“I congratulate Minister Roxon and I congratulate the government.”

“It has been a pleasure to work with the Health Minister and I praise your intellect and your commitment to the issues.”

“I wish to thank Minister Snowdon for his speech and for his passion for rural and regional Australia.”

So went the health care “debate” at the ALP National Conference this morning in what is looming as a ratings disaster for fledgling public affairs channel A-Pac, and a crisis for the nation’s feature writers. In a repeat of yesterday’s pre-approved water torture, delegate after delegate shuffled to the podium to again deliver pre-vetted cant before a slouching audience dreaming of a better life.

The big health announcements have already been made this week, leaving interest levels waning without the benefit of yesterday’s rapidly-disintegrating “green jobs” hook.

Illicit drug use was condemned, but for many delegates the prospect of a Friday night ice bender at the adjacent Home Nightclub must be starting to look tempting.

Over three long hours, the health care and education sessions proceeded inconsequentially, with clearly-distracted chair Anna Bligh at one point slashing the speaking time by 20 per cent, from five minutes to four. Some delegates waived their right to speak altogether, with Bligh striking them off the schedule with barely-contained glee.

Linsday Tanner’s roving motion-killing hit squad has emerged triumphant, with a formal vote amazingly yet to take place at the conference. When the time came to vote in this morning’s session, amendments were approved “on bloc”, in a move straight out of the Erich Mielke playbook.

And when resident ALP novelist Graham Perrett gets laughs by likening the federal front bench to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with Donatello, Michaelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo becoming Kevinangelo, Julianardo, Waynatello, and Kateael, you know the party is in serious strife. Watch here:

“They’re no half-shells, but they’re my new renaissance heroes”, claimed Perrett, to embarrassing sniggers.

Even the much-hyped Labor Fringe, which received another publicity boost in the Financial Review today, has failed to live up to expectations, with the ALP-haters at Socialist Alliance forced to carry the protest can outside the auditorium.

Ministers have appeared supremely disinterested, with many mistaking the podium for the dispatch box — yesterday, Craig Emerson partook in the requisite pre-speech jacket-buttoning.

Even the “Mexican stand-off” within the Victorian Right over election to the National Executive was resolved, after nominations matched the vacancies.

The real action, if you can call it that, will come tomorrow with the gay marriage stoush set to enliven a core of committed activists but not many others. Louise “infertility does not discriminate” Pratt had a brief audition today with a passionate appeal to GLBTI Australians.

Away from the conference floor, previous rumours of delegates embracing the Star City craps tables have been nixed after the punt shifted to nearby crab-racing venues, with several senior delegates itching to make the most of the action.

Like the crab face-off, the NSW leadership showdown could still have some way to run. Last night sources sighted a miffed NSW Preimer Nathan Rees putting away a few quiet beers, with bitter rival John Robertson working the opposite side of the room and studiously avoiding eye contact.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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