In the Crikey email edition today I lamented how poorly this Opposition was pursuing two of the biggest scandals in what has been a relatively trouble-free term for the Rudd Government: the outrageous handover of $250m from taxpayers to the free-to-air TV networks under the guise of assisting them to meet the local content obligations, and the bungling of the Green Loans and foil insulation programs by Peter Garrett’s Environment Department.
There was more than a trace of blood in the water around Garrett as he called a press conference right before Question Time today. Several journalists wondered whether he was going to resign, although given the lack of pressure from the Opposition, it didn’t quite scan that Garrett was either going to offer his head or was going to be pushed by Rudd.
In fact Garrett had called the press conference to announce a full auditing of houses affected by the foil insulation issue, took a number of aggressive questions, then raced off to Question Time where, it was expected, he would face a grilling.
The grilling consisted of three questions on the administration of his portfolio, which Garrett handled nervously but relatively well, taking his time on his third answer to explain in detail the process for assessing assessors under the Green Loans program. The depth of detail into which Garrett went seemed to suck the life from the Opposition, because after that they turned their fire on, of all people, Lindsay Tanner.
In terms of Parliamentary tactics, it was incredible stuff, made worse when Warren Truss failed to get to his feet quickly enough and the Opposition missed one of its own questions, to the considerable amusement of Labor’s Whip Roger Price.
It was not the sign of an Opposition in hot pursuit of a wounded Minister. There was none of the bite or tension that usually gives away that even Government MPs know they’re in trouble.
The Opposition never came back to Garrett, who must have been unable to believe his luck. Not since Joel Fitzgibbon’s nervous self-defence in the face of criticism over Defence’s payment systems has a Minister looked so shaky, but the Coalition showed all the killer instinct of a Toastmasters meeting. Garrett now only has one more Question Time to survive before Parliament rises.
Perhaps, as one Labor MP suggested to Crikey, Tony Abbott has been rattled by the performance of Barnaby Joyce. In which case, he better get used to it. Treasury is appearing at Senate Estimates tomorrow, before the Economics committee. They kick off at 10am. Joyce must be there or look like he is ducking for cover. And all eyes will be on him to see if he stumbles again. Every statement and question of Joyce’s will be subjected to close scrutiny by the Government and the media, both eager to see if Joyce has made any more howlers.
For once, it will a Senator on trial at Estimates, not the bureaucrats.