This would have to be one of the most infuriatingly incompetent Oppositions I’ve ever seen.

There are two huge opportunities for the Coalition to inflict serious damage on the Government at the moment, and it is wholly ignoring one and feebly prosecuting the other.

Today, at least, the national broadsheet moved on the absolute disgrace of the Government’s quarter-billion-dollar gift to the free-to-air television networks — although the story could and should have been written 24 hours earlier and it still missed the point Glenn Dyer made on Monday, that the a big chunk of the handout will go directly to senior free-to-air executives.

The Opposition has not touched the issue. No questions about what discussions were held between the Government and FreeTV, none about whether Wayne Goss met with Kevin Rudd on the issue. Nothing about why there is no requirement of any kind placed on the free-to-airs. At least the car manufacturers have to make green cars for their taxpayer handouts.

Doubtless the Coalition is deeply concerned about offending the free-to-air networks, but it rather makes a mockery of Tony Abbott’s claim that under him the Coalition was going to start being a fair dinkum Opposition. Given he has opposed pretty much everything from the Government since he became leader, this sticks out like a sore thumb.

And then there’s the peculiar case of Peter Garrett and the Green Loans and foil insulation debacle yesterday.

The Green Loans program has been a victim of its own appeal, true, but Garrett has been badly let down by his bureaucrats, who have botched these programs. The Green Loans problems should have been foreseen. The foil insulation issue is more complicated, because — and blink and you’ll miss this in the press coverage — foil insulation has been in widespread use in new housing long before the Government’s program started. Even so, lives have been lost.

Word in bureaucratic circles for many months has been that the Environment Department, these days run by Robyn Kruk, previously Morris Iemma’s top bureaucrat in Health and Premier and Cabinet in NSW, has been struggling with the massive expansion in its program administration role under Labor. Garrett has executive and management experience after two stints as Australian Conservation Foundation but no background overseeing program administration.

With more admissions coming from Environment bureaucrats at Estimates about the implementation of the Green Loans program and Garrett announcing a ban on foil insulation, he should have been a prime target in Question Time yesterday. The minutes ticked by after we gathered at 2pm.  Early questions were on the Coalition’s ETS electricity price rise campaign. Then they shifted to Mike Kaiser. Then to asylum seekers. There was confusion in the gallery. Why wasn’t Garrett, looking less than his normal relaxed self, being targeted?

Finally, nearly 90 minutes into Question Time, at the last Opposition question, Abbott rose and asked Garrett about home insulation.

Since then there has been a steady stream of Coalition backbenchers demanding Garrett resign.

Sorry guys, but you don’t get gifted resignations. You have to earn them through Parliamentary pressure, and one question at the fag-end of QT ain’t pressure.  Four questions and a censure motion is more like it. Maybe they can give that a go today. Two more days and Garrett will be in the clear when Parliament rises.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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