What we learned from the third and final leaders' debate

There was no pool of undecided voters to judge who won the last debate between Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten, but both leaders landed blows on their opponents.

In the third and final debate between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor Leader Bill Shorten, the choice facing voters at this election was clearer than ever.

Mr Shorten pressed the case for change, arguing it would be "business as usual" for another three years under the Coalition, while the prime minister focused on the cost of change. 

Bill Shorten and Scott Morrison shake hands before the third leaders debate in Canberra.
Source: AAP

It was a wide-ranging debate covering everything from religious freedom to child care and each leader was given the opportunity to directly question each other.

So what did we learn about the two major parties' policies and who was more convincing on the key issues? 

Asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru

Asked to nominate an example of something they've pursued that was unpopular, but the right thing to do, both leaders named boat turnbacks. 

That prompted a question from moderator Sabra Lane about the future of the 950 people left on Manus Island and Nauru. 

Bill Shorten reiterated Labor's intention to revisit an offer from New Zealand to resettle refugees currently in offshore detention and opened the door to making agreements with other countries. 

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

Mr Morrison stated that no refugees would be returned to the country they were persecuted but did not offer any other plans aside from the existing agreement with the United States.  

Climate change

The issue of climate change again centred around what impact Labor's policies would have on the economy.

Mr Morrison invoked his children as he agreed on the need for action on climate change, but said that his government was taking a responsible approach. 

"Action is being taken. Businesses are making investments. They’re making themselves more competitive. They’re simply saying, “Tell us the price, Bill. Tell us the price.”

"It’s not a dishonest question, it’s a fair question because they’ll have to pay it."

Mr Shorten again tried to spin the costs to businesses as an investment in the nation's future and highlighted that carbon pollution has been growing under the coalition.

Mr Shorten responded: "The idea that you only look at the investments in new energy without looking at the consequences of not acting on climate change is a charlatan argument, it’s a crooked charlatan argument."

The focus was on Labor policies during the debate.
Source: AAP

Mr Morrison said his opponent was taking for granted that there was already action being taken on climate change and increased investment in renewable energy.

Cancer treatment

Mr Shorten used his first question to the prime minister to ask whether the coalition would match Labor's plans to cover more cancer services on Medicare. 

The prime minister stressed that in the public system, all treatment is government-funded.

But Mr Shorten suggested the prime minister was out of touch with the out-of-pocket costs people with cancer are facing in the public system.


Mr Morrison scored a point against his opponent when he pressed Mr Shorten to give a guarantee that rents would not go up as a result of Labor curbing negative gearing. 

"So I take it that’s a no? That’s a no?" Mr Morrison interjected. 

Mr Shorten was forced to concede he could not give a guarantee. 

"You heard the answer."

On franking credits, Mr Shorten said those refunds have been a gift which has become unsustainable.

Mr Morrison provided a detailed explanation of the refunds, in an effort to highlight that they are aimed at preventing people from being taxed twice.

Opposition Bill Shorten and Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the third debate.
Source: AAP

Economic management

Mr Shorten said a Labor government would not need to create a bigger deficit if there is a sharp downturn in the global economy, because of the extra tax revenue it would be raking in through reforms.

He also committed to producing surpluses.

The prime minister bent the rules of grammar as he talked up the government's economic credentials. 

"We brought the budget back to surplus next year," he said. 

Mr Shorten was quick to point out it will not be known whether the government delivered a surplus in 2019/20 as forecast until later next year.

Religious freedom

Responding to a question from debate moderator Sabra Lane about fallen Wallabies star Israel Folau's case, Mr Shorten said he was "uneasy" about the situation. 

"I don't think if you're gay you're going to hell. ... So I am uneasy. On the Folau matter I'm also uneasy if he has genuinely held views and he could suffer some sort of really significant penalty," he said. 

While Mr Morrison said he admired people of religious conviction but public figures had a higher responsibility and Folau was subject to contract and employment law. 

Additional reporting by AAP

Published 8 May 2019 at 10:02pm, updated 9 May 2019 at 9:25am
By Rosemary Bolger