It was Judgement Day in Question Time yesterday. Actually, a cross between Groundhog Day and Judgment Day , as we were told, over and over again, about Malcolm Turnbull’s lack of judgment.

24 times.

Poor judgment. Bad judgment. Wrong judgment. Misjudgment. Flawed judgment.

At one stage it broke into Kevin Rudd’s ad libbing in response to Coalition laughter. “So, whilst the opposition guffaws, squeals and exercises poor judgment, this government is getting on with the job of building the infrastructure we need …” etc etc. God help us.

There hasn’t been messaging this subtle since every Government noun came with a free “decisive”.

Rudd and his team would have been dismayed to see the Seven and Nine networks failed to run any political stories last night, preventing any of the oft-repeated instances of “judgment” getting an airing to a mass audience. But that’s OK, they’ll keep repeating it until voters are muttering in their sleep “Malcolm Turnbull lacks judgment.”

But at the moment Malcolm Turnbull is not so much the “master of misjudgement”, as Wayne Swan christened him, as the man with the inverse Midas touch. Everything he touches turns to dross.

Yesterday he railed against the Government’s handling of relations with China and declared them “at their lowest ebb for many, many years” and that the Prime Minister “obviously has no leverage left with China at all.” Come Question Time, Julie Bishop thought she would embarrass Foreign Minister Stephen Smith by asking if China had withdrawn cooperation with the Prime Minister’s Asia-Pacific community proposal, following media reports of China snubbing the Pacific Islands Forum.

Smith rose and began explaining that China had indeed made clear its disapproval over the granting of a visa to Rebiya Kadeer, outlining the extent of what was clearly a significant spat between Australia and China. Bishop, inexplicably and bizarrely, rose and interrupted him to demand he answer her question. Talk about misjudgement, and from a woman who is notionally Deputy Leader.

As we now know, Smith and Rudd must have been trying to stifle their smirks because, as Martin Ferguson’s absence indicated, something on the resources front was afoot. As it turned out, afoot in Beijing, where Ferguson was signing a $50b deal with the Chinese and, doubtless, making life hell for translators.

Evidently China wasn’t quite as incandescent with rage as reports made out — certainly not enough to knock back a massive LNG deal. The Government seems to have worked out that it can ignore Beijing’s objections without endangering commercial relations because the Chinese need our resources too much.

It was one of the more forgettable Question Times of recent months for the Coalition — which is really saying something — especially after Don Randall ruined a perfectly good question from one of his colleagues by loudly calling that an individual mentioned in press reports was “a gangster”, a statement that despite being an interjection has now made its way into Hansard. Harry Jenkins correctly turfed Randall out.

Meantime in the Coalition joint party room, what should have been the celebration of a win over the Government by Greg Hunt on the Renewable Energy Target legislation instead became a dogged battle over whether to support the Government’s bill at all, led by the Nationals, who plainly regard any energy source not dug out of the ground as the Devil’s work. If the Nationals and Liberal backbenchers are stupid enough, this could yet go badly wrong for the Coalition which only days ago was boasting of having stared down the Government and got agreement on decoupling the RET bill from the CPRS bill. The defeat of the bill in the Senate will be sheeted home not to the Government but the Coalition, and give the Government yet another stick to beat them with.

Coalition backbenchers also found time, unexpectedly, to have a stoush over immigration detention. What was once the wedge of choice for John Howard to use on Labor is now firmly and deeply embedded in the Coalition, where moderates are willing to stick to their guns and cross the floor.

How Turnbull is able to stay sane leading this rabble in such unpromising times is a mystery and testimony to his powers of endurance.

Perhaps his real misjudgment is that he doesn’t walk away and tell his colleagues find someone with nothing better to do than be their punching bag as well as the Government’s.

Peter Fray

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