Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten kept things in "play it safe" territory for Sunday night's first proper leader's debate, and while we didn't learn much in the way of new policy, we did learn one key issue that will be hammered into the brains of the electorate at large for the next five weeks until election day.
Specifically, that the Labor Party will try to convince voters that they can trust a Shorten government; and that the Liberals will work hard to cast doubt on that idea.
Broadcast to a captive Sunday night audience on free-to-air television, the debate was a chance for both leaders to speak directly to mainstream voters, in an extended format, for the first time this election. It could have gotten heated, as Shorten and Turnbull had a rare chance to stoush on the same stage. Instead, it was tame, reserved, as both leaders simply trotted out their talking points and stump speeches. Indeed, the Prime Minister's opening address was taken almost word-for-word from a video posted to his social media on Tuesday.
If we embrace the future with confidence and a clear plan then we will succeed like we have never succeeded beforehttps://t.co/OJjtrb88HM— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) May 24, 2016
"We live in remarkable times. An era unprecedented in human history where the pace and scale of economic change is pre-eminent and unprecedented," Turnbull said in his opener, mirroring his video.
The leaders sparred meekly on issues like company tax, health, education and superannuation, but the overarching theme was trust -- specifically, who voters can, or cannot, trust.
"Tonight I would like to talk directly to the Australian people. And I thank you for taking the time to listen. This election is not just about the next three years. It's about the next 10 and 15 and 20 years," Shorten said in his opening remarks.
"You can trust Labor to protect Medicare. Trust Labor to stand up for education and training. Trust Labor to ensure fair taxation and housing affordability. Trust Labor to take action on renewable energy and climate change. Trust Labor to ensure the equal treatment of women in our society."
It was a theme that was instantly picked up by the Labor-affiliated unions, who rushed out some graphics on that very issue.
Shorten was soon asked a question about trust -- specifically, the tumultuous years of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd leadership changes, and he response again hammered home the message that Australians can trust the ALP again.
"Well, Labor's learnt its lesson about that difficult period and I'm fortunate to lead a very united team but we do talk about trust tonight in this election. Labor can be trusted on Medicare... Labor can be trusted on education... Labor can be trusted on climate change," he said.
"You can trust Labor on fair taxation and to provide more action on home affordability and you can certainly trust Labor to ensure that women in our society get an equal go."
Later, he pushed the message again.
"Australians can trust me to be consistent about a range of issues... Australians can trust Labor not to support under any circumstances a 15% GST. Australians can trust Labor to always defend Medicare, especially against privatising any of the parts of Medicare. Australia can always trust Labor to make sure working class and middle class families get a fair go from the workplaces to the schools to making sure their kids get a fair crack at getting to university," Shorten said.
Turnbull later went on the attack.
"As for the prospect of a Shorten-Labor government, how would you know what they are going to do in government? I mean -- a few weeks ago, Labor said they were going to take every day to the election, a promise, a pledge, to roll back our abolition of the school kids bonus... And then on Thursday, Mr Shorten did a backflip. Uncluttered by any consultation with his shadow cabinet, he made that decision on the run,"the Prime Minister said.
"Now, how can you believe any promise that he has made? How can you be sure that anything he pledges will be proposed in government?"
The debate briefly turned to asylum seekers and climate change, with both leaders sticking to their tried-and-true answers, with the only talking point being Shorten calling out "shame on you Mr Turnbull" after the PM claimed the people smuggling trade would restart under Labor.
Then, it was over. With almost zero new information or policy coming from either leader, other than the proliferation of negative shots at each other, it was criticised by many journalists and political types for being stale and flat.
this isn't really a debate. It's two press conferences being held next to each other. #leadersdebate— Owen. (@owenwareham) May 29, 2016
OK have a good think. When have you last watched 40 minutes of television more boring than you've just watched?— Barrie Cassidy (@barriecassidy) May 29, 2016
#leadersdebate : There's never been a better time to have a microsleep.— Marc Fennell (@marcfennell) May 29, 2016
It's unclear when, or whether, we will get more debates through the rest of the campaign, but with almost five weeks to go until July 2, it'd be a safe bet that we get at least another one.
So, what did you think? Who won? Vote below.
Alright, let's do this. In the absence of the worm, who is winning #leadersdebate?— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) May 29, 2016