Tony Abbott dispensed with new big promises at his campaign launch yesterday, instead calling on Australians to "choose change" to restore trust and competence in Government.
Signalling he expected a final Labor blitzkrieg on his character, Mr Abbott said he would spend the last two weeks of the election campaign reassuring Australians of a "better way".
Mr Abbott promised a "no surprises, no excuses" government while repositioning the coalition on debt by promising to have the Budget "on track to a believable surplus" to end his first term.
He used Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's trust theme to savage the Government, saying only the coalition could be trusted on the economy, boats and carbon tax.
Mr Abbott used the launch to unveil three new policies, two aimed at older voters.
He said he would lift the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card in line with the consumer price index, a move expected to cost $100 million over four years, and pledged $200 million over five years for research into dementia.
The coalition's pitch to blue- collar workers offers interest-free HECS-style loans to those beginning a trade, with apprentices able to get up to $20,000.
It would be available to an estimated 60,000 young Australians learning skills in short supply such as plumbing, electrical and cooking.
Mr Abbott, who complains of a "Budget emergency" under Labor, gave the coalition more time to get into the black.
"Within a decade, the Budget surplus will be one per cent of GDP, defence spending will be 2 per cent of GDP, the private health insurance rebate will be fully restored and each year government will be a smaller percentage of our economy," he said.
Labor's campaign spokesman Mark Dreyfus said these were conflicting objectives that would need massive cuts.
"It's mathematically impossible to achieve all of those objectives unless there is a generation of deep and savage cuts," he said.
Mr Abbott's daughters Bridget and Frances both described him as a "daggy dad" in their central roles in the launch.
"Our dad is not just a politician, not just a Rhodes scholar or an author, not just a volunteer firefighter or a lifesaver," Frances said. "Not just a husband and a father - he's something else. Tony Abbott is also a netball dad."
Third-year plumbing apprentice Aaron Murphy said he would have welcomed a government loan when earning just $300 a week in his first year.
He took out a bank loan to get a reliable car for his job.
"My parents helped me out heaps, so that wasn't too bad but if you were in a worse position, that would definitely be hard," Mr Murphy, 19, said.
"I wouldn't have been able to do it if I wasn't living at home."
TAFE Directors Australia said only half of apprenticeships were completed and the lack of income was a major disincentive mentioned in exit interviews.WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesman Lindsay O'Sullivan welcomed the scheme but wanted to see details about how it would support employers, such as whether the loan could cover training or other costs.