We’ve had stunts galore so far from the Government, so the Opposition’s antics on Friday can’t really be faulted. A cardboard cut-out Kevin at the dispatch box is probably the only time this year the Opposition will have an effective leader. But at some point, Labor managed to mess up the simple task of spinning the positive of an extra Parliamentary sitting day and let the Opposition transform it into the shambles witnessed last week.

The fault lies with Anthony Albanese. To have been out-thought by the likes of Joe Hockey suggests serious negligence. Plainly Albanese didn’t think through the logic of what happened if you took away – sorry, deferred — divisions. Maybe he just thought everyone would play nice.

Harry Evans, Clerk of the Senate, was predictably quick to buy in to the argument. Evans never met an opportunity for self-promotion he didn’t like, and immediately queried whether the Government had acted unconstitutionally. Then again, Evans thinks the Senate embodies the pounding heart of Australian democracy and that governments are an annoying flaw in the grand tapestry of public life nuisance, so his views – which the Coalition rightly ignored when they were in power – should be treated with suspicion.

More to the point, no-one has actually explained why divisions, quorums and ministerial attendance are so sacred anyway. On normal sittings days, apart from duty ministers and Question Time, the executive is usually busy getting on with the business of governing rather than wasting their time on the green leather listening to backbenchers. It’s not clear why an entire day of it is such an outrage.

Glenn Milne warns today that Parliamentary privilege could be endangered and MPs could be sued. So maybe they’d suddenly discover an incentive to reform our litigation-friendly defamation laws. And wasn’t Alexander Downer exactly right when he complained about Question Time that “50 per cent of the questions are asked of ministers by government backbenchers, written in ministers’ offices, and they just berate the opposition”? What does the Coalition want – more mockery about WorkChoices fridge magnets from Julia Gillard?

Doubtless the Opposition recalls the success they had in labelling Paul Keating a part-time Prime Minister when he started skipping Question Times, and have hopes of doing the same with Rudd. Good luck there with 24/Kevin. Andrew Robb looked positively embarrassed trying that line on Insiders and after a while switched to complaining about “setting a precedent”, although he wasn’t too clear on what disastrous precedent was being set.

Robb promised that the Opposition would keep up the Friday misbehaviour. They can get away with it once. But if they keep it up they’ll start to get on people’s nerves.

Peter Fray

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