Mr Morrison sought to put pressure on Mr Shorten by interrupting him with questions, a tactic that appeared effective during the debate but may have backfired when audience members cast their verdicts in the event hosted by the Seven Network and The West Australian.
While 25 audience members declared Mr Shorten the winner, only 12 voted for Mr Morrison and another 11 were undecided.
On asylum seeker arrivals, Mr Shorten accepted that boat turnbacks worked and assured the audience he had convinced his party to accept this position as well.
“I accept the lessons of the past. And I accept that where the Liberal Party has an idea or parts of an idea which I think work, I’ll adopt it,” Mr Shorten said.
“What people hate in Australian politics is when one side says there’s nothing good on the other side and vice-versa. Well, I’m not going to be that sort of prime minister if I get elected.”
Mr Morrison emphasised economic management and played heavily on the risk of changing government when there were challenges – which he did not elaborate upon – in the years ahead.
“We have brought the budget back into surplus and that means we can be relied upon to keep it in surplus and pay down the debt,” Mr Morrison said.
“As a government we believe the choice is to lower taxes because we think, as we go into what is going to be a very difficult period ahead, that we’ve got to get it all very much on track.
“We’ve got to keep our spending under control, we’ve got to keep our taxes under control.”
In a format that gave Mr Shorten the closing remarks, the Opposition Leader reminded the audience of the leadership change under the Coalition, the Liberal Party’s preference deal with mining magnate Clive Palmer and the Nationals’ preference arrangements with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.
“The reality is that in the last six years when you voted for Tony Abbott you ended up getting Malcolm Turnbull, when you voted for Malcolm Turnbull last time you got Mr Morrison,” Mr Shorten said.
“When you vote for Mr Morrison this time, who knows, you might get Clive Palmer or Pauline Hanson.
“The chaos has to stop. But as important as the instability of the current government is the question: is this a strong economy for who? Who benefits at the moment?”
Mr Shorten said childcare costs were up, private health insurance was a “luxury” and the government was not properly funding schools and technical education.
In the “gotcha” question of the evening, Mr Shorten was unable to name the price of the Nissan Leaf, an electric vehicle that starts at $49,990 before onroad costs, but Mr Morrison did not nominate the price either. The Prime Minister instead noted that electric vehicles cost $28,000 more than petrol equivalents.
“That’s great. We’ve got a Prime Minister spending his time in the motor pages. That’s super,” Mr Shorten said.
“That’s where most Australians often spend their time, mate. They read about cars, they read about races,” Mr Morrison replied.
“I’m not talking about who won the fifth at Flemington, digger,” Mr Shorten said.
The leaders will face-off again in Brisbane on Friday night.
David Crowe is Chief Political Correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.