Australia's first Twitter political debate has been derided by both the public and NSW Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, as a waste of time which saw key public questions go unanswered.
O'Farrell faced off against NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally, and Greens MP Lee Rhiannon over Twitter in debating issues surrounding this Saturday's by-election in Penrith. Questions from the public were moderated by Channel Nine political reporter, Kevin Wilde, and posed to the political leaders. The debate saw Keneally and O'Farrell actually join Twitter while in the Penrith locality, while Rhiannon tweeted she was at the Greens office in Erskineville.
While the three parties initially seemed keen in starting the debate, Keneally and O'Farrell were immediately at odds over justification behind using Twitter as a forum. O'Farrell said the debate was held because "KK refused to participate in a debate organised by the Penrith Business Alliance," while Keneally claimed it "flattens democratic debate" and "enlivens democracy".
O'Farrell remained critical of the debate throughout, tweeting that a face-to-face public debate held across NSW would better involve the public.
The public were equally critical, calling it "a dogs' breakfast", with one user writing "Twitter is a conversation in a pub, not a town hall meeting".
"After reading the #penrithdebate, I'd frankly rather see the fail whale instead," said another user, referring to the technical issues and downtime Twitter has faced over the past week.
Some accused Keneally of copying and pasting prepared statistics and statements into Twitter, which dominated the majority of the conversation between the political leaders. Wilde denied the claims, saying he was with Keneally at the time.
The public debate isn't the first time Keneally has attracted flack over Twitter. Last month, the Premier used the social networking site to deny claims she purposefully avoided parliamentary debate surrounding same-sex marriage due to her strong Christian beliefs.
Keneally has told Computerworld Australia that she authors all of her own tweets, unless signed by her staff, such as "kkstaff" amended on the end.
While the political debate was billed by the NSW Government and media as a "world's first", the Netherlands actually held the first such debate last weekend in anticipation of the 2010 elections. A televised public debate held between Dutch politicians also became the country's first 3D broadcast.