Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese battled over whether low-paid workers should be given a pay rise in the final leadership debate, with the Labor Leader saying the lift would work out to be the price of about “two cups of coffee a day”.
In contrast, the Prime Minister insisted it would put jobs at risk.
In what was a markedly more civil and policy-focused debate than when the pair faced off earlier in the week, the minimum wage was where the two leaders struck a clear difference in their platforms — which are similar on many other major issues.
The debate was broadcast on Channel Seven, and 7NEWS Political Editor and moderator Mark Riley ran a tight ship to make sure the two leaders stayed on topic and didn’t descend into a screaming match.
On wages, Mr Albanese said it was up to the Fair Work Commission which “makes a decision independent of Government”, but said low-wage workers were the “heroes of the pandemic” and deserved a rise.
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A 5.1 per cent rise to the current minimum wage of $20.33 would equate to just an extra $1 hour — the same as two cups of coffee a day, he said.
“What we are talking about here, if the Fair Work Commission grants a 5 per cent increase, that’s two cups of coffee a day, and the idea that two cups of coffee a day is something that would damage the economy is, I believe, just not the case, “ he said.
Asked by Riley why he was opposing an increase which seemed “pretty reasonable”, the PM argued the wage increase would put jobs at risk.
“If Mr Albanese thinks small businesses around the country can have a 5 per cent increase in their wages bill on top of all the other things they’re facing — and see their ability to come through — then people won’t be worrying about what their wages are, they will be worrying about whether they have a job,” he said.
The comments came after Mr Morrison had escalated his attacks on Mr Albanese’s economic credentials on Wednesday accusing the Labor Leader of being a “loose unit” for expressing his support for a 5 per cent lift in the minimum wage.
Labor hit pack by labelling the PM “the pay-cut prime minister”.
In one of the moments where the debate did get nastier, the Prime Minister called Mr Albanese an “armchair critic”.
“For the past three years Mr Albanese has been an armchair critic. He is like that person on Monday morning who always says what should have happened on the weekend, “ the PM said.
Mr Albanese said the PM always had someone else to blame.
“He said he didn’t hold a hose in the bushfires, in the pandemic he said that it wasn’t a race to get vaccines,” he said.
You know what we need in this country . . . we need leadership that is prepared to accept a good idea and accept something that is working when it clearly is.
When they were asked by Riley to say one nice thing about one another, the PM said he admired the fact Mr Albanese had been raised by a single mother public housing and then gone to become Labor Leader.
But the comment quickly turned political with Mr Morrison then saying: “That’s great. But you know, to do this job you need to know your stuff . . . you can’t be loose on the economy.”
Both leaders ruled out a carbon tax when asked by The West Australian Federal Political Editor Lanai Scarr.
“Never have, never will have a mining or a carbon tax,” the PM said.
Mr Albanese said “we will certainly rule them out and have done so”.
The Labor Leader said the Government had “22 different energy policies and haven’t landed one of them” claiming he would end the “climate change wars”.
“Business is so far ahead of the government with its strategies. That’s why our policy will end the climate wars . . . we need to move on this from this debate. Climate change is real and it’s here now. We see it with the bushfires and floods,” he said.
On the issue of asylum boat turn-backs, Mr Albanese said the Government’s policy had worked and it would not change if Labor wins.
“You know what we need in this country . . . we need leadership that is prepared to accept a good idea and accept something that is working when it clearly is,” he said.
“The truth is that boat turn-backs have worked, I’ve said we support it. We clearly are sending that message. None of those policies will change under a Labor government.”
The PM said the Labor leader “wouldn’t know because he hasn’t done it”.
“He can’t speak with any great knowledge about what he would be confronted with,” Mr Morrison said.
The PM had what was described by commentators following the debate as a “wobbly moment” when he was grilled about a payout of more than $500,000 to Education Minister Alan Tudge’s former staffer Rachelle Miller.
Ms Miller has alleged Mr Tudge emotionally, and on one occasion physically, abused her. Mr Tudge has denied all claims.
The PM said he was “happy to have (Mr Tudge) come back and serve in the ministry”.
“I welcome that,” he said.
Undecided voters in marginal seats around the country voted on the winner with Anthony Albanese emerging on top.
Of the voters, 50 per cent chose Anthony Albanese, 34 per cent picked Mr Morrison and 16 per cent said they remain undecided.