Tony Abbott has refused the Prime Minister’s offer to make another town hall-style meeting also a debate on the economy.
The Opposition Leader this morning called for a second forum with Julia Gillard, similar to the one in which both leaders were grilled by voters at Rooty Hill RSL in western Sydney last week.
But Ms Gillard upped the ante, inviting Mr Abbott to join her in a televised debate tonight.
Failing that, Ms Gillard said she would face him in another town hall forum on condition there was a one-hour debate on the economy followed by one hour of questions from the audience.
She also wants both leaders on stage at the same time while they are grilled by voters.
But in a news conference this afternoon, Mr Abbott sidestepped questions about Ms Gillard’s compromise offer, repeatedly reissuing his challenge for a town hall forum in Brisbane.
“I think there should more input from the people in this election campaign,” he said while campaigning on the New South Wales central coast.
“I want to give the public the opportunity to question me and to question the Prime Minister.
“I can’t understand why the Prime Minister wants to deny time to the people of Brisbane to question her on what her government has done or failed to do for them.”
But Ms Gillard continues to push for an economic debate, saying Mr Abbott has promised to spend $30 billion and argues that would eat into the budget surpluses Labor is forecasting.
“Between now and polling day, whenever Mr Abbott choses, I will join him for a debate on the economy followed by a town hall meeting,” she said after watching a local football match in the marginal Melbourne seat of McEwen.
“For a number of weeks now, I’ve been calling on Mr Abbott to debate me on the economy.
“The economy is everyone’s concern, it’s at the centre of this campaign. That’s why I’m challenging Mr Abbott to that debate.
“He says he’s got the time for another meeting… why let tonight’s opportunity go by?”
ALP national secretary Karel Bitar has presented the conditions for another forum in an open letter to the Liberal campaign director.
“That would end your candidate’s cowardly avoidance of the debate on the economy and allow for a fulsome discussion with Australians on the central issues of the campaign,” Mr Bitar wrote.
Mr Abbott emerged from the Rooty Hill forum as the people’s choice, with an exit poll showing audience members favouring him over Ms Gillard 71 votes to 59.
This morning he invited Ms Gillard to take part in another forum in a marginal seat in Brisbane.
“It seems that the states where seats are most likely to change hands in significant numbers are New South Wales and Queensland,” he told 3AW.
“So we had the debate at Rooty Hill RSL and maybe we need to have a debate in one of the marginal seats in Brisbane, and as I said I’m sure they’d be plenty of RSL clubs or town halls in Brisbane that would be happy to host such an event.”
“In the end, it’s not politicians shouting at each other that should determine an election, it’s politicians answering questions from fair dinkum Australians,” he told ABC1’s Insiders.
“The fact is, the town hall format was a real innovation … it was great for the public – they were there up close and personal with the people who want to lead our country.”
Earlier a government spokesman accused Mr Abbott of trying to avoid a debate.
“The PM has been challenging him to a debate on the economy for weeks now and he’s been running from that challenge like a coward,” he said.
“This election is a choice between the PM’s better economic plan versus the risk Mr Abbott’s lack of judgment poses to our economy.”