Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten have agreed to hold their next public debate on Facebook Live, with the prime minister saying he made the decision to reach “as big an audience as possible”.
Labour confirmed the opposition leader would participate after the prime minister earlier announced a proposal to host the debate on Facebook and on the News Corp-owned news.com.au, Australia’s biggest news website.
In an election campaign which has so far failed to capture the public imagination, the first televised debate hosted by Sky News at a venue in western Sydney on a Friday night had a dismal average audience of 54,000 viewers, while 529,000 people tuned into the event televised on the ABC from the National Press Club at the end of May – and that broadcast finished with an audience of under 100,000 as people tuned out.
Australians are some of the biggest users of Facebook in the world, with at least 13 million people having an account. News.com.au’s unique audience was 5.8 million in April this year, according to Nielsen.
The exact timing of the event is yet to be determined.
Turnbull said today: “The aim would be for this debate, this discussion, to be streamed across any platform that sought to do so. So it will be going over Facebook over news.com.au sites, over broadcasters who wanted to take it, to get it as widely available as possible.”
Addressing journalists, he added: “So my aim is to have as big an audience as possible and to reach everyone, you have got to use the devices which I noticed you are all holding in your hands. That’s the modern world. That’s the smart phone era.”
Facebook Live was launched in April and allows users to broadcast video and see the reactions and comments from their audience in real time. It exploded into popular consciousness last month when an American woman, Candace Payne, broadcast herself trying on a Chewbacca mask she had just picked up from a store, in a video that has now been watched more than 150 million times.
Daniel Sankey, editor of news.com.au, said: “We’re delighted that Mr Turnbull and Mr Shorten have agreed to partner with news.com.au for Australia’s first online leaders’ debate. The Facebook Live platform will give all Australians the ability to not just watch, but to actively participate, in the debate.”
Shorten said Turnbull’s decision showed there was “no doubt Mr Turnbull isn’t comfortable talking to ordinary Australians” and attacked him over the NBN.
“It is remarkable that the man who promised the NBN would be finished by the end of 2016 yet has delivered it to less than 20 per cent of Australia would propose an online debate,” Shorten said. “It is clear that Malcolm Turnbull’s second rate NBN is not up to scratch.”
He added: “Having said that, we’re happy to agree to this debate, as well as the one in Brisbane on Wednesday night. Mr Turnbull should do the same.”