At the weekend state Liberal Party Council in Sydney, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was effusive in his praise of his predecessor John Howard.
The PM said there were many reasons why he looks “to the great advice and instruction and the example set by John Howard our greatest-ever Prime Minister”.
Breathtaking when you think about it. Mr Howard not only lost government in the 2007 landslide to Labor, he became only the second prime minister to lose his own seat.
But Mr Howard did become our second-longest-serving prime minister and to do that he learned quite a few tricks – the most important was how to make the best of his luck.
Mr Morrison has already shown he is a quick learner in that regard. The way he took the leadership of the Liberal Party suggests he is the disciple who surpassed his master.
While he showed cunning and skill in masking his ambitions, he got lucky when Peter Dutton’s number crunchers couldn’t count as well as his, nor did they see him coming.
Now that he has won the ‘unwinnable’ election, we are seeing just how deeply Mr Morrison is digging into the Howard playbook.
And it should set the warning lights flashing for the Anthony Albanese-led Labor Party before Mr Morrison succeeds in defining it before it gets a chance to define itself.
And more immediately, before Mr Morrison miraculously reinvents himself and his party.
Last Saturday, ignored were the bitter divisions over policy and the rancour that delivered three Liberal different prime ministers in six years.
To shouts of “more” when he said he had spoken for too long, the Prime Minister said: “From our government you have seen certainty, you have seen stability, you have seen a plan that we took to the Australian people.”
Much of this is more like a mission statement than a delivered reality.
But if you can get enough people to believe it, they may not notice the looming splits over religious freedom, abortion or the fact that the economy – far from being strong as promised – is delivering the weakest growth since the global financial crisis.
Unlike Labor though “we are not going to flip flop and faff about,” Morrison vowed. The very labelling Mr Howard used so ruthlessly against then Labor leader Kim Beazley.
People may not always agree, Mr Morrison said, but at least they “will know how you respond, how you react”.
May not always agree
And right on cue we got the Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton refusing to show a shred of compassion for the Tamil family who had made Biloela home.
The government’s intransigence was, they said, because unlike Mr Albanese they would stick by their promise that anyone who came by boat would never be allowed to settle in Australia.
Just like Mr Howard in 2001, there is no room for exception when it comes to the demonisation of boat arrivals. Mr Albanese’s decency is slammed as weakness.
Giving the Prime Minister’s attack potency is the policy rethink Labor currently has under way after its election defeat.
Mr Morrison says Labor is a “party of chaos and confusion. They don’t know who they are any more. They don’t know where they’re going”.
Mr Albanese rejects the tests Morrison keeps setting for him in another favourite Howard ploy: Welfare bashing.
When he arrived at Parliament House on Monday, the Labor leader said Mr Morrison should stop “acting like an opposition leader” and actually develop a plan “to deal with the economic challenges” that Australia is facing.
Mr Morrison may need all of Mr Howard’s luck and more to do that.
Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics