Chewing the fat, or is it the gum, in the party rooms
Crikey intern Sally-Anne Curtain and Bernard Keane from Canberra:
Given improved polling outcomes for the government and some rough weather for Tony Abbott, it seems as though Labor is gaining momentum this week. That certainly seemed to be the mood portrayed by the spokesperson during Tuesday morningâ€™s Labor Caucus debriefing. There was â€śclearly there was some wind at our backsâ€ť, Deputy PM Wayne Swan (filling in for the Prime Minister, who along with Abbott is in Perth for the funerals of the most recent Afghanistan casualties) told Caucus; the Coalition â€śhad just a day-to-day strategy of destructive negativity that was held together by chewing gumâ€ť.
“Which brand?” one hack quipped.
Swan also made reference to the â€śPyne and Bishop showâ€ť, the nearly endless round of interviews Abbottâ€™s Manager of Opposition Business and Deputy made on Monday in defence of their Leaderâ€™s character. Pyne and Bishop have led the Opposition in Parliament this week as well, with the Opposition focusing on Laborâ€™s handling of Taji Mustafaâ€™s immigration case. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has stuck firmly to the line that the party Mustafa represents, Hizbut-Tahrir, isnâ€™t a proscribed terror organisation within Australia, and nor does Mustafa have the sort of record that enables a minister to refuse him a visa.
Between yesterday and today, however, Bowen dramatically sharpened his presentation, and when he got the first two questions of Question Time from Julie Bishop on the subject, stroked them cleanly into the galleries for six with some generous quoting of John Howard.
One of the key reasons for the governmentâ€™s sudden run of good fortune, putting aside what is almost certainly a temporary suspension of voter fury at Julia Gillard in her bereavement, is of course the performance of conservative state governments and especially Campbell Newmanâ€™s. Such matters thus featured heavily in the governmentâ€™s questions of itself in Question Time. The Opposition has yet to come up with an effective response.
Meantime the Coalition joint party room was regaled by Warren Truss (notionally Coalition leader in Abbottâ€™s absence, but not in parliamentâ€¦ itâ€™s complicated), Ms Bishop and Joe Hockey. Abbottâ€™s downturn in the polls was due to was the result of a â€ścharacter assassination against him which sheâ€™d predicted for some timeâ€ť Bishop told her colleagues, invoking the example of Anna Blighâ€™s failed campaign targeting Campbell Newman. Warren Truss highlighted how many of the governmentâ€™s big announcements in recent weeks such as the NDIS and the Gonski report arenâ€™t funded, with Joe Hockey, whoâ€™s been running hard in Parliament on the â€śwhereâ€™s the money coming fromâ€ť theme, supporting these claims by stating that company tax revenue had collapsed and that the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook (MYEFO) was being brought forward so that many of these costs wonâ€™t be taken into account.
Hockey also blamed the continuing strength of the Aussie dollar on â€śhigh interest ratesâ€ť; itâ€™s hard to know whether the Coalition spokesman verballed Hockey there or whether the shadow Treasurer actually thinks that the RBAâ€™s current cash rate is â€śhighâ€ť (thereâ€™s a tradition senior members of either side donâ€™t say things that reflect on the RBAâ€™s independence); it certainly isnâ€™t compared to the Howard years, and nor is it the main part of the story on the strength of the Aussie dollar, which is â€śsufferingâ€ť from our status as a safe haven currency, particularly in the eyes of central banks around the world.
All change on Wednesday, though: the PM and Abbott will be back on deck. The air of phoney war thatâ€™s hung around this Parliamentary session will vanish. Labor, for so long under the hammer, can sense weakness in its opponents.