Anyone else noticed Brendan Nelson is starting to sound like John Howard?

Yes, we know that Howard oversaw Nelson’s gradual shift to the right, and the smoothing of those very unLiberal rough edges, like the earring. But did the former PM give other lessons as well? Nelson – who once upon a time was regarded as a bit too, well, OUT THERE for the Liberal Party – now talks like someone (Malcolm perhaps?) has been slipping Mogadons into his tea. Worse, he actually sounds like a younger version of Howard – although without the “I-yuh” so beloved of Howard’s caricaturists.

His front bench certainly suggests a Howard influence. The Kirribilli Casuist, after all, was well-versed, in the 1980s, in having to make up a front bench from decidedly limited resources. Particularly Howard-esque is the bias toward the Right and the exemplary punishment of those who aren’t quite with the program.

Bronwyn Bishop makes a wholly unexpected return to the outer ministry — she was last a minister in 2001, after which she took a role in the Lord of the Rings films as a Nazgul — while the vile reactionary Erica Betz gets Industry and Tony Abbott gets Families and Indigenous Affairs. Not a good time to be a single Aboriginal mum.

But Christopher Pyne has been made an example of. One of the few Liberals left in the Rustbelt State, Pyne’s bid for the deputy leadership promising to “draw a line under the Howard and Costello era”. Bad move in a party where Howard’s adherents still walk the earth, unstoppable except via a bullet to the brain. Pyne’s head now adorns a pike outside the shadow ministry of justice. What next, one wonders – perhaps Glenn Milne will circulate a scandal sheet about him. Or does Glenn work for Wayne Swan now?

Some up-and-comers have been given a chance. Greg Hunt gets climate change and environment. Hunt regards himself very highly indeed, and as a Parliamentary Secretary under Howard was a royal pain in the a-se for public servants, for his insistence on getting a comprehensive briefing for every bill he introduced as duty minister. But at least someone who actually believes climate change is occurring will represent the Coalition on the issue. Tony Smith and Peter Dutton get substantial portfolios in Education and Finance, respectively, while Bruce Billson, whoever he is, will shadow Stephen Conroy on the zeros and ones portfolio, BCDE, or Bacardi as its younger officers have already christened it.

And yes, it’s a pity that the National Party continues to infest the conservative side of politics. Warren “the choice of a new generation” Truss and John Cobb will cast covetous eyes over the Department of Pork-barrelling (AKA Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development), while Nigel “I’m not even in this party and they let me lead it” Scullion gets the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ portfolio. But they’ve lost Trade, which is a useful step toward good policy.

But the shadow ministry is naturally more notable for who is not in it. The first meeting of the shadow cabinet will have a decided “twilight of the gods” feel. No Howard, no Costello, or Downer, no Brough, or Vaile. No Kevin Andrews, whose competence has been appropriately recognised by Nelson.

And no Philip Ruddock. Instead, Ruddock has promised to mentor MPs from the backbench. He certainly has considerable experience to impart. He has the proud record — for a so-called “moderate” — of having inflicted more damage on the basic rights of Australians (not to mention common decency), than any politician since Federation.

The sooner this repugnant man leaves our public life, the better.