Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten and Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the third Leaders’ Debate at the National Press Club in Canberra. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP
Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten and Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the third Leaders’ Debate at the National Press Club in Canberra. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Border tension as leaders go face-to-face

BORDER security became a hot issue in the election campaign for the first time last night as Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten faced off for the third time.

Bitter barbs flew as the two leaders clashed on climate change, negative gearing and the affordability of child care.

It turned more testy as Mr Shorten joked that a re-elected Coalition would have to promote a lot of MPs because so many of its ministers quit before the election.

"No need to get nasty," the Prime Minister said.

"(Industrial Relations Minister) Kelly O'Dwyer is a dear friend of mine, who decided to retire from parliament because of her choices, about her own family."

Mr Morrison revealed embattled Environment Minister Melissa Price would keep her job if the Coalition held power, while Mr Shorten was unable to say who would head up the powerful Home Affairs department.

Mr Shorten went on the attack over questions about his lack of climate change policy costings, saying it was a "crooked Charlatan's argument".

 

He compared the cost of tackling climate change to those faced by firms forced to stop dumping chemicals in the river or using asbestos.

"It is a dishonest argument when you don't look at the net benefit," he said.

But Mr Morrison said questions needed to be asked because it was business that would have to pay them.

"It's about 10 or days so that everyone will go to the polls and we still haven't heard what the cost to Australians is," he said.

He said voters should not have to pick between the economy and the environment, saying you could accommodate both by setting responsible targets.

Both leaders nominated boat turnbacks as an unpopular decision they had made that was also the right call.

Mr Morrison said it had been one of the most difficult decisions he'd made in parliament, but it achieved results.

"We saved thousands of lives and we were able to secure our borders and ensure that ultimately we have got every child out of detention and off Nauru," he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the final Leaders’ Debate in Canberra. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP
Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the final Leaders’ Debate in Canberra. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Mr Shorten said "some in my party didn't want to support boat turnbacks", but he agreed with the policy, because the defeat of people smugglers proved that Labor had needed to change.

But the two differed on their approach to the remaining 950 asylum seekers left on Manus Island and Nauru.

Mr Morrison said they would be resettled through the refugee resettlement program, while Mr Shorten said Labor would revive a deal to send them to New Zealand.

"If I was elected your PM, we would put as much effort as we humanly could to resettle them," he said.

"We would redouble our efforts, we would contemplate using NZ as a source to resettle people and revisiting that offer from (NZ Prime Minister) Jacinda Ardern."

Since 2013, NZ has offered to resettle at least 150 refugees in detention on Nauru.

Labor's plan to scrap negative gearing on existing properties also led to fireworks between the leaders.

Mr Morrison claimed the policy would force down house prices and push up rents, demanding the Opposition Leader guarantee this would not be the case.

But Mr Shorten said he was putting first-home buyers ahead of future investors.

"We hear from the Government, nothing to see here, move along, please," he said.

"Climate change, child care affordability, first-home buyers, no problems in Australia. They want more of the same of the last six years."

Both leaders insisted they would deliver a Budget surplus and would not allow a deficit even if there was a sharp economic downturn.

Mr Shorten argued a ­budget surplus was needed to create "a national fighting fund to deal with what happens in the future".

Bill Shorten and Scott Morrison shake hands at the start of The Leaders’ Debate. Picture: Liam Kidston
Bill Shorten and Scott Morrison shake hands at the start of The Leaders’ Debate. Picture: Liam Kidston

Mr Morrison took a swipe at Labor, saying the Coalition could trusted to deliver a surplus while the last time Labor did was in 1989.

Each declared an end to leadership instability, as Mr Morrison said both parties had changed the rules.

"I think there's been a ­toxicity in politics, which Australians have grown very tired of," he said.

But Mr Shorten said climate change was a bigger fault line within the Coalition than leadership.

"Half of the Liberal Party don't accept climate change is real or if they think it's real, they don't think they should do anything about it," he said.

Mr Shorten stopped short of saying he was sorry for the role he played in deposing two prime ministers - Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard - saying instead he regretted the "instability in our time".

The third debate was held in the National Press Club in Canberra was conducted in front of an audience with half chosen by each major party.

It was the third debate of the campaign so far, with Mr Shorten securing victory in the first two match-ups.

Mr Shorten decisively triumphed the first debate in Perth, winning over 25 of 48 undecided voters, compared to just 12 for Mr Morrison while 11 remained unsure.

It was a much closer event for the Sky News/The Courier-Mail People's Forum in Brisbane last week, with Mr Shorten narrowly edging in front 43 votes to 41, with 16 of the 100 audience members still undecided.