News National It’s crunch time for our politicians
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It’s crunch time for our politicians

Political crunch time
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has had a tough start to 2017. Photo: AAP
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Next week it will be November – yes really – and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be counting the sleeps until his parliamentary annus horribilis comes to an end.

Parliament will sit for three weeks during November and pull up stumps on 1 December, after which time our elected representatives will scatter to their disparate home bases to reflect upon the year and try to recharge before it all starts again in February.

Once the Parliament has risen, voters will promptly shift their focus from the political scandals (according to the Opposition) and achievements (according to the Government) clogging their news feeds to more important questions, such as whether to have a hot or cold lunch on Christmas Day or if the Australian cricket selectors have got it right for once.

So the next few weeks are absolutely critical for political players – they need to lodge their preferred perception in the minds of Australian voters before the nation knocks off for the long break.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will want voters to emerge from their post-Australia Day snooze vaguely remembering that the Turnbull Government is wracked with chaos and dysfunction.

Malcolm Turnbull in turn will want voters to feel vaguely confident that he’s the man with the plan, and that everything is under control.

So we can expect the intensity of their attention-seeking activities to go up another notch in the weeks to come.

There’s no shortage of material for the Opposition, with Labor pursuing the Government on a number of fronts including its Keystone Attorney-General George Brandis, fumbling of paid parental leave reforms, questions over the “integrity” of Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, and ructions over marriage equality and access to guns.

Those last two issues also point to the other “opposition” that has been diligently intensifying its activities and profile as Parliament prepares to retire for the year.

The ‘killing season’

killing season
Labor PMs Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard and former leader Kim Beazley were all victims of the “killing season”. Photo: AAP

The few weeks before a long parliamentary break (of which there are two each year) is sometimes referred to as the “killing season” by political observers.

It’s a time when political plotters have been known to move swiftly to action for fear of losing momentum once MPs disperse from the bubble that is Parliament House in Canberra.

Labor PMs Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were dispatched by each other in the final days of the June parliamentary session before the traditional long winter break.

Years before, they’d teamed up to remove former Labor leader Kim Beazley in the last fortnight of parliament for the year.

And echoing the move by Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard on Mr Beazley, Tony Abbott knocked off his rival Malcolm Turnbull on the second last sitting day of the year.

Curiously, neither of the two occasions on which Mr Turnbull has challenged for the leadership took place during a killing season.

It’s difficult to determine whether this is because the PM refuses to follow political mores or is simply very disorganised.

Whatever the reason, the PM (or at least those close to him) will become increasingly conscious that the next potential killing season is closing in upon them.

Abbott making moves

Tony Abbott
Tony Abbott is making up for lost time after his “concession” during the federal election. Photo: AAP

Tony Abbott certainly appears to be aware, judging from the increasing intensity of his public interventions.

Mr Abbott may have agreed to play nice during the federal election campaign, and he certainly did, but that “concession” was as much about ensuring that responsibility for any electoral loss was sheeted straight home to Mr Turnbull than it was about Mr Abbott suddenly finding his inner team player. Now he’s making up for lost time.

No matter how many times Mr Abbott protests that his era is over and he’s not interested in returning to the leadership, the former PM’s actions since the election expose his true intentions.

Whether it is his comments on submarines, gay marriage, guns, border protection or Liberal Party reform, every public contribution by Mr Abbott is designed to undermine Mr Turnbull’s authority by wedging the PM against the Coalition’s conservatives and/or making him appear weak to the broader public.

We can expect this wrecking behaviour to continue and escalate over the remaining three weeks of Parliament.

If he truly believes that his time is over, Tony Abbott’s behaviour is tantamount to kicking over the sandcastle.

His doesn’t appear to care that his efforts to bring down Malcolm Turnbull will also bring down the Liberal Party as well as the Coalition Government.

But it is more likely that another scenario is in play.

Mr Abbott could well be hoping his colleagues will get caught up in the killing season mentality and move to install him before Parliament breaks for summer. It wouldn’t be the first time, nor would it be the last.

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.

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