BU MELISSA JENKINS AND CATHERINE BEST
Leaders of both the major parties are preparing to face off in their only free to air television debate scheduled for the Victorian election campaign.
The tussle between Premier John Brumby and Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu will be broadcast on ABC Television from 7.30pm (AEDT) on Friday.
Voters will also be able to quiz the leaders in a town hall-style forum next Wednesday night at the Burvale Hotel in Nunawading, which is in Labor MP Kirstie Marshall’s marginal electorate of Forest Hill, in Melbourne’s outer east.
Advertisement: Story continues below The forum will be broadcast on pay television channel Sky News.
Mr Brumby said he had practised answering tough questions for Friday’s debate, which will be mediated by a panel of press gallery journalists.
“I think Victorians, they’ll make a judgment about how engaged they want to be,” he told reporters in Education Minister Bronwyn Pike’s marginal seat of Melbourne on Thursday.
“I have found a lot of interest I think in the policies that we’ve released to date.”
Mr Brumby announced a $493.5 million package for disability and social support services, including $43.3 million for 80 new child support workers and 20 specialist personnel to help vulnerable families find jobs.
Child protection has been a pressure point for the government, with recent Ombudsman’s reports documenting cases of children in the system being abused and placed in the care of sex offenders.
Pledging 100 new maths and science specialist teachers and 400 scholarships for university science graduates, Mr Baillieu visited Labor’s most marginal electorate, Mount Waverley, which minister Maxine Morand could lose with a swing of just 0.32 per cent against her.
“The bottom line is this government has run out of puff, it’s out of touch – we all know that,” he told reporters at Glendal Primary School in Glen Waverley.
“What we’re saying quite clearly is that there are a range of problems in Victoria.
“We’re going to fix those problems and then we are going to build Victoria’s future.”
Mr Baillieu’s education announcement was overshadowed by news Tom McFeely had resigned as the Liberals’ candidate for Richmond after a disagreement with party headquarters over the style of his campaign.
But the openly gay candidate had changed his mind by Thursday morning and remains the party’s hope for Richmond.
“I’m a very, very, very happy little Liberal camper,” he told MTR radio.
Mr McFeely did not return AAP’s calls on Thursday.
He was the second Liberal candidate to quit by just day three of the official campaign, with Mike Laker resigning as the candidate for Seymour after allegedly spreading racist rumours.
Mr Brumby rounded out his day with a trip to the high country in southeastern NSW to witness more than 17 billion litres of water pour out of Jindabyne Dam into the Snowy River.
The release, three weeks before the state election, is part of Labor’s 1999 promise to return environmental flows to the river.
It was made possible under a deal struck with the NSW and federal governments to cancel out a “water debt” owed to Snowy Hydro during the drought.
The first of the official campaign launches will be held this weekend, with the Greens’ launch in Richmond on Sunday.
Labor will officially launch its campaign in Bendigo on November 16, while the coalition has yet to reveal the details of its campaign launch.