The Coalition has ended the Parliamentary year with a wretched 48 hours.

Its antics in the Senate — and that’s a generous description — to unsuccessfully try to delay finalisation of the Telstra separation bill have been an extended ad for unicameralism. Innumerable points of order, motions to suspend standing orders and filibuster debate have, along with some Labor procedural incompetence, cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in extra sitting time, complete with flying House of Representatives MPs back to Canberra on Monday.

If Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz and George Brandis would like to chip in a few thousand dollars from their generous Parliamentary salaries as a token effort to offset that additional expense, that’d be much appreciated gents.

Especially given, remember, that their communications spokesman insists that structural separation of Telstra is a good thing. A view, incidentally shared by Telstra itself and, judging by Telstra’s share performance yesterday, investors generally.

But there was worse in question time in the Reps yesterday. Labor MPs were in a buoyant mood, facing the last wearisome question time of the year and the passage of a key bill — a bill that actually delivers a fair chunk of the reform they’ve been talking about incessantly — guaranteed. And Julia Gillard has been performing strongly throughout the last fortnight.

Thus, at 2.39, long-serving Liberal nonentity Joanna Gash rose and asked the Prime Minister about the NBN destroying a constituent’s nature strip. A constituent, Gash said, had reported that “they have ripped up my whole nature strip.”

What was ripped up was the opposition, by the Prime Minister, demonstrating that all the stunts and carefully-scripted lines are nothing compared to a leader in good form. She demanded of the opposition

is its advocacy in this place that we somehow put a dome over the nation now, that we freeze it in time, that we pickle it, that we keep it in its current form and we do not move one brick, we do not create one road, we do not build one bit of rail track, we do not change one port, we do not engage in one school construction and we do not roll out the NBN because people do not want to see the natural consequences of construction? Is that really the position — the Luddite position — of a political party that calls itself the Liberal Party?

There has been a theme in these questions. Apparently they do not like cable. Do they want us to take all the electricity wires down? Apparently they do not like wiring. Do they want all the telephones wires gone? Apparently they do not like progress. Which part of time would they like us to go back to — 1960, 1930 or 1910? Which age would they pick as the party of the past? This does not befit a political party that calls it — self the “Liberal Party”. If they want to go out and re-name their political party the “Luddite Party” then they should do it by the time this parliament next convenes and at least then they will be honest with the Australia people about what they stand for in politics — a denial of progress, a denial of the future and no vision for the country.

The reason it was such a devastating reply was because it was right on target. This past fortnight Labor has been trying to skewer the opposition as a party without positive policy, as a merry band of wreckers. But no carefully scripted Dorothy Dixer, no rehearsed grab for the evening news or attempts to exploit Coalition party-room dynamics, came close to Gillard’s reaction to Gash. And it was on the money all the more because of what was going on in the Senate, where the Coalition was pulling every stunt possible to delay a vote it knew it would lose.

There is currently a strong focus on Labor’s identity, its agenda, what Julia Gillard wants to achieve this turn. What does Labor stand for? We’re not much clearer to knowing the answer than we were back in September when this new-look government was born from a hung Parliament. But it ends the year with a sense of momentum and just a little bit of achievement, however badly it bungled along the way.

The opposition, in contrast, is left looking every bit the party of negativity that Labor claims. Steve Ciobo was right to stand up in his party room and demand to know when the Coalition was going to start producing something positive.  Joe Hockey is the only shadow cabinet member to produce a policy agenda on a high-profile issue. He’s done so by demonstrating an openness to new ideas and a willingness to think outside the narrow parameters of major party politics. His reward, internally, is to be leaked against by a prominent shadow cabinet colleague, but he has made the conservative side of politics the go-to party for voters seriously interested in banking reform, cutting the ground from under Wayne Swan.

In short, Hockey’s demonstrated the adage that good policy can be good politics.

The rest of the opposition has failed to do anything like that — particularly on broadband, where we’re yet to see a serious policy to replace the failure Tony Smith took to the election, and particularly on climate change, where the Coalition has simply removed itself from serious debate in favour of magical solutions and winner-picking.

Instead it’s reduced to complaining about nature strips and stunts to waste time in the Senate. What a way to finish the year.