It was the battle for Brisbane last night —  Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott faced up to questioning in a peoples’ forum in Kevin Rudd’s hometown and neither emerged as the obvious victor.

But while Abbott refused a debate on the economy, the Coalition’s budget costings were put under the microscope last night and emerged with several holes.

Rooty Hill Take Two (OK, so it was at the Broncos Leagues Club, but it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it , does it?) involved a whopping 50 questions asked by attendees, with Gillard getting a narrow win — 83-75 —  in a wristband vote on the way out.

“With only three days until Australia goes to the polls, the election race remains tight…neither Ms Gillard nor Tony Abbott could land a knock-out blow..,” reports Patricia Karvelas and Matthew Franklin in The Australian.

Abbott proved himself as a natural people person, but Gillard won on policy. “Abbott has evolved into the mature leader he always aspired to become. Gillard projected as a leader of relentless determination,” argues Paul Kelly in The Oz.

Finally, a focus on policy and significant issues, not just personality, says Dennis Atkins in the Courier-Mail: “There was a quiet determination to do what this election campaign has often seemed incapable of doing by itself: To take the choice and, the issues that involves, seriously. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Prime Minister Julia Gillard received neither a hard time nor an armchair ride.”

This was a big deal for Gillard, winning in Ruddland, says Peter van Onselen in The Oz: “Julia Gillard managing to pull off a narrow victory in the community forum in Queensland is the political equivalent of a landslide win.”

Malcolm Farr agreed: Queensland has been Gillard’s sore spot. “The pair had a respectable draw, but Labor is said to be so toxic in Queensland Ms Gillard should have been lucky to get out alive,” declares Farr in the Daily Telegraph.

Michael Harvey was unimpressed by the hoopla, since “last night’s town hall meeting with Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott was just more of the same,” he writes in the Herald Sun.

It might have been interstate, but the Rooty Hill vibe remained, writes Tony Wright in The Age: “And political leaders like to talk about these so-called forums as ‘town hall-style meetings’. It raises the question why, then, they are not held in town halls, instead of the poker machine barns of marginal seat NSW and Queensland…”

Need further proof that this election is all about the marginals? “…in order to distill this election for its audience, New Zealand’s TV3 sent its current affairs team no further than the marginal seat of Macarthur in southwestern Sydney. And little wonder when the last week of the campaign has at times seen our two national leaders look more like premiers as they focus their energy in the battleground electorates in the NRL states,” writes Geoff Elliott in The Oz.

Labor should be desperately panicking about Western Sydney. “The party’s own research shows many in the region have simply stopped listening to Labor. Worse, it suggests this is not a fleeting problem. It is structural,” say Nick O’Malley and Erik Jensen in The Sydney Morning Herald. “Western Sydney has changed since it was natural Labor heartland. Many feel the party has failed to keep up.”

Yet for Elizabeth Farrelly at the SMH, there’s still a need for authentic leaders who don’t backstep on all their promises: “Which is why, in a fantasy mix of Priscilla, Wind in the Willows and Hang ‘Em High, I see [Bob] Brown and [Malcolm] Turnbull on the same horse, side-saddle in a violet frock, galloping in from the wilderness to save us from the stoats and ferrets who have pinned star-shaped badges on themselves and taken the town.”

It might be mocked, but the ‘Moving Forward’ slogan is a brilliant move in positive campaigning, argues Neil Lawrence in The Oz: “If Labor limps across the line on Saturday it will be on the crutches of this policy.”

Abbott should be pushing his brave paid parental leave plan more if he wants to win, writes Graham Young in The Oz, “It could be the difference between winning or losing, but without taking risks he wouldn’t have been so close in the first place.”

It wasn’t just the people’s forum keeping Abbott up north, argues Katharine Murphy in The Age: “Opposition Leader Tony Abbott declared yesterday the day to barnstorm Queensland, punching up on all his usual themes. Helpfully, all that Queensland barnstorming kept him a safe distance from any unintended consequences associated with the release of his costings material in Sydney. Hard to be Santa and Scrooge at the same time, evidently.”

Meanwhile, Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb were down in Sydney, releasing the Coalition’s detailed costings. The costings supposedly demonstrate how a Coalition government would save $11 billion over four years from the national budget and be able to pay back an extra $30 billion of public debt. But the commentariat appeared fairly unimpressed by the result.

The numbers add up, but take them with a pinch of salt, warns Jennifer Hewett in The Oz.:

“…it’s true these figures still rely heavily on subjective judgments, as do the government’s via Treasury figures. The largest new Coalition saving, for example, is the $2.5bn saved from what is called a ‘conservative bias allowance adjustment to the contingency reserve’.

In English, that means the opposition believes it can be more efficient in delivering spending programs and therefore can reduce the extra buffer to allow for programs going over budget.”

Don’t be overly impressed by the Coalition’s economic management, declares Lenore Taylor in the Sydney Morning Herald:

“Judged against the normal benchmark of proving they can pay for their policies, and have made offsetting savings, the numbers released by the Coalition easily passed muster.

Judged against the requirement to prove a huge difference between the parties on economic management, they raised more questions.”

Michael Stutchbury agreed in The Oz: “Tony Abbott has done enough to trumpet that a Coalition government would deliver a bigger budget surplus than Labor and cut government debt quicker. But that’s not saying much. It requires some rubbery assumptions. And it’s only by the farcical standards of this election’s budget debate, where the two sides have failed to agree on a consistent process for costing their policies.”

The costings were severely lacking in the detail required. “Under the costings process abandoned by the Coalition, the Department of Treasury and Finance detailed the assumptions used and the means by which the numbers were arrived at,” says Peter Martin in the SMH. “By contrast the costings released by the Coalition yesterday contain none of that detail — they are simply a list of figures, one for each policy, with no explanations as to how the figures were derived.”

Often political commentary runs around the concept that the two major parties are the same, just with different spin– or “the sh-t sandwich or the sh-t on toast”, as Mick the sub eloquently put it this week. But it’s a different story in this election, claims Lindy Edwards in the National Times:

“The two parties actually have different philosophical positions on the major issues confronting the nation. And interestingly the divide still falls along traditional ideological lines.

When we look at the two parties revealed values — that is what they have done, and what they have consistently argued for over time — it is clear we are being presented with a choice.

Labor: We believe in government taking heroic measures to smooth out recessions.

Liberal: We believe govt should balance their books and let the market fix the problem.”

A narrow win for Gillard last night and the Coalition’s costings under question put Tony Abbott in an awkward position for these final two days.