Voters who tuned into the "great debate" on Sunday night could be excused for thinking neither Anthony Albanese or Scott Morrison should be the prime minister. It wasn't either leader's finest hour and fell far short of the contest of ideas a good debate is supposed to be.
While it is easy, as some have done, to blame the moderator, Nine journalist Sarah Abo, for letting matters get out of hand, she was up against it. When two of the most powerful men in the country won't obey the rules of engagement they have agreed to there isn't much anybody can do about it.
Yes, a bell may have come in handy. But, given the bullish behaviour of two alpha males determined to put each other down, an electric cattle prod may have proved a better choice.
That said, a format in which the questions were asked by journalists and the two participants were effectively given an invitation to go for it, had a lot to answer for.
While the first debate of this campaign, which screened on Sky, was criticised for being on pay television, it had a superior format and delivered a far more decorous and informative result. The audience was made up of swinging voters who asked the questions and then voted on who they felt had performed best. On that occasion Mr Albanese snuck home for a very narrow victory.
Contrast that with Sunday night when, after throwing online voting open to anybody who could be bothered, the host network Nine wasn't even able to come up with a definitive result. It initially said Mr Albanese was the victor with 52 per cent of the vote compared to 48 per cent for Mr Morrison. Then, minutes later, Ms Abo said Mr Morrison had won by 51 per cent to 49 per cent.
Mr Albanese then refused to claim either victory or defeat, saying it was a dead heat. Who can disagree? Everybody, especially those who had tuned in seeking a better understanding of the respective campaigns and what Mr Morrison and Mr Albanese represent, was a loser.
Even without the confusion the "official" results were totally meaningless because of the methodology employed. So why even bother? And, given the only noteworthy "revelations" were Mr Morrison saying he got it wrong when he said vaccinations weren't a race and Mr Albanese conceding he could not guarantee higher wages, how was this a good use of anybody's time?
So, while Mr Morrison and Mr Albanese may redeem themselves when they meet again on Channel Seven on Wednesday, it is notable neither has apologised for their conduct.
When asked if it was rude to shout over a woman moderator Mr Morrison said it had been "hard to hear in the room itself", that "I don't think gender had any bearing on the issue at all" and he and Mr Albanese had a history of being respectful to women in the workplace. Really? Perhaps he should review the tape.
Sunday's fizzer was the inevitable product of a system in which political apparatchiks spend weeks negotiating the conditions on which the leaders will go to head. We haven't seen a debate on the ABC, for example, because the PM just won't go there.
US Presidential debates are overseen by a bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. While far from perfect this delivered better results in 2020 than what Australians saw on Sunday night.
There is significant merit in Sarah Hanson-Young's call for the establishment of an Independent Debates Commission. Such a body could collaborate with the national broadcaster, and the National Press Club, to mandate a format that puts the emphasis on information and ideas, not on sledging and personal attacks.
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