One short sentence helped shape Wednesday’s question time.
A few hours earlier Joe Hockey, talking about the difficulties of getting savings measures through the Senate, said: “There are other alternatives we can take”.
The opposition, ever alert to any chink in the government’s armour, pounced.
Bill Shorten’s first question reminded Tony Abbott he’d said the government had no alternative but to press on with its savings.
So who, Shorten demanded, is running the country – Abbott, Hockey, or Clive Palmer?
A swarm of jellyfish. Not a backbone among any of them.
That was a dodgy linkage and Abbott treated it with contempt. He unleashed a tried and true insult, Labor’s debt and deficit disaster; and gave a newer one, Labor were wreckers in government and now are trying to wreck government, an outing. Both were to reappear before the session was over.
Labor wasn’t ready to abandon Hockey’s threat – if that’s what it was – of alternatives.
Shorten asked what further cuts the treasurer was looking at, Catherine King wondered about a $15 GP “tax” and Tanya Plibersek speculated about Family Tax Benefit Part B being scrapped.
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Abbott said the one thing he could guarantee was fixing Labor’s debt and deficit disaster.
Hockey took a more bed time story approach … “Once upon a time Labor believed we should get back to surplus”. He went on to have a go at the absent – “in witness protection” – Wayne Swan.
When Labor briefly moved off budget matters, Scott Morrison slapped them down with “swarm of jellyfish. Not a backbone among any of them”. It’s probably fair enough that the master of on-water operations uses marine insults.
After a while Abbott said something unequivocal, ruling out – as he has before – the family home being included in the pension assets test.
So Labor pounced again. If the PM had ruled that out, Shorten demanded, what about all the other things that had been raised. And how many “grubby deals” would he make in the Senate?
All the assertions are false, Abbott replied with lofty disdain.
Labor, he continued, was in denial about the fiscal catastrophe it had created.
With that, he closed the session.