ANALYSIS

Third leaders' debate: Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese battle wages, integrity and character in the final head-to-head

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Prime Minster Scott Morrison. Pictures: AAP
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Prime Minster Scott Morrison. Pictures: AAP

After Lego Masters was the warm up for the last leaders' debate on Channel Nine, this latest one on Channel Seven was all about the Big Brother lead-in vibe.

For sure, the pesky but much wanted cameras are on around the clock and every utterance and motion are dissected. Glory is within reach, but it has all become too much, people are cracking, "loose units" even!

And, as we know, someone has to go.

If only the contestants, Scott and Anthony, would cool their heels.

"You don't support the submarine contract?" asked the Prime Minister. "You don't either, you tore it up with the French," the Labor leader shot back.

But in the khaki-coloured cost of living election, wages are now the main battleground.

Mr Morrison was running lines, even the latest one that Mr Albanese was "loose with the economy with things like this".

His opponent said he wants no one left behind and he said again he wants wages to rise in line with inflation, but no, he did not want to put a figure on it.

Labor has been chipping away at how the lowest paid Australians will pay for how expensive the world has got.

It is a battle Labor wants to have.

Mr Morrison can only point to risk. The main drag for undecided swaying towards the ALP.

By not having a similar position to keep to the cost of living, it looks like the government wants to keep wages low.

But then the Prime Minister found a possible ace. Or scare.

"People won't be worrying about what their wages are, they will be worrying about whether they have a job," he lobbed at the audience.

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The third debate was a more controlled affair than the last shouty mess where Mr Morrison conceded the national vaccine rollout "was a race" and claimed never to have witnessed corruption during his 14 years in Parliament.

We'd heard a lot of it before. So much so, we got some snark from Channel Seven host Mark Riley when he said: "Thank you Prime Minister, you are smashing out those talking points."

And when the two leaders were offered to justify their rough character assessments of each other, they relished the chance to say them again.

Integrity, in particular the broken election promise to introduce a federal integrity commission, was a heated point. But even more so when the controversy over benched Education Minister Alan Tudge was raised.

The missing-in-action minister is campaigning and, according to Mr Morrison, he will be the Education Minister if the government is re-elected.

But to the question, "Don't taxpayers have a right to know why they have paid half-a-million dollars compensation to your Education Minister, Alan Tudge's press secretary and former lover if he apparently did nothing wrong?"

The answer appeared to be no, not before the election, as Mr Morrison said, "this matter I'm advised has not even been settled".

Then it was Mr Albanese's turn. What would he do if he was prime minister and one of his ministers did what Mr Tudge did? He'd make sure there was more transparency was about it. Not exactly a big shift from Mr Morrison.

The line of questioning then turned to the death of Labor senator Kimberley Kitching. There is no push for an inquiry. Mr Albanese said no one has made a formal complaint. So Mr Morrison took the high road.

"When I was presented with a sensitive issue like that I called an independent inquiry," he said.

Noting here, as the Labor leader did, that Mr Tudge's former staffer Rachelle Miller didn't give evidence as she felt the process was flawed and a "political fix".

Which brought us to arguably the best point of the night, thanks to Mr Riley: "Isn't the point here, that we need an independent integrity commission to deal with these matters and take them out of the hands of politicians?"

Perhaps the most telling moments from the night were at the end, when both were offered a chance to say something nice about each other.

Going first, the Prime Minister admired his opponent but, "you can't be loose on the economy". That again. A classic Morrison pivot.

Mr Albanese kept it shorter and straighter, "Scott's absolutely committed to his nation. And I admire that." He then said something positive about his mental health measures while in government.

Who won the night? Civility had a comeback. The candidates are differentiating themselves.

But this political Big Brother show of an election campaign, with entrants Scott and Anthony, is about to end. And as they say at the end, "It's time to go.... "

Ohh! Who will it be?

Just over a week to go.

This story Less shouting, more seething in the final leaders' debate first appeared on The Canberra Times.