“In several frenetic months, Howard has nailed down the major planks of his declared fourth-term reform program (industrial relations, Telstra’s full sale, welfare reform),” Michelle Grattan observed, asking what it means for the next election.

Funnily enough, that’s exactly what they were discussing in the Government’s chiefs-of-staff meeting last week. The ministerial minions were asked to go away and come up with a fifth term agenda.

Of course, an increasing number of senior staff in ministerial offices – up to chief-of-staff level – are now permanent public servants. Free thinking and brave ideas are obviously about to blossom. Not.

Asking the backbench, it appears, wasn’t considered. After all, they’d probably only reply with “Whatever you say, boss.”

As for the idea that the Liberal Party’s own policy making bodies should be consulted over policy, we understand that that was dismissed out of hand.