Events have suddenly turned against Brendan Nelson.

Nelson was riding high – well, much higher than he had been – on petrol and Belinda Neal. His team was performing effectively in Parliament. Nelson had never got a particularly easy go from the press gallery but, even putting aside some outright cheerleading from News Ltd, he was being treated with a bit more respect, even if his populism was sneered at.

Tuesday’s Newspoll messed that right up, and the tone of the coverage coming out of the Press Gallery is changing. And Nelson’s party room is leaking against him. Phil Coorey’s article on a possible revolt over the Coalition’s delay to the same-sex discrimination reform package focussed on Senator Sue Boyce.

Crikey understands that Boyce, the progressive ex-journalist and businesswoman who replaced Santo Santoro last year, was not the source of the article. Wilson Tuckey attacked Boyce in the party-room over her concerns about the delay, calling her a “bully” for considering crossing the floor. Ironic from Ironbar.

Moreover, the Coalition’s tactic in delaying or blocking bills has started to turn against it, with David Uren in The Oz picking up the economic vandalism theme the Government has been repeatedly hammering. John Faulkner’s office has also ensured that everyone is aware of the Coalition’s outrageous decision to refer the Government political donations reform to a committee that won’t report until 30 June 2009 (yes, that’s not a misprint). Any number of arguments can be mounted about blocking various tax measures, but the decision to block the Faulkner bill looks plainly self-interested.

Its tactics in Parliament this week haven’t been much better. After rattling the Government in the previous session two weeks ago, the Opposition started solidly on Monday – Belinda Neal was too rich a topic for it to be otherwise – but on Tuesday and yesterday they were all over the place, with no consistent theme, no clear plan of attack and no attempt to target weaker ministers. Any reference to something faintly connected with Belinda Neal can still induce operatic howls of laughter from the Coalition ranks, but Kevin Rudd has a looked a lot more relaxed as he goes through his paperwork by the Dispatch Box.

And while the tactic of getting Coalition backbenchers to ask questions might be enjoyed by the MPs themselves, who get a few seconds in the spotlight, it deprives the Opposition’s frontbench of exposure and experience, which most of them sorely need.

Until now, the Opposition’s performance in Parliament has been one of its few strong points. Unless they refine their tactics, or find something else on Belinda Neal, even that is going to start to look weak.

Paul Neville’s affection for Bundaberg Rum got a run in Question Time yesterday. I once had the pleasure (insert irony indicator here) of attending a meeting between Neville and a senior Minister of the previous Government. “In my electorate,” intoned Neville stolidly , “there’s a famous boatrace called the Bundy Thunder…” “Better than the Bundy Chunder,” quipped the Minister. Perhaps.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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