Does the Opposition understand that putting the phrase “does the Minister really understand” into every question is really annoying?

Apart from that, they won’t be too unhappy with their performance in Parliament this week. Brendan Nelson’s shocker of an opinion poll last weekend has been forgotten, and no-one was talking about his leadership while there were carers to defend.

Today’s Morgan Poll suggests that the carers issue did indeed bite the Government, which lost 2%, while the Opposition gained 3.5%. 61-39 two-party preferred is still painful reading, but not quite the record-breaking stuff of previous weeks.

Wayne Swan should have learnt a hard lesson about needing to control pre-Budget speculation. You need to make it work for you, Treasurer, not against you. Swan cops some stick today from Steve Lewis in the Telegraph, with the suggestion that Government tongues are wagging about his future. In truth, Swan didn’t have that bad a week in Parliament, but you still get the impression when he stands at the Dispatch Box that he’s hoping he doesn’t mess up.

Julia Gillard, in contrast, is making Question Time her own. When she’s not gleefully mocking the Opposition, she’s sitting watching them with the air of a lioness contemplating a passing herd of wildebeest. Even when asked about something as dry as a higher education review (by Amanda Rishworth, who looks like she could lead the ALP’s emo faction), Gillard is up and lunging at Nelson and Bishop who, as her opposite number, looks rather overwhelmed.

The Opposition yesterday was foolish enough to demand that Gillard apologise for her amusing riff on manicurists on Wednesday, only to elicit a further five minutes of derision from her. The Deputy Prime Minister professed to like manicurists but, she said, was also very fond of hairdressers.

Well, it was funnier than Peter Garrett’s “fraction too much fiction” pun. Skeletor can’t quite leave the music biz behind. Though it was probably the best press Tim Finn has had for a long while.

Sometimes, however, the chamber reverts to type. Minister for Ageing Justine Elliot fielded a Dorothy dixer about nursing homes and endured a cacophony of quite offensive interjections, particularly from Peter Dutton and Steve Ciobo, who mimicked her. And when the very elegant Elliot had strode from her seat up to the Dispatch Box, the chamber fell silent in a manner familiar to anyone who has ever observed a roomful of men stopping and eyeing off the babe who has just walked in.

After all this time, Parliament can still be a boys’ club.

Peter Fray

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