The prayers may have been particularly
fervent at the service to mark the start of the parliamentary year down from
the Hill at St Paul’s at Manuka this morning.

As Steve Lewis observes in today’s Oz:
“Coalition harmony and unity – a key strength for the Government since 1996 –
is under severe strain.”

Lewis warns there are “more brush fires
to douse than at any time since the Coalition came to office… the Government is
displaying the frailties of an administration suffering from a collective loss
of discipline.”

Well, Bill Heffernan’s “blow it out of your ar*e” run
in
with Fiona Nash yesterday
can’t have helped. Nor can Barnyard’s riposte this morning.

The Nationals met last night and signed off on a six-part policy agenda
that may widen tensions between the Coalition partners. Yet it is the Nationals – and a key National policy – that may well feel
the most heat when Question Time rolls around.

Nationals leader and Trade Minister Mark Vaile will be a key opposition
target. The Nationals want to keep single desk arrangements for wheat, yet the
conduct of the monopoly marketer will dominate debate.

Treasurer Peter Costello raised the prospect of a break up of the
AWB last week. Labor will be doing everything it can to exacerbate Coalition divisions
– personal, policy and political.

Yet so much is at stake here that the Coalition parties will have little
choice but to stick together in the face of the most significant threat the
Howard Government has had to tackle.

If they split or splinter under this week’s onslaught of strikes, then it really
will be time to worry.

Peter Fray

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