OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott refused yesterday to take part in what he called a ``pre-election auction'' with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Tasmanian agriculture or university funding.
Mr Abbott flew into Northern Tasmania for a brief afternoon visit to Brickworks at Longford, following a morning visit by Mr Rudd to the University of Tasmania at Launceston and Simplot vegetable processor at Devonport.
It was the first time the two leaders had doubled up on same-day trips to the North since the start of the election campaign.
But both denied that they had nearly collided in their rush to shore up support for their individual candidates in the marginal seats of Bass, Braddon and Lyons.
Mr Abbott said Mr Rudd's $15 million reform program for Simplot vegetable farmers announced only a few days after an $18 million announcement for Simplot infrastructure upgrades in two states was a desperate bid to buy votes.
``We are not going to engage in a bidding war with a desperate prime minister in the dying days of an election campaign,'' Mr Abbott said.
``Should we form a government after Saturday I am very happy to sit down with Simplot - I accept that they are a very important local employer, I absolutely accept that, but the time to talk to them is calmly, rationally after an election.''
Mr Abbott said he would do the same with the University of Tasmania, which was promised $28 million by Labor towards its proposed $83 million Northern health and sports education hub.
``Let's not forget that . . . back in November Mr Rudd was part of the government which cut $40 million from the University of Tasmania,'' Mr Abbott said.
After touring the Longford Brickworks' operation - which produces one million bricks a month - Mr Abbott announced that North-West businessman Dale Elphinstone would be the inaugural chairman of a proposed Liberal federal-state Tasmanian economic council.
The council would include the prime minister, federal treasurer and representatives from state government and Tasmanian business and would consider recommendations from reports on the state's shipping costs, the freight industry and other economic infrastructure.
Mr Abbott said the Liberals were ``absolutely committed'' to the Bass Strait Equalisation Scheme, but wanted to look at what made shipping generally more competitive and more economic before committing other funding.
He would not be drawn on whether Lyons Liberal candidate Eric Hutchinson could topple Lyons Labor MHR Dick Adams at Saturday's election.
``But I believe that we are competitive in the seats here in Tasmania,'' Mr Abbott said.