ANALYSIS

Bill Shorten knew how to get that crucial audience involvement last night, at one stage making a policy point in dramatic fashion.

He had done it before and knew it would work during the Sky News people's forum in Brisbane, a debate with Scott Morrison.

The Prime Minister appeared stuck on talking to and about the bloke standing next to him.

The Labor leader's debate craft won't win the election, and Mr Morrison appealed to many with his folksier approach. But the audience involvement probably helped Mr Shorten narrowly win the night.

And then there was one emotion-packed moment.

After a question from the live audience on mental health, Mr Shorten asked those in front of him to raise their hands if they knew someone who had taken their own life. It was a powerful demonstration of the tragedy of lives taken away too soon.

Bill Shorten ensures that crucial audience participation with an emotional question at his leaders’ debate with Scott Morrison. Picture: Gary Ramage/News Corp Australia
Bill Shorten ensures that crucial audience participation with an emotional question at his leaders’ debate with Scott Morrison. Picture: Gary Ramage/News Corp Australia

The same request and response happened at the June, 2016 Sky News election campaign forum, also in Brisbane. And the raised hands made just as powerful a point.

They were also a confronting display when Mr Shorten first used the device at a town-hall meeting on the NSW central coast the previous month in 2016.

This perhaps made the Opposition Leader more confident as he fended off Mr Morrison, who had crossed the stage to - as Mr Shorten said - be a physically intrusive "space invader".

The Opposition Leader accused the PM of being a ‘space invader’ during the Sky News/Courier-Mail face-off. Picture: Kym Smith/News Corp Australia
The Opposition Leader accused the PM of being a ‘space invader’ during the Sky News/Courier-Mail face-off. Picture: Kym Smith/News Corp Australia

One reporter likened the Prime Minister's intrusion to the 2004 election campaign incident when Mark Latham shook John Howard's hand with unnecessary robustness. But it wasn't that bad.

It did, however, underline Mr Morrison's fixation with his opponent rather than the audience.

The PM also touched on mental health, which has been priority for the Coalition. One woman wanted to know why headspace centres were still being funded despite evidence that they were not working as well as they should.

Mr Morrison said he thought headspace had been a success, saying there had not been an incident of youth suicide in Grafton since a centre had opened there.

He said the Coalition had committed half a billion committed to youth mental health.

"I cannot think of a greater priority than stopping our young people who have given up hope on life from killing themselves," he said.

Mr Morrison appeared focused on the man next to him. Picture: Kym Smith/News Corp Australia
Mr Morrison appeared focused on the man next to him. Picture: Kym Smith/News Corp Australia

Mr Shorten previewed, without detail, a Sunday announcement on taxing multinationals, and that Labor's policy costings would be provided next week. The ALP leader said he planned to have a Budget surplus every year. Mr Morrison said the Coalition would also have a surplus but it wouldn't achieve this by taxing retirees, in a heated exchange.

The pair also clashed on climate change targets, freedom of speech and Labor's franking credits policy.

The audience of 109 undecided voters gave the debate to Mr Shorten by a narrow margin.

The Labor leader impressed 43 per cent of the 100 who were eligible to vote, just beating out the Prime Minister on 41 per cent. There were still 16 per cent undecided.

The audience narrowly gave the debate to Mr Shorten, seen kissing his wife Chloe Shorten as she sits beside Labor senator Kristina Keneally. Picture: Gary Ramage/News Corp Australia
The audience narrowly gave the debate to Mr Shorten, seen kissing his wife Chloe Shorten as she sits beside Labor senator Kristina Keneally. Picture: Gary Ramage/News Corp Australia

The debate came at the end of a testing week for both camps with each party losing candidates over offensive social media posts.

Both leaders were under pressure for different reasons

Mr Shorten was declared the winner of the first debate in Perth on Monday night despite not being able to put a figure on the cost of his climate policies.

"If we leave the problem of climate change any longer it's going to cost more to fix it," Mr Shorten told reporters in Burnie.

"The reality is, the single greatest reason why energy prices have gone up in Australia is there's just a lack of energy policy."

Mr Morrison has had to deal with losing three candidates after they made anti-Muslim and anti-gay comments online.

The Prime Minister said this week he would give Mr Shorten "enough rope" to kill off Labor's chances with his own policies.

But he denied he was running a small target strategy in the campaign.

"We launched an entire budget going into this campaign with 700 individual measures that equate to almost $500 billion worth of expenditure across every element of government activity," Mr Morrison said on Wednesday.