As each Friday rolls around, particularly after parliamentary sitting weeks, we like to look back at how our politicians have fared during the week. Throughout the year, it’s been something of a constant that such week-in-review pieces have yielded a variation on “another bad week for the government”.
Beneath such words, however, was an expectation that at some point the government would get its act together, that via a significant change in tactics or perhaps of personnel, it would at least stop making the egregious errors that have characterised its performance throughout the year, even if it couldn’t find a way to start restoring public trust. After this week, one can only wonder whether even that it possible. People both inside Canberra and outside are starting to talk about a one-term government, something that wasn’t happening even in the depths of the government’s post-budget woes in winter.
It will (rightly) be overshadowed by other events, but this week was truly, wretchedly awful for the Coalition, the worst yet. It’s not quite Labor Awful — how can we forget the Simon Crean-instigated challenge-that-never-was? — but it was the sort of week where the only rational reaction was to sit there gobsmacked at the ineptitude on display. Each day seemed to bring some new screw-up. Employment Minister Eric Abetz saying there were no ABC job losses. The Prime Minister pretending he wasn’t breaking his promise not to cut the ABC. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull joining in with a Utegate-style conspiracy theory about the Rudd government and the ABC doing a secret deal. The apparently permanently enraged Defence Minister David Johnston claiming the government’s own warship builder couldn’t build a canoe. The Prime Minister’s Office briefing that the Medicare co-payment was a political impediment about to be removed, only for the Treasurer and Health Minister to insist that in fact they were still committed to it, and, hey, maybe it would be a good idea to try to implement it via regulation, just like the government tried with its repeal of FOFA? Backbenchers criticising the leadership. Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, infuriated by how much enjoyment Labor was having at the government’s expense, kicked out what seemed to be most of the Labor Party from question time yesterday. She even kicked out the mildest of mild-mannered MPs, Western Australia’s Melissa Parke, simply for quoting standing orders.
If Victorian Labor manages the heretofore improbable feat of knocking off a first-term government tomorrow, it will truly have been the week from hell.
And this was a week in which the government had begun with hopes of finishing the parliamentary year on a relative high note, at least by its own standards — calling time on some problematic proposals, preparing the way for a difficult MYEFO, perhaps even convincing the crossbench in the Senate to pass a compromised tertiary education deregulation bill, setting up for a better 2015. Instead, all the problems that have bedevilled it throughout the year were on vivid display: inept communication, poor tactics, indiscipline, laziness — Abbott even repeated his habit of demanding business argue the case for reform, an abrogation of the role of political leaders. And the co-payment debacle prompts one to wonder what’s happened to the fabled iron hand that the PMO and chief of staff Peta Credlin is said to wield over ministers, if senior figures like Hockey and Dutton are so obviously contradicting the message from the top.
Maybe they’ve touched bottom, and things can only improve from here. Who knows, maybe Denis Napthine will hang on in Victoria, or there’ll be a hung parliament, and next week will produce a win or two in the Senate for the government. Maybe this is the last week in review piece that will reflect on how badly the government is travelling. Maybe. Don’t hold your breath.