A room full of Brisbane voters has delivered a much more lively debate between Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott than the first leaders’ event in Canberra.
Having had an uninspiring election campaign so far, the prime minister is likely to benefit the most from the confidence boost of what was a strong performance.
It could reboot Labor’s campaign if Rudd can maintain the energy.
What can be discerned from Abbott’s performance was he knows what lines of attack and defence work and, having rehearsed for almost four years, he won’t deviate.
And he has Rudd’s measure.
Rudd opened the debate on his home turf at the Broncos Leagues Club with a call for “straight talking” about Australia’s future.
Abbott urged an “engaging, candid talk” before launching into his familiar stump speech about Australia not being able to afford another three years like the past six and Labor’s “trust deficit”.
The prime minister spared little time in getting to his core negative message on the opposition: “Where are you going to cut?”
Abbott took up Rudd’s offer of straight talking and accused him of “telling fibs”.
This exchange set the tone for most of the debate, as they jousted on hospital funding, car industry assistance and Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme
When Rudd interjected one time too many, out came the pre-2013 Abbott – the man who threw sharp jibes at Julia Gillard, before he settled into a more positive alternative prime minister mode last year.
“Will this guy ever shut up,” Abbott asked.
Abbott may find himself hamstrung in the final weeks of the campaign by his spontaneous commitment to retaining Labor’s existing $20 billion hospitals deal with the states.
He’s also promised to reveal before polling day on September whether he will keep Labor’s proposed bank levy – something the coalition so far left open to pursuing.
As a political fight, it’s more or less even points to Rudd and Abbott.
While a Sky News poll of the attending voters gave it to Abbott by two votes at 37, 33 voter remained undecided against 35 in favour of Rudd.
But perhaps a lacklustre campaign has been given a much-needed adrenaline hit.