If there was one moment that summed up the unmitigated disaster that was the Turnbull government’s first week back in Parliament, it was that witnessed by Sky News viewers on Thursday evening.
Treasurer Scott Morrison was holding forth on the government’s plans for economic repair when he was distracted by someone knocking on the television studio door.
Learning that there was a division – or vote – happening in the Parliament, the Treasurer stopped mid-sentence, pulled off his microphone and earpiece, and bolted out the door.
‘People are banging on the door’:
Labor had waited until it was almost time for Parliament to conclude for the week, knowing that perhaps a few government MPs might have slipped out early.
This turned out to be exactly what had occurred, and once Labor realised it might have the numbers in the House, it stopped the government from pulling up stumps for the week and brought on a motion calling for a banking royal commission to be established.
The government was forced to stall for hours while the prematurely departed made their way back to the Parliament from the airport or half way down the Hume Highway.
In the end Labor was unsuccessful in passing the motion, which actually had no power to establish the royal commission. But the incident left little doubt as to whether the Turnbull government is up to the job.
The first culprit
In case anyone has a short memory, this is the sort of tactic used by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott against the Gillard government.
Under Mr Abbott, no opportunity was missed to make the then Labor government look a shambles.
His wrecking manoeuvres extended to being obstructionist in the Senate and trying to hound Labor’s Craig Thomson and the newly-independent Speaker Peter Slipper from office.
Now Labor leader Bill Shorten is using tactics from the same playbook, while its author Tony Abbott enjoys the carnage from the relative safety of the backbench.
Malcolm Turnbull is in the invidious position of reaping what Tony Abbott sowed, and Labor gleefully reminds him of this every time it invokes Mr Abbott’s line about being in office but not in power.
The second offender
However, Mr Abbott is only one of the two people Malcolm Turnbull should blame for this week’s omnishambles.
The other guilty party can be found in the bathroom mirror of the PM’s Point Piper mansion – Malcolm Bligh Turnbull himself.
Ever since election night, when Mr Turnbull gave that shouty speech to what was left of the Liberal faithful in the Wentworth ballroom, the PM has demonstrated a lack of awareness for political nuance that is spookily reminiscent of the Gillard years.
Instead of making an address last week at the National Press Club to set the agenda for this week’s parliament, Mr Turnbull let Bill Shorten do so.
Instead of ensuring that he has the smartest political operators in his office and parliamentary tactics team, the PM has surrounded himself with yes-men who didn’t even foresee yesterday’s predictable stunt from Labor.
And instead of courting the younger, pragmatic conservatives in the Liberal party to isolate the older arch conservatives agitating for the return of Tony Abbott, Mr Turnbull has allowed the perception to grow that he is hopelessly beholden to the right.
Like Julia Gillard, Malcolm Turnbull can thank his predecessor for much of the trouble that has befallen him – Mr Shorten has unequivocally styled himself as Abbott Mark II and intends to bring down the PM just as Mr Abbott ultimately did.
Yet by being politically-flatfooted and making poor decisions, also like Ms Gillard, Mr Turnbull’s has simply made the opposition’s job all the easier.