Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Matthew Guy have gone head-to-head for the first time in the election campaign, with the tough-on-crime opposition leader offering a rare personal insight.
An emotional first question on the availability of neonatal intensive care beds opened the debate on Wednesday, prompting Mr Guy to share details of his wife’s premature labour.
“My wife’s waters broke at 27-and-a-bit weeks, with our first (baby), we were interstate,” Mr Guy told the Sky News audience of undecided voters at Frankston, a marginal seat in Melbourne’s outer suburbs.
“We were brand new parents… We didn’t know what would be with our son, would he suffer any issues, would there be problems with his growth.”
Mr Guy said upon arriving at the hospital in Queensland he was shown to an incubator bed.
“They showed it to us and said your son will come here. This is where your son will be born, and it is a deeply personal issue,” he said.
The tone of discussions soon turned though, with the two major party leaders thrashing out a range of topics including policing resources, bail laws, hospital services, and religious freedoms in schools.
Discussion also turned to the long-running debate over the defunct East West Link toll road, which cost the state more than $1 billion when Labor came to power in 2014 and cancelled contracts for the road, resulting in a tense exchange.
Mr Andrews told the audience that pushing ahead with the plans would have cost close to $20 billion.
Pulling out had allowed the government to deliver on commitments including removing railway level crossings and improving public transport, he said.
“I was pretty angry myself the morning after the election to be told that the contract had essentially been rigged, the money had been paid out and there was no way that we could recoup that,” Mr Andrews said.
Mr Guy called the decision a “criminal waste of money”, saying the premier had promised cancelling the contract would not cost voters.
“Think of all the hospitals, schools, teachers everything that could have been paid for with that amount of money,” he said.
“When a politician uses words like rigged and contracts, it is a way of explaining away something that you don’t want to admit.”
The pair seemed to agree on one issue, with Mr Guy conceding for the first time that he would consider a royal commission into mental health, a commitment already made by Labor.
“We haven’t factored in the costing, we’ll have a look at it if we can, because I think it’s vitally important that we focus on mental health,” Mr Guy said.
The pair will debate again on Thursday morning on ABC radio.