Abbott dismisses debate with Rudd as 'silly stunt'
OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott has laughed off Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's taunts that he lacks the "ticker" to participate in a National Press Club debate next week.
Mr Rudd told reporters in Canberra on Thursday time had been set aside at the NPC for a debate on debt and deficit.
It was a challenge Mr Rudd laid down within hours of prevailing in last week's Labor leadership battle with Julia Gillard.
In an interview on ABC's 7.30 Report on Wednesday night, and again during a press conference in Canberra on Thursday, Mr Rudd questioned whether Mr Abbott had the "ticker" to front up for the debate.
Mr Rudd said Australians faced "big choices" at the upcoming election, whenever that might be, and said he was prepared to debate Mr Abbott on the issues the Opposition had been focusing on for more than two years - namely carbon pricing and border protection.
He said he intended to hound Mr Abbott right up until next Thursday.
"I cannot understand why Mr Abbott does not seem to have the ticker to want to come forward and participate in a national debate," Mr Rudd said before leaving for Indonesia - his 10th visit as either a prime or foreign minister since 2007.
"If he doesn't want to come he should bring Mr Howard as an assistant. I'm fine; he can bring whoever he likes."
"It's time to fess up to the Australian people about what you really stand for and what your real policies are for the future, or are they all just sound bites and slogans."
At a press conference later in the day Mr Abbott was not taking the bait, dismissing the call for a debate as a "silly stunt" and calling for the new PM to reveal a date for the election.
"I am only too happy to debate Mr Rudd and if he wants to recall the Parliament I'll be in Canberra next week to debate him every day in the Parliament," Mr Abbott said.
"If he wants to actually begin the actual election campaign obviously I'll be only too happy to participate in an election debate."
"My challenge to Mr Rudd is to turn up the National Press Club … and give a considered speech about all the policy changes he is going to make. How the government under him will be different and better than the government under Julia Gillard because so far it's been all talk and no change."
Traditionally it is the opposition leader who calls for a debate with the prime minister of the day.
Mr Abbott accused Mr Rudd of campaigning rather than governing, claiming he was "too frightened of his caucus to recall Parliament".
"This is not about Mr Rudd's ego. The government of this country should be about what's in the best interests of the Australian people, not what is best calculated to pump up Mr Rudd's ego," he said.