As we mentioned last week, the cheers and jeers of the Labor Opposition in Canberra are sounding increasingly hollow because voters still prefer Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
Labor has used almost every trick in the book to cut Mr Turnbull down to size, from trying to make his self-made wealth look dodgy, to claiming every policy stand-off or backflip is a measure of the PM’s lack of principles or leadership.
The tactic has worked in part, with voter satisfaction in Mr Turnbull’s performance continuing to drop over the past fortnight according to Newspoll, but the PM has still managed to simultaneously strengthen his lead over Mr Shorten as preferred PM from 11 to 15 percentage points.
In response, Labor appears to have adopted another element of the wrecking strategy used by Tony Abbott when he was Leader of the Opposition.
This is to make the Parliament a shambles, and then blame the mess on the PM.
Mr Abbott did this by blocking as much of the Gillard Government’s legislation as possible in the Senate, and also by moving a suspension of standing orders motion towards the end of almost every Question Time, which is televised, so that he would appear daily on viewers’ screens railing against the chaos and dysfunction of the Government.
The former Liberal leader was relying on the old adage that if you repeat something often enough in politics, it can become an accepted fact.
Accordingly, voter perceptions of the Labor Government being an omnishambles played a big part in the subsequent election defeat of Ms Gillard.
Labor using Abbott’s approach
Labor has also tried the same approach, not only creating the perception of dysfunction in the Parliament but actually causing it.
First there was the motion moved by Labor in what was supposed to be the final minutes of the previous parliamentary session, calling for a royal commission into the banks to be established.
Eventually, the government defeated the motion, but not before losing on an earlier procedural vote.
Labor brought on the motion because it had scouts at the airport monitoring the early departure of government MPs, leaving the Coalition with less votes than it needed to defeat the motion.
The opposition even boasted later to the media that one of its MPs was used as a decoy to mislead the other side, walking around Parliament House with a suitcase to give the impression he was leaving for the airport, and then dashing back to the parliamentary chamber to vote.
Even though the motion did not have the power to force the establishment of a royal commission, Labor thought it was pretty clever for the move.
It’s possible thousands of taxpayer dollars were wasted on missed or rescheduled flights out of Canberra as MPs were forced to stay for a few additional hours to debate and vote on the matter.
And what did the exercise achieve in terms of public benefit? Not a jot. But that hasn’t stopped Labor, which this week tried a variation of the same tactic.
Kelly O’Dwyer the target
During the debate on a new law to make multinational companies pay more tax, the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, Kelly O’Dwyer, did not notice that Labor had tried to amend the proposed legislation to call on the government to explain why it had “failed to close tax loopholes and increase transparency in Australia”.
Ms O’Dwyer did not oppose the amendment and instead carried on with the formalities, which was to “commend the bill to the House”.
The opposition then spent an inordinate amount of time crowing about the mistake, which had no actual effect, with Labor’s chief parliamentary tactician Tony Burke claiming “there has never been a more chaotic government, … [or] a more chaotic parliament”.
By week’s end Labor was making the chaos it had created another test of Mr Turnbull’s leadership, claiming the PM would not discipline underperforming ministers such as Ms O’Dwyer for fear of losing their support for his leadership.
There could be something to this point, given Tony Abbott has seemingly ramped up his non-campaign in recent times.
This has included giving high-profile speeches, making television and radio appearances and challenging the PM on state-level party reforms.
Mr Abbott may have said his leadership ambitions were dead, buried and cremated, but his behaviour suggests otherwise.
Labor’s wrecking tactics now include putting pressure in on the embattled Minister O’Dwyer, targeting her with complex questions in Parliament and even accusing her of incompetence that extends to the bungled Census.
Ms O’Dwyer should probably be thankful therefore for the reascendant Tony Abbott, who is giving the PM much bigger things to worry about than her own poor performance.
Paula Matthewson was media adviser to John Howard in the early 1990s and then worked for almost 25 years in communication, political and industry advocacy roles. She is now a freelance writer and communication strategist. Paula has been tweeting and blogging about politics, the media and social media since 2009 under the pen name @Drag0nista.