In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, where press conferences are streamed live to the masses, pre-election political debates are not what they once were.
Both Premier Dominic Perrottet and the man who wants his job – NSW Labor leader Chris Minns – prosecute each other’s policies across the pages of newspapers and nightly news bulletins almost every day.
So, a stage-managed televised debate between the pair was never going to stray too far from the talking points they have finessed over the course of an increasingly tight election campaign (not to mention long careers in politics).
Wednesday’s face-off between the two seasoned, ambitious, 40-something white blokes confirmed just how similar they really are, underscoring the fact voters will need to zero in on their policies and vision to determine who is the better man to steer the NSW ship.
But when it came to steering the leader’s debate, it seemed a steadier Minns largely had control of the wheel.
Throughout a fairly humdrum state campaign so far, one of the most significant differences between the two camps is their approach to spending – now and in the future.
Perrottet has been at pains to paint the Coalition as the stronger economic manager that will guarantee big infrastructure projects and plan for the future, while Minns insists the government has let spending run away, leaving a soaring debt bill in a mounting cost-of-living crisis.
“There’s $187 billion worth of debt. That’s the equivalent of about $20,000 for every man, woman and child in the state,” Minns declared on the debate floor on Wednesday. “It’s about $7 billion a year just in interest payments on that debt. More than we spend on the NSW Police.”
It was a line he persistently returned to, often forcing a defensive premier onto the backfoot. Watching from the sidelines of the studio debate, Perrottet at times seemed frustrated, while his opponent appeared more relaxed.
Minns has made clear his intentions to tighten the purse strings, including cancelling two planned stages of the metro. However, his appeal to voters was that he was simply being “truthful” and “upfront” about the state’s economic reality, while accusing Perrottet of promising $50 billion worth of unfunded liabilities.
But where Minns was unable to land a blow was on his long-touted promise to scrap the public sector wages cap. The Labor leader has so far failed to outline what wages would actually look like under a government he leads, meaning essential workers like teachers and nurses still have no guarantee they will be paid more under Labor.
While the Labor leader may have got over the line in a close finish, a one-hour debate will have little impact on the results of the looming election.
Ultimately, it must come down to a contest of ideas and who has the better blueprint for the state. And on Wednesday, Perrottet was the leader with a stronger voice inspiring a long-term vision for NSW.
There was no denying the state’s current debt position, he said, but that was the cost of delivering critical infrastructure, schools, hospitals, motorways and multibillion-dollar metro rail lines.
“[Labor’s] so focused on the short term. They’re never focused on setting up our state for our children and their children,” Perrottet bellowed, citing the $30 billion infrastructure backlog left by the last Labor government.
“I want our children to have more opportunity and prosperity than we have and that means you’ve got to plan for the future.”
Perrottet will hope his other big picture reforms – overhauling the gambling industry with cashless gaming and introducing a savings “future fund” for every child in NSW – will help drag him over the line come polling day.
Of the two men vying to lead NSW for the next four years, neither landed a killer blow on Wednesday nor demonstrated that they were head and shoulders above the other.
Perhaps that is not a bad thing. For the first time in decades NSW has two viable, competent leaders to choose from. Voters now have 10 days to make their decision.
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