Kevin Rudd vs Tony Abbott: First Election Debate Promises to be Heated

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By Reissa Su | August 9, 2013 6:29 PM EST

If history will repeat itself, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd may have the advantage over Opposition Leader Tony Abbott in the upcoming first leaders' debate on the trail of the election campaign scheduled on August 11.  Based on historical records, Australian voters have rated leaders from the Australian Labor Party higher than Liberal leaders in most election debates with television coverage for the past 30 years. 

However, international debate expert Nick Rowley said it's time for Australia to overhaul its debate format to increase engagement of voters and attract more viewers.  Mr. Rowley is a visiting fellow at the University of Sydney.  He was also part of a formal debates commission and served as adviser to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mr. Rowley is currently researching about the political situation in Australia. He said he can shift votes between one and 1.5 percentage points.  He told the media that the percentage points may look small but in a close election race, the number will be significant. 

Mr. Rowley said debates in Australia are "laughably superficial".  As an example, Mr. Rowley cited the election debate in 2010 that was scheduled about the same time as popular show, MasterChef. 

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Coalition's Tony Abbott will be face to face at the National Press Club in Canberra on August 11.  The highly anticipated political debate will be broadcast by all networks in Australia. 

The election debate moderator will be Sky News' David Speers. Mr. Rowley said he doesn't expect much in the first Rudd-Abbott debate.  He said the debate will be as "dull as dishwater" with one hour of commercial television with ad breaks, organised in less than a week, with one journalist in a suit to ask "two blokes" questions. 

Mr. Rudd announced that the election day to be on September 7.  Mr. Rowley said holding the debate this early could help reduce the fallout from either Mr. Rudd or Mr. Abbott hitting one another.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott had proposed a local debates commission but it has yet to become a reality. 

Mr. Rudd has been constantly challenging Mr. Abbott to a debate in the last weeks.  Mr. Rudd said he was willing to have weekly debates but Liberal and Labor parties have only agreed on the upcoming debate on August 11.

In 2010, the leaders' debate had 3.4 million viewers on all four networks.  The Rudd-Abbott debate is expected to have a similar turnout, if not more.  

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