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Tony Abbott promises more tax cuts and spendi -

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LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: We're now in the second last week of the election campaign and both sides are narrowing the contest into a question of who do you trust?

On everything from immigration to the critical issue of running the economy and returning the budget to surplus, the Government and the Coalition are saying the other side's pledges aren't to be believed.

Labor continues to paint Tony Abbott as somebody who's scant on detail because he's hiding his real plans to drastically cut spending, whereas the Coalition points to Labor's record as evidence it says one thing and does another.

The leaders' personalities themselves are under the spotlight as never before. Political editor Chris Uhlmann spent the weekend in Brisbane where the Coalition formally launched its campaign.

Political editor Chris Uhlmann.

CHRIS UHLMANN, REPORTER: In the Labor election handbook, the spending cuts imposed by the Queensland Premier are a foretaste of Tony Abbott.

But the Coalition didn't try to hide Campbell Newman in Sunday's campaign launch.

CAMPBELL NEWMAN, QLD PREMIER: Despite Kevin Rudd's pledge for a positive campaign, is wall-to-wall negativity, a campaign of smear and fear.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Going negative is the one bipartisan plank in this election.

JULIE BISHOP, DEPUTY LEADER, LIBERAL PARTY: The trouble with Kevin is he's a fake.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But this day is about accentuating the positives of the alternative.

TONY ABBOTT'S DAUGHTER: Will you please join me in welcoming the man who may be the next Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott?

CHRIS UHLMANN: Since the election of 2010, Tony Abbott has kept campaigning, keeping up a brutal assault on the Government for three long years. If you measure an Opposition Leader by how much damage he can inflict, then he has been ruthlessly effective. But now he has to make the case that he can be a viable alternative Prime Minister.

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: I won't let you down. This is my pledge to you.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But the pledge to return the budget to surplus is now on the same timetable as Labor.

TONY ABBOTT: By the end of a Coalition government's first term, the budget will be on track to a believable surplus.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Long term, keeping the budget in surplus will be complicated by promised revenue cuts.

TONY ABBOTT: My friends, if our vision is realised, within 10 years Australia will have lower, simpler, fairer taxes.

CHRIS UHLMANN: And then there are the significant increases in costs.

TONY ABBOTT: Within a decade, the budget surplus will be one per cent of GDP. Defence spending will be two per cent of GDP.

(Applause from audience)

The private health insurance rebate will be fully restored. And each year, government will be ...

(Applause from audience)

... a smaller percentage of our economy.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The size of a future Abbott Government's task is illustrated by just one very expensive promise.

MARK THOMSON, AUSTRALIAN STRATEGIC POLICY INSTITUTE: It's not gonna be easy. At the moment Defence spending is running at about 1.6 per cent of GDP and a per cent of GDP is about $16 billion. So, there's a lot of money to be found there. But it's also gotta be looked at in the context of the broader promise he made. He said in a decade's time we'll have two per cent of GDP going to Defence, a surplus of one per cent of GDP and we're gonna reduce the size of government so the share of GDP that the Government takes by way of taxation is going down. That's a big ask, even over a decade.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Which is why the Labor Party is relentlessly hammering a fruitful line of attack, that the numbers can only add up with significant hidden cuts.

PENNY WONG, ALP CAMPGAIN SPOKESWOMAN: Tony Abbott is running a small target, in fact a microscopic target strategy where all he does is say, "Slogans, here's some pretty pictures and some pretty words, but I'm actually not gonna you what my real plans are." And that's because he will make Australians pay for his promises, he just doesn't wanna tell them before the election.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Another theme woven into Labor's attack is that Tony Abbott doesn't have the character to be Prime Minister.

A fortnight out from polling day, a Coalition win looks the most likely outcome, but Labor campaign insiders say private polling has tracked a resurgence in the party's fortunes since it launched its all-out attack on Tony Abbott. There's an echo of that in today's Newspoll, but John Howard believes the Australian people will embrace the Opposition Leader.

JOHN HOWARD, FORMER PRIME MINISTER: He's a person who is very genuine. What came through to me in the speech I've just heard what the simple sincerity of somebody who loves his country and wants to make it a better place in which to live.

CHRIS UHLMANN: He's played his politics very hard. Does he carry too much scar tissue?

JOHN HOWARD: No, I don't believe that for a moment. Politics is tough, and the last three years have been bizarre because we had a dead heat in 2010. And we've sort of been on the edge for the last three years. I think what the Australian people probably want out of this next election is a clear outcome so that the Government it elects can get on with governing and the Opposition can get on with working out what it should do to make itself more effective and more acceptable to the Australian people. The Australian people do not want another three years like the last.

CHRIS UHLMANN: When Kevin Rudd returned to lead Labor, he nominated a slew of seats that he believed the party could win, including Brisbane, Bonner and Forde. That now seems LIKE a distant dream. Labor sources in Queensland have told 7.30 they've moved their resources from attack to defence.

TERESA GAMBARO, LIBERAL FRONTBENCHER: Brisbane is a very important seat to them. I don't believe that they're not going to keep resourcing it.

CHRIS UHLMANN: 7.30 asked to speak with the major party candidates for Brisbane, one of Queensland's most marginal seats. Only Theresa Gambaro made herself available. She's been campaigning non-stop since January.

TERESA GAMBARO: I get up at - I think my husband's ready to kill me. I get up at about 4 am and usually read the news of the day, catch up on all our policies, and then we have a meeting in our office at 6.30 every morning and then we're on the side of the road either at a railway station and/or a busy intersection. Then I go off and do some shopping centre visits, I do some doorknocking, if there are some community events, I do that. But now that pre-polling has opened, I'll be going to pre-poll stations as well and then doing all of those things that you do. So, and you continue to do that as well as your other work, so there'll be community events. So it's really full-on. And I usually go to bed at 10 or 11 at night and then we'd do the same again. I sound exhausted just talking about it!

CHRIS UHLMANN: For Theresa Gambaro, hundreds of other candidates like her and the two major party leaders, there are 12 restless nights to go.

LEIGH SALES: Political editor Chris Uhlmann.