Joe Hockey’s confected outrage over the Government’s plans for Parliament and its consultation with the Opposition on the wording of the apology is hilarious.

Perhaps he’s hoping that we’ll forget how the Coalition, when in Government, systematically debauched the concept of Parliamentary accountability. That we’ll forget the two-day Senate committee inquiries into major legislation, the Ministers who hid behind staff rather than resign when caught out, the decline in the number of sitting days.

And his threat to demand a continual quorum during Friday sittings is plain childish, particularly given Hockey, when in Government, complained about the Opposition interrupting debates with quorum calls.

For that matter, there wasn’t too much consultation with the Opposition when John Howard crafted his expression of “deep and sincere regret” in 1999. In a particularly inspired attempt to divide indigenous groups over the issue, Howard’s gesture toward consultation didn’t extend far beyond newly-arrived Democrat Senator Aden Ridgeway.

Then again, it’s only hypocrisy, and no one would get very far in public life without it.

But there’s a strong political case for Labor to not merely retain all of the Coalition’s degradations of Parliamentary standards, but to use its executive power to go even further. It may not be pretty, but it will repay conservative ranks in kind for the past 11 years, and drive home to them the importance of accepting that the balance between Parliament and the executive has swung too far. When they get back into power ­– at this rate, sometime in the 2020s ­– they might have a better appreciation of the role of Parliament.

Instead, the Government is talking about lifting Parliamentary standards and encouraging debate. They all do that, of course. Let’s see how long it lasts.

Meanwhile, if there’s any group who merit Hockey’s epithet of “shambles”, it’s the Opposition. Rarely has a new leader had a shorter honeymoon than Brendan Nelson, who at this rate may not trouble Alexander Downer’s record of nine-odd months in the big chair. Even accepting the usual licence on the part of Press Gallery hacks eager to find leadership tensions everywhere, the appearance of Turnbull-related stories is starting to become disturbingly regular.

We know, as Gerard Henderson laboriously details in his SMH column today, that the conservatives don’t cope with Opposition well. But the record time in which whisperings about Nelson have emerged looks ridiculous. Not that Henderson himself will be of much help to his Liberal mates – he is on record as complaining that Nelson was once “a rank-and-file Labor Party member”.

Hockey better not call too many quorums on Fridays. He might interrupt some serious plotting among his colleagues.

Peter Fray

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