The end of the parliamentary year couldn’t have come soon enough for the new government, which is unexpectedly ending 2013 beset by problems both of its own making and thrust upon it by outside forces.

The General Motors announcement has provided Labor with the platform for a strong ending to the year, enabling the inexperienced Bill Shorten to hammer the government yesterday over an issue on which Labor still has an edge with voters — managing the economy to provide jobs. It was Shorten’s strongest parliamentary performance to date.

It is now up to Treasurer Joe Hockey to end the year on a stronger note with Tuesday’s Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. Hockey must get the Coalition on the front foot and begin re-prosecuting the government’s narrative that whatever the problem, it’s all Labor’s fault. It appears that Hockey, who put the case for no longer propping up the car industry in Parliament this week, will have to play the role of economic hard man in this government while his Prime Minister sits on the sidelines.

Abbott appears unsure of himself on economics and, alarmingly, appeared yesterday to urge the Reserve Bank to spend the $9 billion gifted to it by Hockey, to intervene against the Australian dollar.

While much of the blame for the government’s problems rests with external causes, it’s much easier to be knocked off course by external events if you don’t have a clear sense of where you’re going. The impression emerging from this government is that it is led by a Prime Minister pulled in different directions by both the Coalition he leads and his own, often decidedly un-Liberal, economic views.

When Parliament resumes on February 11, Tony Abbott must be more sure of where he wants to take Australia.

Peter Fray

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