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 morning’s Labor Caucus debriefing. There was “clearly there was some wind at our backs”, 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 “had just a day-to-day strategy of destructive negativity that was held together by chewing gum”.
"Which brand?" one hack quipped.
Swan also made reference to the “Pyne and Bishop show”, the nearly endless round of interviews Abbott’s Manager of Opposition Business and Deputy made on Monday in defence of their Leader’s character. Pyne and Bishop have led the Opposition in Parliament this week as well, with the Opposition focusing on Labor’s handling of Taji Mustafa’s immigration case. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has stuck firmly to the line that the party Mustafa represents, Hizbut-Tahrir, isn’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 government’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 Newman’s. Such matters thus featured heavily in the government’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 Abbott’s absence, but not in parliament… it’s complicated), Ms Bishop and Joe Hockey. Abbott’s downturn in the polls was due to was the result of a “character assassination against him which she’d predicted for some time” Bishop told her colleagues, invoking the example of Anna Bligh’s failed campaign targeting Campbell Newman. Warren Truss highlighted how many of the government’s big announcements in recent weeks such as the NDIS and the Gonski report aren’t funded, with Joe Hockey, who’s been running hard in Parliament on the “where’s the money coming from” 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 won’t be taken into account.
Hockey also blamed the continuing strength of the Aussie dollar on “high interest rates”; it’s hard to know whether the Coalition spokesman verballed Hockey there or whether the shadow Treasurer actually thinks that the RBA’s current cash rate is “high” (there’s a tradition senior members of either side don’t say things that reflect on the RBA’s independence); it certainly isn’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 “suffering” 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 that’s hung around this Parliamentary session will vanish. Labor, for so long under the hammer, can sense weakness in its opponents.