It looks like Australia’s federal election campaign is starting to do some warm-ups, with a televised health debate between the Prime Minister (Kevin Rudd) and the Opposition Leader (Tony Abbott) scheduled for this afternoon. I’m looking forwards to it!

For non-Australian readers, Kevin Rudd belongs to the (leftwing) Labor party, and Tony Abbott is Liberal (right-wing conservative party, despite the name!).

I’ll write up an after-action report this afternoon once the debate is finished, but these are a few things I’m expecting to see.

  • A lot of bashing (from both sides). I hope both sides bring forth substance, not just rhetoric.
  • Rudd will attack Abbott’s history as a health minister; Abbott will defend it.
  • Abbott will attack Rudd’s plan to federalise hospitals- Rudd will defend it
  • Rudd will demand Abbott produce his plan- I hope Abbott does show some policy, not just destroying Labor’s policy

I should make clear that I’m barracking for Abbott, but my major concern is that Abbott will be seen as having no alternative, that he’s just being negative. A debate might not be the best place to introduce your own bill, but he needs some substance.

The debate should be fascinating because of a couple of reasons…

Firstly, Tony Abbott shoots from the hip and tells it as he sees it, which I think contrasts with Kevin Rudd’s polished, rehearsed style. Also, Abbott was the health minister nearly twice as long as the Rudd government has been in power, while health is traditionally Labor territory. Therefore both politicians are “on their home ground”, so to speak.

Thirdly, it is strange that the Prime Minister arranged for this debate, and was so willing to clash with Abbott. According to traditional political strategy, debates help Opposition leaders more than incumbents because they are on an equal footing with the Prime Minister and can take free hits at him. Yet Rudd has sought out this debate and promised more debates later on in the year. From what I’ve heard, Labor is hoping to use the debate as a platform to give their health policy some air-time- even if Abbott benefits more in the short term. Rather risky- Abbott is a former boxer and no slouch at free-flowing debate so watching this will be absolutely fascinating.