Ah, House of Representatives question time, that 2pm trip back to Year 10 assembly in which the nation’s best political minds joust unceasingly for petulant advantage — and that’s just the limelight addicts in the front row of the press gallery.

That’d be Fairfax on the right, drifting to self-declared national temperature taker Paul Kelly in the EXACT CENTRE, next to the News tabs and online writers on Kelly’s left. Most scrolling through some kind of mobile device, all studying earnestly this sad, embarrassing battle for low-level rhetorical supremacy.

Weirdly, Sky News sit directly behind the papers, further away but no less engaged in the leering silliness embraced by everyone on the opposition frontbench aside from Malcolm Turnbull.

But if the Coalition, hepped up on carbon dioxide, had again gone feral with the sniggering triumvirate of Truss, Hockey and Dutton turning puce with ridicule, then the government continues to withdraw into their own sullen world of texts and tweets.

Capricornia’s Kirsten Livermore was a model of studied disinterest, penning what looked to be an extended speech on her Toshiba laptop while others, like upstanding Bruce MP Alan Griffin, scrolled repeatedly back and forth through a probably empty inbox. The headline-grabbing Graham Perrett tugged at his stationary drawer, rolling it back and forth and back and forth …

And this, on probably the biggest policy day so far in this parliament.

One symptom of the disease is an apparent edict banning the internet from the government front bench — the rule a levee for a tide of frustration that when breached would almost certainly engulf the prime minister. There is no such rule for those opposite. Sophie Mirabella, Scott Morrison, Malcolm Turnbull, Greg Hunt and Kevin Andrews were all, at various points, app obsessed.

As for the content, Gillard delivered her usual plodding, droning monologues (“I spoke to the Australian people about the science being real … I spoke to the Australian people the need to have an emission trading scheme … we will use the opportunity of this parliament … I spoke …) but scored one hit when she used her Tony Abbott “wrecker” line.

When Kevin Rudd got to his feet there were the usual opposition leers — unsurprising when Rudd’s dispatch box skills remain vastly superior to his assassin’s.

“We are acting for this nation’s future, you are denying this nation a future,” Rudd concluded, prompting Julie Bishop to remark “you’ve still got it” to her foreign affairs rival. Rudd quoted from John Howard’s Lazarus Rising — with Bishop unintentionally drawing subliminal analogies between Rudd’s miraculous recovery from heart valve surgery to his prime ministerial predecessor’s triple bypass.

There was one awesome metaphor from the usually pedestrian Wayne Swan, who reckoned the Coalition “had its head stuck so far in the sand they can’t see the wood for the trees”. At this, the gallery gave a collective smirk, the quote sure to be included in tomorrow morning’s colour pieces.

And if the snappers’ click-rate is to be believed, other newsworthy observations — Rudd’s consoling hand on Turnbull’s shoulder and Turnbull’s extended chat with Nicola Roxon during a ringing of the bells — seemed certain to turn up as pictorial bunting.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW