The campaign for Australia's September 7 election continues to fall Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's way as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd struggles to sell both himself and his policies.
Opinion polls are locked into a trend pointing to a Coalition victory, hardened by a series of surveys in key marginal seats predicting Labor wipeouts. Unless Rudd can dramatically reverse these trends in the next three weeks, the Government will struggle to retain the seats it already holds, let alone pick up the extras needed to deliver victory.
Both Rudd and Abbott are set on a do-or-die battle, rejecting alliances with the Greens to form minority Governments, although Labor does now stand a good chance of winning back the Melbourne seat held by sole Greens Lower House MP Adam Bandt.
Rudd's election-opening promise of a "New Way"is falling flat. The message is not resonating with voters under daily siege from Opposition attack advertisements reminding them of six chaotic years of Labor rule.
Labor is returning fire with a scare campaign warning of a slash-and-burn Government under Abbott, who has yet to announce the details of his economic policy and its costings.
They will not be revealed until the final week of the campaign.
Voters will have another chance to assess both leaders in the next face-to-face confrontation at a nationally televised "people's forum" at Brisbane's Broncos League Club on Wednesday.
In the meantime, they have the daily run of headlines and policy statements pouring out through newspapers, social media, television and radio.
So far, Abbott has dominated these.
Appearing confident and assured, he has narrowed his campaign to a small set of key points, hammering them home through slogans and short grabs that present a constant, consistent and potent message.
He has also successfully dismantled the wall Rudd had built to protect the Government on its most vulnerable fronts - the economy, carbon tax and asylum-seekers.
Abbott has sliced through Labor's economic arguments with a blunt axe, reinforcing perceptions that the nation is in deep and worsening strife.
He has ignored Rudd's move to end the carbon tax a year early and move to an emissions trading scheme, lumping them together in a promise to dump it as soon as he wins office.
And while Labor's harsh stand on asylum-seekers has narrowed the gap significantly on the issue, Abbott has kept it alive and to the front of voters' minds by reminding them of the numbers that have arrived since Rudd won power in 2007 and announcing further draconian measures of his own.
Rudd, in contrast, is lacking fire and energy.
His appearances are lacklustre. He has no simple, clear message to define his campaign.
Lots of policies, lots of words, but no short-arm punches.
After rallying his troops, Rudd conceded he was struggling and told reporters: "I've been in a few tight spots before and I've managed to fight a way forward. I intend to fight my way forward."
More promises came over the weekend. Rudd pledged hundreds of millions of dollars more for the car industry and big hospital spending in western Sydney; Abbott more money for indigenous employment and a parental leave scheme that would provide six months' leave on full pay plus superannuation for new mothers.
The polls continue to swing his way. A Galaxy poll in News Ltd papers yesterday gave a 52-48 per cent lead to the Coalition, with a series of other polls pointing to Labor losses in key marginal seats.
These include the Brisbane seat of Forde, being contested by former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, parachuted in to bolster Labor's hopes.
Parental leave: Parties seek a baby bump
The Coalition's plan
* Working women get 26 weeks' leave on full pay plus super for each baby.
* Starts July 1, 2015, for those in fulltime, part-time or casual work.
* Women on average weekly earnings of A$65,000 get about A$32,500 for 26 weeks plus super.
* * Women earning more than A$150,000 get the maximum A$75,000.
* Cost is A$5.5 billion a year.
* Part-funded by 1.5 per cent levy on big businesses.
* Business levy offset by 1.5 percentage point tax cut for all companies.
* Net cost is A$6.1 billion over forward estimates, after budget savings and scrapping ALP scheme.
Labor's current plan
* Working women get 18 weeks' paid at national minimum wage, currently A$622 a week before tax.
* Started in 2011 for fulltime, part-time, casual and self-employed workers.
* Leave is in addition to any existing work leave benefits.
* No superannuation component.
* Available to parents with annual income of A$150,000 or less a year.
* Parents can share leave entitlements, if salary and work requirements are met.
* Scheme funded by taxpayers, costing about A$250 million a year.