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Morrison, Albanese spar over energy, wages, China

Article Republished By Javier Troconis

In a rare concession, Mr Morrison accepted he was wrong to say the national push to get vaccinated against coronavirus was “not a race” after the government was accused of bungling the roll out.

“It was a race, Anthony, and we shouldn’t have described it in those terms,” the PM said.

“We had our setbacks, but we came back, we got the vaccines and we now have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, as well as one of the stronger economies and one of the lowest death rates from COVID.”

China debate gets fiery

The fieriest clash was over China. Asked whether his description of a potential Chinese military base in Solomon Islands as a “red line” meant Australia would blockade the Pacific nation, Mr Morrison said he would not speculate.

“What is necessary in international environments such as this is to be very clear about what the various partners’ positions are. That is the United States’ position and certainly our position, and I believe it is a broader position of the Pacific Islanders family as well,” he said.

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“People understand that we would work with partners to ensure that the outcome would prevent it.”

Mr Albanese said Solomon Islands’ security pact with China was a massive foreign policy failure.

“The government said they would have the Pacific step-up. Instead, it is a Pacific stuff-up,” he said.

Anthony Albanese hit back at criticism of Labor, and accusations it was a friend of the Chinese Communist Party. Alex Ellinghausen

As Mr Morrison tried to ask Mr Albanese about why the previous Labor government had cut defence spending, the opposition leader pivoted to the Port of Darwin sale under the former Northern Territory Country Liberal government.

“When I was a minister, we put US Marines into Darwin. When you have been a minister we have had the Port of Darwin sold to a company connected with the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr Albanese said.

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Mr Morrison denied the federal government had any role in being able to stop the sale.

Asked by panellist Chris Uhlmann why some of the loudest pro-Beijing voices came from within Labor ranks, Mr Albanese described it as “outrageous slur”.

“The Chinese Communist Party has changed. It is more forward-leaning, more aggressive, and that means that Australia must respond and work with our allies and partners in the new era as strategic competition,” Mr Albanese said.

The first direct exchange between the leaders was over energy policy, with Mr Morrison arguing power prices had dropped 10 per cent since he became prime minister, and that consumers were receiving more competitive prices under the Coalition.

“What we have done is actually cut electricity prices. Under the Labor Party, electricity prices more than doubled when they were last in,” he said.

“We have supply agreements out of the biggest companies to ensure that the gas that is going into our energy economy, we are paying about a quarter to a third of what the international price is, and we have the big retail legislation on the big energy companies to put the strength back onto the consumer to ensure they were getting a better deal.”

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Mr Albanese said the Coalition had failed to address “the low-hanging fruit” of improving the energy market by tackling transmission to cope with the influx of renewable energy into the grid.

“It is the same reason why someone puts a solar panel on the roof because what it does is, you make that investment and it reduces your power prices,”

Back to basics

With polls showing the government languishing, Mr Morrison used his opening remarks to reinforce that the Coalition was best able to deliver a stronger economy and hence stronger future.

“This is a choice between strength and weakness, a choice between certainty and uncertainty. What you know about the government and what you don’t know about the Labor Party and the opposition who have had three years to tell you but haven’t,” Mr Morrison said.

Mr Albanese emphasised Labor’s hip pocket policies, including reducing the cost of childcare and pharmaceuticals as well as free TAFE and additional support for aged care.

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“The truth is, we cannot afford just three more years of the same, three more years of drift and neglect, three more years of not accepting responsibility,” Mr Albanese said.

Mr Morrison rejected that he should take responsibility for last week’s interest rate rise, saying international factors were at play and claiming credit for driving down the unemployment rate to a 48-year low.

“The best protection you have against rising costs of living is your job and having security in your job,” Mr Morrison said.

The panel for Nine’s election applied the blowtorch at times during the debate. Alex Ellinghausen

But Mr Albanese countered that job insecurity such as labour hire was on the rise and the government had no plan to increase wages.

But the opposition leader failed to offer a guarantee that wages under a Labor government would rise faster than inflation and stop the erosion of living standards.

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“Our objective is to have real wage increases. The difference between myself and the current government and Scott Morrison is that we will try to do what we can in measures and structures to improve real wages,” Mr Albanese said.

When the leaders had an opportunity to put questions to each other, Mr Albanese asked whether all Australian workers should be paid at least the minimum wage of $20.33.

“It depends if they are running a business or not. I mean if you are running a business, I can tell you who doesn’t get the minimum wage necessarily – small business owners when the money is not coming in,” Mr Morrison said.

Mr Morrison defended himself over claims he was divisive and a liability for moderate Liberal MPs, saying he had ended the revolving door of leadership. He attacked Mr Albanese for lacking experience.

“You have 53 reviews announced during this campaign and that is more than the number of policies you have announced. You will hit the ground reviewing if you come to government,” Mr Morrison said.

“You cannot run to be prime minister and just say ‘I will make it up when I get there’.”

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Mr Morrison used his question to undermine Mr Albanese’s credibility, accusing him of flip-flopping over a raft of policy issues including negative gearing, boat turnbacks, tax cuts and government subsidises to build a gas-fired power station in the NSW Hunter Valley.

“Given you have changed your mind on so things you are passionately against, how can Australians believe you are now for them?” Mr Morrison said.

‘No corruption’

Mr Albanese replied that as Labor leader, he had started policy development “anew’.

Mr Albanese accused the Prime Minister of blocking action to establish a national anti-corruption commission, after Mr Morrison denied having witnessed any corruption in government.

He said Labor had no serious plan for a commission and had chosen not to put forward legislation.

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The Labor leader said most people went into politics for the right reasons, with good intentions.

“But the truth is, there is a stench around Canberra at the moment,” he said.

Mr Morrison was asked if he believed the problem of mistreatment of women in Parliament House had been resolved. A series of reviews were launched after the alleged rape of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins in Parliament’s ministerial wing.

“No, I don’t believe it has been resolved,” Mr Morrison said. “I don’t think it is fixed in any workplace around the country.”

The second debate comes at a pivotal time during the campaign, with a large number of voters undecided and Mr Albanese struggling to define himself after a series of stumbles on the hustings.

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But those mistakes don’t appear to faze voters, with the latest The Australian Financial Review-Ipsos Poll showing Labor’s lead strengthening over the government, as last week’s interest rate rise and cost of living pressures dominate people’s thinking.

The leaders will hold their final televised debate on Wednesday night hosted by the Seven Network.

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