Red-faced and sounding like a picnic race caller, Barnaby Joyce went for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s throat.
It was the first sitting day of parliament. The beginning of a session where the government wants to get its budget measures through and revive its political stocks.
The Deputy Prime Minister likened Shadow Transport Minister Anthony Albanese to a big diesel electric.
The 6,600 diesel electric which he said would go “straight past” Tanya Plibersek, Tony Bourke and Jim Calmers and stop at Bill Shorten’s station.
Reaching a climax of excitement, Mr Joyce had the Albanese locomotive shunting his leader right out of his chair.
This theme of ‘Albo’s’ naked ambition rekindled was the flavour of the day for government ministers.
They seized on a Fairfax Media report that a big majority of Mr Shorten’s shadow cabinet was in favour of backing the government’s proposed half per cent rise in the Medicare levy.
No one in shadow cabinet denies the story.
“Messy” was the way one of them, Ed Husic, described it on Sky News.
But no one denies shadow ministers left it up to the Leader.
The leaking of the robust discussion (it lacked real heat according to a number of the participants) is remarkable for its uniqueness.
The Shorten operation has been very disciplined.
But what excited the government was the Albanese factor.
The Shadow Minister, in a speech last week, suggested Labor should have grabbed the Treasurer’s plan to raise the Medicare levy as a sign of the Liberals’ “capitulation” to Labor.
It wasn’t hard to join the dots.
Mr Albanese went into complete denial mode on the Nine Network when his sparring partner Christopher Pyne said he had fired the starters’ gun for a leadership challenge.
He decried that as rubbish.
“There is nothing happening here,” was the way one of Albo’s closest associates put it, insistent there is no move or appetite to remove the leader. But he would say that, wouldn’t he?
After all, Labor has had an average aggregate lead in the opinion polls this year of close to seven per cent. Enough for a landslide win.
The best explanation: Mr Albanese wants to remind his colleagues he is the obvious heir apparent.
But what will be tested in the weeks ahead is the wisdom of Mr Shorten in taking this tack on the National Disability Insurance Scheme funding.
The government insists the rise in the Medicare levy has everything to do with fully funding the scheme. Labor says it is a ruse.
It insists, citing the 2013 Budget papers, the scheme is fully funded.
It also says its alternative, combined with keeping the 2 per cent deficit levy on high income earners, would raise more.
Social Services Minister, Christian Porter says the Medicare levy rise is fair and “75 per cent of the Shadow Cabinet” agree with that. He didn’t leave it there.
Mr Porter quoted Mr Shorten back at himself when he set up the NDIS: “You need to look into the face of people whose lives are second class and you need to say, ‘I regard me as getting into power as more important than your life’.”
Persuasive, if you forget the nominated $55 billion NDIS funding gap over ten years is also matched by an unfunded $65 billion corporate tax cut over the same period.
Raising income taxes to pay for that is nowhere near as politically attractive.
And then there’s the stoush over the Turnbull government’s embrace of Gonski needs-based school funding.
That pits the Liberals against the Catholic sector, with the Prime Minister and his colleagues accusing the Church’s key agency of lying to parents.
A tactic fraught with more political danger than Mr Shorten’s Albanese-shaped shadow.