Morrison And Shorten Face Off In 'Weird' Debate That Annoyed Everyone

Compared to a dating show, a TV quiz and even burning your hand on an oven -- the first leaders' debate of the 2019 election campaign is done, and we don't know much more than when we went into it.

Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten have been throwing barbs at one another for days over debate scheduling and formats. With only two debates locked in so far -- Monday's event on Channel 7's digital channel, and another on Sky News -- there have been calls for a primetime TV debate on a mainstream broadcast channel such as the ABC.

After this first muted and anticlimactic debate, many may ponder the value in subjecting themselves to yet more hours of pre-scripted, canned answers to rote questions.

The 7TWO debate, broadcast from Perth, saw the two leaders shadow-boxing and circling one another, teasing jabs but both seemingly willing to let the clock run down to a 12th-round stalemate.

Morrison was the more combative of the two, directing answers -- and even some questions of his own -- to the Labor leader, interrupting and badgering. Shorten looked keen to use the hour-long debate as an opportunity to speak directly to the Australian people, talking right down the barrel of the camera, to the point that the hosts had to gently remind him that he could talk to Morrison, sitting less than a metre away from him on a rickety bar stool.

Shorten, who the Liberals have accused of avoiding debates, seemed the calmer and more comfortable of the two -- and indeed, he won over the majority of the 48 undecided voters in the audience, with 25 saying he won the event and just 12 picking Morrison, with 11 undecided.

Questions on the economy, leadership turmoils, climate change and emissions policy, and trust in politics came from the moderators.

"For the first time in a long time, the Prime Minister that they elect at this election will be the Prime Minister that will serve over the next three years," Morrison pledged, after a question about the leadership spills on both sides of politics in recent years.

Many viewers online were left a little peeved at the debate format, which allowed a brief answer from each leader before an open "debate" was allowed, but it was quickly punctuated and wrapped up by host Basil Zemplas -- whose constant interjections, sometimes at the point where an interesting line of debate was threatening to rear its head, left many frustrated.

Some criticised the lumping together of three topics of "boats, religion and national security" in one question, with host Zemplas introducing the topic in the context of the Christchurch mosque terror attack.

The most interesting moment came as an older gentleman asked Shorten about the particulars of his policy to abolish franking credit refunds for older Australians who don't pay any tax -- specifically, what would be the impact on pensioners.

Shorten replied that it would have no effect on pensioners.

Morrison interjected to imply that the refunds were fair for older people who had paid tax their entire lives.

When each leader was asked what they liked about the other, Morrison curtly answered that he admired anyone who entered public service through politics; Shorten's answer was a little more considered, praising Morrison's focus on mental health services and policy.

The hour-long debate, meant to wrap at 8pm on the east coast, saw its closing statements happening at 7.50pm. The moderators seemed taken aback and surprised that they had come in so far under time, so tacked on another question -- after the "closing statements" -- to fill in a bit more time.

But the unwillingness of both leaders to stray beyond tried-and-tested talking points, the lack of any new information, and the quick shifting between topics, had many annoyed.

Many believed the debate would do little to shift voter sentiment one way or the other -- which, it could be argued, was exactly the outcome that both leaders wanted, simply to not trip up and send any crucial voters the other way.

With the Sky News debate scheduled for Friday in Brisbane, and the possibility of another in Sydney next week, it remains to be seen whether the leaders rev up and let loose their engines as we approach polling day.

Featured Image: AAP.