“It’ll be a bit of an arm-wrestle between Channel Nine and the ABC for the third one.”
Both sides expect the campaign to intensify after the Easter and Anzac Day public holidays, with polling stations opening on Monday for early voting for three weeks ahead of the May 18 election.
The National Press Club expressed concern that its proposal for a national debate, provided to all television networks in prime time, had not been taken up by the major parties.
Monday’s debate is being hosted by The West Australian newspaper and the Seven Network and will air on the lower-rating 7TWO channel rather than the network’s main channel. It will air at 7pm AEST.
The debate in Brisbane on Friday, May 3, is a “people’s forum” hosted by Sky News, airing at 6.30pm.
Nine Entertainment, the owner of the The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, sent a proposal for a debate to both major parties in early March. The Coalition indicated it wanted to accept the offer but Labor initially declined.
Nine Network news director Darren Wick said the network reached 12 million viewers and was “disappointed” Labor had not recognised the opportunity to impress voters.
ABC news director Gaven Morris also said Mr Shorten had turned down an invitation to a debate.
“The ABC also invited the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader to a debate to be broadcast in primetime on radio and television and across the national broadcaster’s ABC news platforms. The Opposition Leader declined the invitation,” Mr Morris said.
Labor said it was wrong to suggest it was avoiding scrutiny, adding that it was open to further debates.
Coalition campaign headquarters triggered the public dispute on Friday by saying it wanted more debates but that Mr Shorten was refusing because he expected voters to “rubber-stamp” him.
Mr Morrison intensified the attack by saying he was happy to have debates with Mr Shorten in addition to the two debates next week.
“I’m happy to have debates with Bill Shorten. We’ve got two coming up this next week but for some reason he doesn’t want to have them in the last two weeks of the campaign,” he said.
“I’m happy to have one with Nine. We’re having one with Seven on Monday. We’re having one with Sky at the end of [next] week. I’d be happy to have one with the ABC.
“I’ve personally been in touch with [ABC television host] Leigh Sales. I said I’d be quite happy for Leigh Sales, Bill Shorten and I in the same room. Fine by me.”
National Press Club chief executive Maurice Reilly said: “The National Press Club has made a submission to hold a leaders’ debate. The club was the traditional venue for the leaders’ debate in previous elections, and we did the first one back in 1984.
“In the absence of a debate commission, which is well-established in other countries like the US, the National Press Club is the most trusted neutral venue to hold the debate because it would provide it to every network in prime time.
“We’re disappointed that we’re not doing it.”
David Crowe is Chief Political Correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.