If you have a good line, spin it – relentlessly.
That was the operating principle of Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten as they squared off in parliament for the first time in two months on Tuesday.
Unsurprisingly, question time and a subsequent attempted censure motion were all about the coming loss of Toyota, Australia’s last motor vehicle maker.
But all had thoroughly rehearsed their lines during the media assaults of the preceding 20 hours.
Abbott remained pollyanna-ish.
Toyota’s decision was devastating, a word he used many times.
But Australia can rise to the challenge and build a better future. Examples of what could be done ranged from a company selling accessories to Boeing to a family pasta firm selling spaghetti to the Italians.
Workers will exchange good jobs for better jobs, the prime minister continued. The trick was higher productivity.
And here Abbott pounced joyfully.
That meant getting rid of the carbon tax, the mining tax and green tape. It meant bringing back the building and construction watchdog.
Other ministers picked up the theme, with Christopher Pyne denouncing union thuggery and Barnaby Joyce aghast at how the carbon tax is crippling dairy farmers on the NSW south coast.
Even Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane, who on Monday night had looked genuinely upset by the Toyota decision, seemed to have caught his leader’s glass-half-full approach.
It was, he said, a challenge rather than a catastrophe.
Shorten, who took every opposition question, probed away from various angles which broadly added up to Abbott couldn’t care less about the final collapse of the car industry on his watch.
In his attempted censure motion Shorten broadened the attack, bringing in SPC Ardmona and various other struggling or failed companies.
He also accused Abbott of misleading Australians by blaming the workers and their conditions.
Pyne, that doughty warrior for all occasions, led the government’s reply.
In between accusing Shorten of “breathtaking hypocrisy”, he ran the line that Labor shouldn’t be wasting parliament’s time on such motions when there were important things to do.
Like – guess what – the carbon tax, the mining tax, a new building and construction commission, and the royal commission into union corruption and thuggery.
The government’s problem with most of these matters, however, lies not with a few Labor speeches in the lower house, but with a Senate it doesn’t control.