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How Labor broke the golden rule of politics

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Of all the golden rules that apply in Australian politics, the one that prevailed this week was the caution about people in glass houses and the throwing of stones.

The Labor opposition has looked increasingly uncomfortable with sticking closely to the Abbott government on ostensibly bipartisan issues such as national security and asylum seekers.

This has not been helped by the government, which has been needling the opposition on the two issues in an attempt to make it untenable for Labor for to maintain its support for the increasingly draconian measures imposed to “protect” the nation.

In turn, Labor has been looking desperately for ways to differentiate itself from the Coalition without walking away from its bipartisan stance, which would allow the government to call the opposition weak on boats and terrorism.

So the news that government officials had apparently handed over wads of cash to entice people smugglers to turn their boats around was pounced upon by the opposition.

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Regrettably the two former Labor Immigration Ministers still in the Parliament, shadow Treasury Chris Bowen and Leader of Opposition Business Tony Burke apparently didn’t think to check whether similar payments had been made under Labor’s watch.

And so the current Labor spokesman on immigration, Richard Marles, was hung out to dry when it emerged that payments had indeed been made to people smugglers under Labor.

The fine detail was that such payments had been made for information and the like, not to actively turn the boats around. But this fact was lost in the melee, and once the government had successfully muddied the water, Labor retreated on the issue.

We saw what he did there

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and Shadow Finance Minister Tony Burke had their work cut out for them in Question Time this week. Photo: AAP

Labor also had a bad week on national security, with Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus stumbling on the cancellation of citizenship issue, which has also been causing a great deal of friction within the Government.

Hoping to add more heat to the friction, Mr Dreyfus made the perfectly logical observation that dual nationals involved in terrorism activities abroad should be brought home to face the courts before having their Australian citizenship cancelled.

This simply gave a free kick to the Prime Minister, who was recently bolstered by strong public support for his stance. He then proceeded to go to town on Labor, saying they wanted to let dangerous terrorists back into the country and put us all in terrible danger.

Career limiting move?

It’s been an even worse week for Labor leader Bill Shorten. Having agreed to give evidence to the witch-hunt royal commission, Mr Shorten had hoped to put a stop to questions about his involvement in creative/questionable enterprise agreements during his time as a union leader until his appearance later this year.

However, following the unflattering depiction of his factional manoeuvrings during the Rudd-Gillard wars in the Killing Season ABC documentary, the Labor leader’s credibility (and maybe even his leadership) is looking a bit shaky.

Mr Shorten has subsequently asked for an earlier appearance at the royal commission, which has been granted.

Selling his arse

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Meanwhile the Prime Minister also gave us a historical reminder, namely of the time he reportedly told country Independent Tony Windsor he’d do anything but sell his arse to form minority government with the MP’s support in 2010.

As foreshadowed in this column last week, the PM’s comments about certain forms of clean energy were aimed at wooing the crossbench and getting the government’s preferred version of the renewable energy target through the Senate.

This week the canny but Luddite senators extracted much more from the PM, including a reported commitment to establish yet another inquiry into wind energy and an ombudsman to handle “complaints” about wind farms.

Social media has had a field day with the concept of a Wind Commissioner.

Most memorable line

An early candidate for the most memorable line of the week was the King of Zingers, Bill Shorten, who called Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s hastily revised denial that people smugglers had been paid to turn around their boats, the “King Kong of contradictions”. However the term didn’t catch on.

Tony Abbott
Tony Abbott’s Question Time clanger took the prize for this week’s most memorable moment.

On the other side of the parliamentary chamber the PM and select ministers chanted their favoured line about the opposition “trousering” hard-earned taxpayer dollars.

However in his enthusiasm for the term, Social Services Minister Scott Morrison called Labor leader Shorten a “trouser bandit”. Minister Morrison later withdrew the description, presumably once someone illuminated him about the term.

It wasn’t until the last day of Parliament that we received the hands-down, most memorable line of the week, which slipped unintentionally from the Prime Minister’s lips during Question Time.

Mr Abbott was berating the Opposition on asylum seeker boat turnbacks, but clearly had his mind on other matters. Instead of saying that when Labor was in power they never turned back a single boat, he exclaimed “They never did a single Turnbull!”

No doubt being reminded how a backbench revolt had brought Julia Gillard to the prime ministership around this time two years ago, our current PM’s own precarious leadership status is still at the front of his mind.

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