So, not unexpectedly, things got a little tetchy at the end of this fortnight’s sittings. The Opposition wound up Question Time early yesterday to move a censure motion against the Government. Some of us hung around the Press Gallery hoping to see some Emo Man theatrics from Nelson. But he only hit six or seven on the Taragos’n’Wheelchairs Anguish Scale (banging the Dispatch Box, spraining an eyebrow muscle furrowing his brow, citing the choice about cuts of meat but without actually nominating chops and sausage).
No wonder the Prime Minister didn’t deign to reply. He only gets up these days if Nelson starts crying tears of impotent rage and tearing his clothes.
In the Senate, the Coalition has used the last fortnight to squeeze out the last drops of its remaining power. On Wednesday, it established a Senate select committee into “Labor’s broadband fiasco” (no “Certain Maritime Incident” euphemisms here thanks), on the basis that some analysts have said Labor’s broadband commitment is “in tatters” and there are reports of delays in the project timetable. All of that is quite true, but this may well be the first time a Senate committee has leapt in to review a project that has barely even started yet.
At least this represented a tactical victory by the Coalition. The previous Thursday, they had bungled an effort to delay the Government’s wheat marketing bill by voting for the fullscale deregulation of the wheat industry, on the basis that the Government would reject the amendment in the House of Representatives, thereby keeping the bill alive for further amendments this week.
Quite what the cranky protectionist wheat farmers in the gallery thought of their beloved Nationals voting in favour of full-blown deregulation is unknown — the Hansard only records the usual dry observation “an incident having occurred in the gallery”, but the Coalition’s tacticians missed that there was a consequential bill that also needed amending for it to work. Agriculture Minister Tony Burke had a great time explaining it in the House of Reps on Monday.
Some members will have some repair work to do in their electorates during the winter recess. Member for Bass Jodie Campbell copped a serve this week from her former colleagues at the Launceston Council, where she was deputy mayor until last year, on the front page of the Examiner over her failure to deliver enough cash to her marginal electorate in the six months since she was elected. One alderman called her “Noddy”, as she can be seen most nights on the news when Parliament is sitting, nodding furiously behind the Prime Minister as he harangues the Opposition.
Campbell and Yvette D’Ath, Julie Collins and Mike Symon all get the prize positions on the Government side behind the Dispatch Box so that they can maximize TV exposure in their marginal electorates. In return, however, they have to nod furiously throughout Question Time, because politicians are so much more credible if people nearby are nodding. Like many staffers and MPs on both sides during the election campaign, these four, and their Coalition counterparts on the other side of the Chamber, can be expected to lodge compensation claims for cervical spine damage in years to come.
Greg Hunt might also use the recess to work on pitching his voice lower. Government backbenchers now cruelly yell “Squeaky!” whenever he rises to the Dispatch Box. We’d all like the debate over the Garnaut Review to have at least a little dignity about it.
Oh, and no wrap-up of the session would be complete without hailing Annabel Crabb’s very funny article today about Joe Hockey.
Yesterday I perhaps foolishly predicted that Emo Man would no longer lead the Opposition come the resumption of Parliament in August. Today’s Morgan Poll, conducted over the last two weekends, has the Government picking up 3.5% and the Coalition dropping 2% to yield a 2PP outcome of 61-39%. Those numbers would be quite sufficient to give Gippsland to the Government tomorrow, although John Black remains the lonely predictor of a Labor victory there.
More worryingly, qualitative polling conducted in early June shows more than 1 in 5 Coalition voters are concerned about Brendan Nelson’s leadership.
Happy recess to all Coalition MPs. You have much to think about.