Image for The Sky News ‘leader’s debate’: the question not asked

The Sky News ‘leaders debate’ may have covered a broad range of issues but there was one question that went unasked: why was David Bartlett so insistent on a debate which excluded the leader of the Greens, Nick McKim? The reasons speak to the Bartlett’s government’s reliance on spin and on trying to narrow the breadth of the debate while simultaneously claiming that it is about ‘restoring trust in democracy’.

With the latest EMRS poll pointing to a minority government, the absence of McKim from the stage rendered the event a charade. Bartlett and Hodgman were free to make largely uncontested claims about the Greens’ proposed spending plans, forestry policy or the impact of minority government.

To create a semblance of Greens participation, Sky News host David Speers stated that he had spoken to McKim earlier in the day and had a question on the cost of living pressures facing Tasmanians to put to the other leaders. It was an awkward intervention that begged the question of why McKim wasn’t there. But given that the debate had been stitched up between Bartlett’s media advisor, Matt Rogers, and Speers himself, it was not surprising that the moderator didn’t inform the audience of the backstory.

While the debate itself would have reached a tiny Tasmanian audience, the biggest media impact is from the spin-off articles in today’s newspapers.

The two leaders, we are informed in a front page article in The Mercury, agreed that a minority government “would be bad for business, with Mr Bartlett saying a hung parliament would ‘cost jobs’”. The Australian’s Matthew Denholm has a concise analysis of the debate but no mention that Mckim was excluded. (There is no story on the debate on the websites of The Examiner or The Advocate).

The only articles to mention McKim’s exclusion were by journalists who weren’t on the debate panel. In a page 5 story in The Mercury, Michael Stedman wrote that “Greens leader Nick McKim was excluded at the insistence of the Premier”. A brief ABC report on the debate states that it was “organised by the Premier’s office and broadcast on pay television”.

The Sky News event was a debate contrived to focus on the two parties both pretending that they can form a majority government. But ultimately, Bartlett’s PR strategy of refusing to agree to an ABC debate involving McKim has failed. The poll results are so bad for Labor that Bartlett now has agreed to participate in a three-way leaders debate in a special edition of ABC-TV’s Stateline program to be broadcast at 8pm on Tuesday night.

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Mark’s view of the debate: HERE