice Reilly said: "The National Press Club has made a submission to hold a leaders' debate. The club was the traditional venue for the leaders' debate in previous elections, and we did the first one back in 1984.

"In the absence of a debate commission, which is well-established in other countries like the US, the National Press Club is the most trusted neutral venue to hold the debate because it would provide it to every network in prime time.

"We're disappointed that we're not doing it."

- SMH/The Age

This story Shorten under fire for dodging major election debates first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.