In the dregs of this 43rd Parliament, Question Time on the government backbenches was its usual fidgety spectacle, Kevin Rudd sitting with his head in his hands, Harry Jenkins chuckling amiably, Martin Ferguson dreaming blankly of banana lounges.
The eighth-last encounter before September 14 started predictably enough, Tony Abbott accusing the PM of increasing electricity prices, the PM blaming gold plating operators. But nearly 40 minutes in and nothing had combusted — the Opposition seemingly lacking any strategy besides three-year old gibes over the carbon tax and the government trying desperately to give a Gonski.
Thankfully, federal infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese, acknowledging the death whiff, decided to reach for the flamethrower.
In an incendiary, ranting answer to a dixer from the Member for Page about ‘how the government was getting on with its plan for nation building infrastructure including the Pacific Highway’, Albo started slowly but then cut sick (listen to the full audio here).
More than half a billion dollars had been spent on pre-construction work on the Woolgoolga to Ballina section of the Pacific Highway, not to mention the $790 million rebuilding of the Bruce Highway between Cooroy and Curra, he noted.
But it was this recent South Coast Register story, titled ‘Abbott Show Rolls into Town’ that really tickled his trigger finger. The story quoted Abbott thusly: “If we’re elected we will form an organisation called Infrastructure Australia.”
“WELL THERE’S A THOUGHT, THERE’S AN IDEA” screamed Albo, arms flailing crazily (Infrastructure Australia was established by the Rudd government in 2008).
But the Labor left lifer wasn’t finished, accusing the opposition leader of directing the Queensland Government not to take federal money so they could “stick with the Bombay solution on cross river rail” (something to do with ripping out seats for more standing room apparently).
The manager of opposition business, Christopher Pyne, then brought a desperate point of order to stop his opposite number “blowing a gasket”, the intervention quickly ruled an abuse by Speaker Anna Burke.
Saffin was back with a supplementary on pre-construction roadworks, allowing Albo to highlight the national infrastructure priority list and retell a yarn about how the Member for Cowper, Luke Hartsuyker, had failed to turn up to his own electorate’s Kempsey Bypass opening in March.
By then it was 3:09pm and the PM hastily called stumps. Saved by her minister as much as the bell.