And so ends Tony Abbott’s very, very bad week. Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie gave his thumbs up to a Gillard government yesterday, putting the PM job back within Julia Gillard’s grasp.

Wilkie ignored Abbott’s promise of $1 billion dollars for his local hospital, and instead supported Gillard who offered a $100 million upfront for the hospital and smartcards to limit gambler’s losses. You can read the full Gillard/Wilkie deal letter here. Interestingly, it seems that if the Coalition does form government, Wilkie will still get the $1 billion for the hospital, since it wasn’t contingent on him supporting Abbott.

As he showed his team Gillard colours, Wilkie said “It was almost intoxicating to look at a piece of paper that offered me one billion dollars…”

It’s now 74 seats to Gillard (including Wilkie and Greens MP Adam Bandt), 73 to Tony Abbott and the three other independents — Tony Windsor, Bob Katter and Rob Oakeshott — still undecided. A final answer from the independents is expected early next week. Yesterday Bob Katter gave his 20 points wishlist to both leaders.

A quick glance at the news website headlines seems to see momenteum building for Gillard, with The Australian leading with “Julia Gillard edging closer to power”, The Daily Telegraph has “Julia hits the jackpot” and The Age and Sydney Morning Herald both leading with “Abbott fires $1 billion blank.”

Has Gillard got it? Can Abbott convince the independents — who are traditionally quite conservative — that the holes in the budget can be patched up? Here’s what the pundits are saying.

The Australian

Dennis Shanahan: PM has momentum in theatre of the absurd

Julia Gillard is gaining momentum in the race towards forming minority government. Stage-managing every step and choreographing every scene, the Prime Minister is simultaneously building alliances with independent MPs and campaigning to build legitimacy for her diminished government.

Michael Stutchbery: It’s potholes, not black holes, causing the bump

But there is no $11 billion “black hole” in the Coalition’s projected budget surplus. At most, Treasury secretary Ken Henry has found a few potholes that can be repaired without too much trouble.

Mathew Denholm: From also-ran to powerbroker

It’s a big gamble by Wilkie. Most people in his electorate, including the doctors and nurses battling away with a 1950s, sub-standard RHH, would far prefer the new greenfields hospital offered by Abbott. Wilkie says to have taken Abbott’s $1bn for a single hospital in Tasmania, rather than $1.8bn from Gillard for hospitals across the country under an expedited funding round, would have been “pork-barrelling”.

The Age

Michelle Grattan: Abbott digs himself a hole

By revealing Abbott’s offer, Wilkie has played a tough political game. He has painted Abbott a spendthrift willing to throw out an enormous political bribe. This came just as Abbott was trying to maintain that his costings were respectable. Gillard took up the political gift, linking Abbott’s reckless offer and questionable costings. Wilkie also gave the other independents a negotiating standard. Abbott won’t be thanking him on either count.

Waleedy Aly: Too much consensus, not too little

At the risk of sounding absurdist, allow me to suggest that the very vacuity of our politics, and even its veneer of nastiness, derives not from too little consensus, but from far too much.

Katharine Murphy: From Canberra outsider to centre stage

Wilkie yesterday ended a long and tortuous journey, from Canberra outsider to would-be king maker.

Tony Wright: Hospital sting leaves Coalition nursing wounds

As the Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie stood in a parliamentary courtyard declaring he was a Julia man, it was very nearly possible to hear Tony Abbott banging his head on the wall of his office

The Sydney Morning Herald

Peter Hartcher: Darkness clouds ALP gain

Julia Gillard won a vital advantage yesterday and is tantalisingly close to power, but any outcome is still possible as the reels keeping spinning on the poker machine of Australian democracy.

Lenore Taylor: In a game of being on target with figures Abbott shoots himself in foot

An MP who does not like pork – how could the Coalition have picked that?

The Courier Mail

Dennis Atkins: Abbott can only blame himself as Labor gains momentum

The momentum Labor lost during its shambolic election campaign has reappeared at just the right time for Julia Gillard and her team as they struggle to pull together a majority from the hung result.