Labor leader Anthony Albanese (Image: AAP/Bianca De Marchi)

Nothing could illustrate the importance of an effective opposition better than the events of 2020.

First, and most obviously, monitoring and questioning the government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Second, in holding the government to account over the truly dizzying flurry of scandals that has engulfed it, day after day, week after week.

And beyond the politics of opposition, there’s that basic responsibility to uphold the founding values of your party — as distinct from those of the party in power.

That’s why, however tempting a candidate he makes, we’re not choosing Christian Porter — the Coalition’s industrial relations minister easily shaking off his own scandal to attack worker protections in a recession — as clown of the week.

Because this is the Liberal Party, and that is what it does. Expecting it to abandon its ideological commitment to business interests is like trying to cuddle a great white shark with a raw steak in each hand. Frankly, you’ve very badly misunderstood the nature of what you’re dealing with.

And it occurred to us (as it may be occurring to you) that while all this has been going on, we couldn’t remember a single thing Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has said. Not a single memorable turn of phrase; not a single effective summation — let alone a skewering.

True, Albo hasn’t been lucky this year — it’s extremely hard to be constructive and cooperative as demanded by crisis and still mark yourself out as a better party of government.

It’s tough to cut through when such a huge chunk of the media more or less openly supports your opponent, or when members of your own party burn through your oxygen by quitting. And perhaps the sheer volume of resignation-worthy scandals to afflict the government made it difficult to hammer any one minister until they resigned.

But in this moment, there is no excuse.

The fear of an effective campaign against “WorkChoices 2.0” is what has kept the government relatively quiet on big industrial relations reform (at least as far as it directly affects workers; the attacks on unions have continued apace) for the past seven years. It doesn’t say much for the current Labor Party’s effectiveness that the government believed now was a good time to have another go.

The industrial relations bill is essentially an employer group checklist, most egregiously the proposed removal of the “better off overall test”. It quite simply allows bosses to pay less than the minimum award hourly wage with no oversight except a nebulous “public interest” test to be decided on within a rushed timeframe by a Fair Work Commission that has been stacked relentlessly with business figures.

It’s not a mile from the removal of the “no disadvantage test”, the clear step too far in the original WorkChoices and a key plank in the campaign that ended in the ousting of prime minister John Howard.

It will affect people relying on award minimums across the country, just as the nation begins the slow crawl out of a recession and into a very uncertain future.

A party organised around protecting working people simply has to be able to make that comprehensible and tangible to voters, and has to communicate some sense of genuine anger about it — not just as a political necessity, but out of a moral duty to its founding principles.

As Bernard Keane noted this week, if it cannot do these things, there is little point having a Labor Party at all.