Rudd rage (n): a condition of inarticulacy and irrationality engendered by the political dominance and behaviour of Kevin Rudd. — Dictionary of Stuff We Just Made Up

The Howard Haters took years to develop. They might have hated John Howard from the moment he became Prime Minister, but their loathing was based on the 1980s — the Howard of bad teeth, incentivation and opposition to Asian immigration.

Howard Haters were widespread. There were plenty in the ALP, naturally, but the broader Left thronged with people who refused to accept that the Howard Government had any legitimacy, that it had somehow gotten into and retained government through repeated acts of fraud. There were even a few in the Liberal Party, and they proliferated as time went on.

Kevin Rudd, having had a more meteoric rise in public life, has had less time to generate that sort of bile but he’s off to a flying start. I first noticed it amongst Howard Haters, actually — left-wingers who bowed to no one in their loathing of the Howard Government but who went into apoplexy at the mention of Kevin Rudd as well, for his social conservatism, his Christianity, his voice, his me-tooism. There’s still plenty of that, and there’s probably a few like that in Labor ranks these days.

But yesterday showed that the red mist of Rudd rage has settled over the Federal Opposition.

After complaining that the Government was doing exactly what it did in the Howard years i.e. thoroughly abusing Question Time, the Opposition walked in yesterday to find itself under fire over its views on women. The Government followed up a Herald article on the lack of questions from female Coalition MPs with a nice little revelation that the Liberal Party hadn’t bothered updating its webpage on women since before the last election. Tanya Plibersek’s lengthy exploration of this issue drove Christopher Pyne, after several points of order, to move that she no longer be heard, a pointless exercise requiring a division while the Government uses its numbers to defeat the motion.

When she was back on her feet, Plibersek, quick as a flash, noted that not only did the Liberals not want women to ask questions, they didn’t like them answering them either.

Pyne didn’t learn. Much later, after Question Time had descended into a particularly unfunny farce involving an extended dispute about whether Julia Gillard had inferred, implied or imputed that a school P&C was telling lies, Julie Bishop rose to ask about Paul Keating’s views on women in 1969. For once the Government’s hysterics at Bishop weren’t manufactured, and became more uproarious when Bishop offered to table the Keating quote. Unfortunately the quote was from Hansard itself, which left Government members in a state of helpless laughter similar to that of the crowd demanding “welease Woderwick” in Life of Brian. Gillard took full toll of Bishop’s stupidity, prompting Pyne to move that she no longer be heard. Gillard didn’t miss the opportunity to make the same point as Plibersek.

It’s hardly of great policy import, but not merely had the Liberals been lured into playing on an issue manufactured by the Government, they played it appallingly badly.

But that was only the public explosion of Rudd rage. The red mist came on in the Coalition joint party room too, partly conjured up by Brendan Nelson, who made some remarks on the occasion of his last party room meeting. The remarks amounted to a neat payback to Malcolm Turnbull for destabilising his leadership over climate change, encouraging an extended list of backbenchers to rise and assail Turnbull’s strategy of accepting the need to deal with the Government on the ETS.

Turnbull, Andrew Robb and Greg Hunt — who alone in the Liberal Party appear to be keeping their heads — are pursuing the least-worst strategy for the Coalition, which has been well and truly cornered on climate change. They want to deal with the Government and get a damaging issue off the agenda. But the Nationals and many Liberal backbenchers don’t want a bar of it. They want to hand the Government a highly-visible opportunity to portray the Coalition as in denial about climate change and maybe even run an election on it.

The outcome was that it was agreed the Coalition would propose amendments to the ETS, based on the nine principles Turnbull got shadow Cabinet agreement to in July (Frontier Economics, we hardly knew ye). Things remain a little confused, though. Who will draft the amendments? Nick Minchin this morning said it was up to the Government to draft amendments. That might come as a shock to Andrew Robb, who according to other Liberals is supposed to be drafting them, in consultation with Hunt and Turnbull. Robb’s spokesman said the Opposition was receiving amendments from industry, and would consider which ones to take forward — but might also come up with its own amendments as well. Someone should give Minchin the updated talking points.

But regardless of who drafts the amendments, the problem is they will all have to be approved by the joint party room before they go into Parliament. Will they have a better chance of passing the joint party room or the Senate? That’s a very real question. Turnbull now faces the dangerous possibility of being rolled by his own backbench on the amendments.

Coalition MPs are very, very angry at the Government, primarily because it is thrashing them on pretty much every issue. The first thing that goes when you’re angry is your capacity for rational thought. The Opposition is blundering about in a red mist of Rudd rage, flailing wildly at anything within reach as the Government delights in poking at it. It’s like watching an animal being taunted.

Howard’s dominance did the same thing to the ALP for years. They hated him so viscerally, they could never respond to him logically. It eventually took Kevin Rudd to stop hating Howard and start treating him as a politician like any other.

When you’re getting thrashed, the only thing to do is knuckle down and go back to basics and endure. Getting angry just makes the scoreline blow out even more. If they want to give Australia the semblance of a decent Opposition, the Coalition needs to calm the hell down and start doing its job. The Government’s dominance will pass, but not if they lock themselves into a permanent state of fury.