Who won the debate and why? Our experts deliver their verdicts

Dominic Perrottet and Chris Minns have faced off in a lively and robust leaders’ debate ahead of the NSW election.

Seven experts from the Herald – Lucy Cormack, Tom Rabe, Matt Wade, Jordan Baker, Matt O’Sullivan, Harriet Alexander and Michael Koziol – ran their eyes over the arguments and performances of both leaders.

It was a very, very close call.

Dominic Perrottet and Chris Minns faced off in the leaders’ debate.Credit:Kathleen Adele

State political reporter

VERDICT: Minns win

There were plenty of sparks throughout this debate, with notable flashpoints on privatisation, tolls and the Coalition’s infrastructure record: roads, public transport and development.
Both leaders took furious notes throughout and had each other on the ropes. I thought Minns largely dominated the first half of the debate where Perrottet struggled to talk over him at times.
The Labor leader also threw in a “calm down” towards Perrottet which unsteadied the premier momentarily.

Minns had a lot of tough talk about the realities of the budget and the state’s deficit to justify why Labor will look to restrain spending. Although the premier cast this down as a “lack of vision” and a failure to plan for the future. But the Labor leader generally spoke with greater clarity on his policies, and on issues of female representation he was able to show up the premier’s failure to improve the path for women in his own party.

To my mind, Minns did better to cut through for the win.

State political reporter

VERDICT: Minns win

There’s not a lot separating these two guys at the best of times, personally or politically.

But in a relatively lacklustre campaign, one of the biggest differences which has emerged between the two has been on spending, and Minns was able to better argue why his plan for more budget restraint was the right one. He pushed Perrottet onto the back foot several times, attacking him over the soaring debt he’s racked up, and by arguing infrastructure wasn’t being built in the right areas. Western Sydney is suffering, he said.

Despite Perrottet ruling it out as many times as he could, Minns hammered home the Coalition’s track record on privatisation and warned history would repeat itself if they were returned to government.

It wasn’t all one-way traffic though, Minns was shaky on his plan to scrap the public sector wages cap, and couldn’t guarantee nurses and teachers would earn more under a Labor government. But even when the premier was meant to be asking the questions, he ended up forced to respond to Minns’ counter arguments. I thought the Labor leader was the one who looked most in control through most of the debate.

Senior economics writer



Chief reporter

VERDICT: Minns win

Perrottet seemed flustered during Wednesday’s debate; there was a sense of frustration that his narrative was not being understood. Minns was calm, almost casual. He drove the discussion and put Perrottet in a defensive position, leaving the premier picking at flaws in Labor’s arguments and justifying his policies.

Minns was on the front foot early. He wasn’t afraid to be frank – veering into small target territory – when he refused to say whether public sector workers would be paid more, and answered the Coalition’s plan for reducing grocery prices by pointing out the government did not control those costs.

But Perrottet landed a hit when he accused Minns of a lack of vision and recalled the repeated promises of the former Labor government to build a north-west rail line, which was eventually built by the Coalition. He drew attention to the downside of Minns’ caution and expectation management, which is the lack of a grand plan for the state’s future.

His tribute to his predecessor Gladys Berejiklian was also heartfelt, and Perrottet gave an eloquent explanation of his cashless gaming policy in contrast with Minns’ convoluted, unconvincing response.

If confidence during this debate was any indication, Minns expects to win.

Transport and infrastructure editor

VERDICT: Perrottet win

With surging inflation at the top of voters’ minds, Minns and Perrottet repeatedly traded blows over bread-and-butter issues such as the burden on motorists of Sydney’s sprawling toll road network.

Both leaders are offering subsidies to regular users of toll roads, while Perrottet talked up the benefits of building new motorways, citing the reduction in traffic on major arterial routes such as Parramatta Road as a result of WestConnex.

In an attempt to spruik the Coalition’s economic credentials, Perrottet again cited its track record of delivering critical infrastructure, pointing out that more motorways and multibillion-dollar metro rail lines will be opened over the coming years.

Minns, on the other hand, repeatedly hammered Perrottet over whether the Coalition will privatise Sydney Water to pay for mega projects if it is re-elected to government, something the Premier again ruled out.

With so much at stake for both men, the debate was a civil affair just 10 days out from the state election. In the end, it was the pPremier who had the slight edge in today’s contest.

Senior writer

VERDICT: Perrottet win

Perrottet thumped his hand up and down like a metronome whenever he was given free rein, as though moderating his own momentum. He warned early of economic headwinds that would put jobs at risk, laying the groundwork for his own solutions, exuding urgency.

Minns conjured the image of a state in a mess, with schools and hospitals facing a retention “crisis” and promising a better way under Labor. But his solutions and the manner in which he pitched them lacked razzle dazzle, and he presented instead as an honest messenger of a drab truth, that basic measures, such as wage increases and toll relief, would do most to help voters.

He raised early the prospect of privatisation under the Coalition and it returned like a chorus, amid dark warnings that the government would be unable to pay for its infrastructure plans unless it did so. But he was strongest when offering reasons that the government should be voted against, while Perrottet offered them something to vote for.

Sydney editor

VERDICT: Perrottet win

I thought the apex of this debate was when the two leaders traded barbs about how and where Sydney should grow, and Perrottet came out ahead on this – but only slightly.

Minns’ case to rebalance housing growth back towards the eastern half of Sydney is understandable, because western Sydney is feeling the pinch (and Minns needs to win seats there).

But Perrottet is right: if it’s “monstrously unfair” for the west to take more housing without enough infrastructure, why is Labor cancelling metro lines from Parramatta to the new airport and from Bankstown to Liverpool?

Minns wants to damage Perrottet over debt and whether he’ll privatise assets to pay it down.
But the Premier was convincing enough that infrastructure debt is good debt.

If Minns can knock the north shore NIMBYs on the head, that’ll be a good thing. And he’s right that the Libs are running scared from the teals.

But it seems to be denying reality to deny that Sydney’s growth will be largely in the west. In that case, Minns’ position of less housing and less infrastructure leaves him exposed.

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