Leaders' test of strength

WITH one in five Tasmanians still undecided two weeks out from the election, Premier Lara Giddings is hoping strong performances in the leaders' debates will boost support for Labor.

Ms Giddings went head-to-head with Liberal leader Will Hodgman yesterday in Launceston in the second of three debates scheduled before Tasmanians go to the polls on March 15. 

Labor is languishing in the polls, with little improvement since Ms Giddings dumped the Greens from cabinet, but the Premier said Labor could still win majority government.

 She urged people to avoid the new crop of minor parties.

``Let's be frank here, it should be between the Liberal Party and Labor Party - both can deliver majority government,'' Ms Giddings said. 

She  assured the audience that she would not do another unpopular deal with the Greens because Labor could not withstand the political damage. 

Mr Hodgman maintained that the Liberals were the only party capable of forming majority government. 

Unemployment and the worsening budget bottom line dominated the debate, hosted by the Launceston Chamber of Commerce, which was partly televised live and will be broadcast on the ABC on Saturday. 

Ms Giddings attacked the Liberals' $500 million of ``sham savings'' but again refused to detail her own plans to rein in the budget, more than two weeks after handing down a dire budget update predicting four years of big deficits. 

Mr Hodgman said he had been upfront with Tasmanians. 

``Why can't the government of the day with all the resources on the table outline one cent of savings?'' Mr Hodgman said.

Ms Giddings said she would reveal more details before the election and has ruled out major cuts. 

It was a question of a different kind that threatened to stump the two seasoned debaters though. 

Asked to name a quality they admired in their political foe, Ms Giddings described her opponent as a ``nice man'' outside the political arena, but quickly turned it into a backhanded compliment. 

``The issue is it's not just being nice, it's being able to be strong.''

For a nice guy, the nicest thing Mr Hodgman could say about Ms Giddings was her ``unbelievable ability to say one thing and do another''. 

Liberal leader Will Hodgman and Labor leader Lara Giddings.  Picture: SCOTT GELSTON

Liberal leader Will Hodgman and Labor leader Lara Giddings. Picture: SCOTT GELSTON


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