The reality of the Coalition’s muddle on climate change is starting to set in as MPs returned to Canberra after the long break.

The idea was that Malcolm Turnbull could switch attention 1. away from Godwin Grech and 2. to something positive on climate change, by releasing a report showing a better alternative to the CPRS.

Turnbull denied he had “constrained” Frontier Economics in their modelling, which is probably correct, bearing in mind Nick Xenophon was involved in commissioning it as well. But as Frontier principal Danny Price said yesterday, they only had six weeks and there were a large number of scenarios they could have modelled, and settled on one based on 10%.

Clearly a “cleaner, greener, cheaper” option was the one selected by an Opposition leader keen to present modelling that didn’t just show the flaws of the Government’s proposal.

But just to show that when you’re out of form all the breaks go against you, the modelling has only served to highlight that the Coalition as yet has no policy on what sort of ETS it wants to see.

This morning Opposition MPs were trying to cobble together a line from the nine principles enunciated by Malcolm Turnbull a couple of weeks ago, the need for consultation by the Government, and the Frontier Economics Report.

“We’re not the Government,” Tony Abbott pointed out when challenged about the lack of a policy. “You can’t run the country from Opposition.” Abbott stuck to his talking points, suggesting the sort of self-discipline that has been absent from his performance for most of the last 18 months.

It’s marvellous what the prospect of leadership can do. “Malcolm Turnbull has always taken on difficult tasks,” said Greg Hunt, who is emerging as Turnbull’s most enthusiastic spruiker.

One of those difficult tasks, Wilson Tuckey, held court at the Reps doors this morning for an extended period. Ian Macfarlane wandered past and glanced over. “Surprise surprise,” he said, and kept going. Tuckey savaged Turnbull for releasing the Frontier Economics material without consulting the party room and repeated his claim that Turnbull was arrogant and inexperienced.

“Shadow Cabinet decided on a position to delay considering the ETS, and they couldn’t even stick to it,” Tuckey mocked.

Tuckey gets a lot of airtime because the media loves a loudmouth, but his views are not widely supported in the partyroom, partly because of the public manner in which he insists on putting them. But on the other side of the building, Barnaby Joyce was declaring that neither the CPRS nor the Frontier Economics model was going make any difference to the climate, an unexpectedly sensible analysis.

The most dogmatic politician of the lot, however, spoke at the National Press Club yesterday. It’s hardly unusual for Opposition politicians to use National Press Club addresses to attack governments. What is much rarer is for a Government minister to spend most of her address attacking the Opposition, and directing many of her key lines direct to camera.

“The Liberal Party can do this the easy way, or the hard way,” Wong said. She seemed on the verge of threatening to send some boofy blokes round to sort the Liberals out.

Wong’s address was poorly attended, particularly by the Press Gallery. Admittedly many of the latter were in the Opposition partyroom talking about the Frontier Modelling until midday. But Wong’s unwillingness, or perhaps inability, to ever engage on issues beyond the strict parameters of her highly-political talking points, or to address the substance of questions, means she not merely makes for poor copy but shows the Government’s deep inflexibility and obsession with messaging.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, Lindsay Tanner and, very occasionally, Wayne Swan, have a capacity to stay on-message while conveying the sense, whether false or not, that a rational human being capable of debate lurks within. Stephen Conroy, naturally argumentative, actually appears to enjoy answering tricky questions.

But Wong’s relentless insistence that the real question is always Mr Turnbull’s leadership is doing the government no favours in its so-far successful campaign to use climate change as a political weapon.