Question Time doesn’t get more childish than yesterday. Peter Dutton called the Prime Minister an idiot, which is not exactly up there with demon babies, but he was asked to withdraw by Anthony Albanese in a tone of enraged censoriousness. But he did it again shortly afterward, and we were then treated to the sight of grown men and women arguing over whether, and what, he should withdraw, because Leader of the House Anthony Albanese was not going to give the Opposition the satisfaction of repeating what Dutton had said.

Our well-paid statesmen and women at work.

The Opposition’s task yesterday was to somehow find a silver lining in the interest rate cut, although without specifically mentioning interest rates, because that would induce the Prime Minister to spend five minutes discussing the “Nelson Doctrine” of saying things as Leader of the Opposition he wouldn’t say as Prime Minister. Rudd’s playing up of Nelson’s interest comments evidently got under the skin of Coalition MPs — it prompted one to indignantly complain in the party room that there so wasn’t a convention that Opposition Leaders didn’t comment on interest rates.

Instead, they settled for asking about job losses — a theme encapsulated when Nelson finally rose to ask his first question, after the rate cut had been announced, which was “is the government having Australians pay for this interest rate cut with their jobs?”

Cue several minutes of discussion from Rudd on the “Nelson Doctrine”.

Good luck to the Coalition in getting Australians to worry about job losses when there are interest rate cuts to be enjoyed. Especially when the only likely consequence of job losses will be to take some of the pressure off the skilled employment market. But points for trying. The Government responds to this line by accusing the Opposition of “talking the economy down.” As the Coalition points out, this is a bit rich coming from the Government that spent its first few months talking about the inflation crisis.

So our economic debate at the moment can be summarised as:

“You did.”

“No you did.”

“No. You are”

“No I’m not, you are.”

“I know you are but what am I?”

“Well… well, you are.”

Makes one long for the glory days of the petrol excise debate.

Rudd didn’t need to labour the “Nelson Doctrine” because he had new material to work with, which emerged from Nelson’s appearance on Lateline. Discussing the Murray-Darling, Nelson at first denied the link between drought and climate change (which one doesn’t need to be a climate change denier to do), and then when faced with studies from the likes of the CSIRO that made the link, agreed it was possible. Nelson is now in a zone where such minor stumbles and pseudo-gaffes are all treated as major problems by the media, with the Government only too happy to encourage them.

The contrast with Malcolm Turnbull becomes all the more dire. Turnbull was on The 7.30 Report trying to argue the complicated case that inflation wasn’t that much of a problem and that the Reserve Bank had been egged on by Wayne Swan to raise interest rates too high. It’s not exactly a simple story to sell but it’s probably the best the Opposition currently can offer, and at least Turnbull can get through an interview without serving up reams of material for the Government to mock the next day.

The other alleged leadership contender, Peter Costello, conveniently missed the first drop in interest rates in nearly seven years. On his way to America for a conference, apparently. Definitely evidence of an engaged and committed parliamentarian.

It’s pro forma for the Press Gallery to want change and the colour and movement of leadership spills, but there are more important reasons for wanting Malcolm Turnbull to move sooner rather than later on the hapless Dr Nelson. There’s no political contest at the moment, and won’t be until the leadership issue is resolved and a more effective operator is running the show. That’s Turnbull.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey