The Coalition’s pursuit of Peter Garrett has faded in only the second Question Time this week, with the Minister untroubled by sustained Opposition questioning this afternoon and the Coalition having nowhere to direct its attack after moving a censure motion yesterday.
Government MPs are privately astonished at the Opposition’s tactics, after Liberal leader Tony Abbott moved a censure motion only half-a-dozen questions into the first Question Time of the week yesterday, despite the lack of any compelling evidence to emerge from the Senate’s committee hearings into the insulation program.
Garrett’s fate is now dependent on whether the Government can shift the media cycle on from the issue and back onto its preferred territory of the economy, health and national security. The Opposition therefore needed to maintain pressure and media focus on Garrett with new material or new issues about his handling of the program, creating a steady drip of stories and building up the pressure across the rest of week. Instead, the Opposition’s questions revolved around what Garrett had previously told Parliament, and a series of electoral anecdotes about businesses affected by the major overhaul of the scheme announced by Garrett on Friday afternoon.
The questions allowed Garrett to get onto the front foot for the first time in weeks, pointing out that the Opposition had opposed the entire program, rendering their criticisms of its closure (which had been demanded by the Opposition) hypocritical.
It was a small but significant moment for Garrett, who must be delighted that the forensic Malcolm Turnbull is watching with bemusement from the backbench rather than leading the Opposition after him. Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt have made for poor pursuers, and the Opposition tactics committee’s approach has been consistently confusing both in the first Parliamentary fortnight, when the matter was barely pursued until the end of the session, and this week. Garrett will feel more secure in his position now after the Prime Minister gave strong support to him in today’s Caucus meeting and the Opposition failed to land a blow.
Rudd’s approach, of refusing to countenance losing a Minister unless absolutely critical, is a straight from the Howard playbook used to frustrate Labor so much for more than a decade.