A sparrow farts in Queensland...

There has been a lot of pussy-footing around the deaths of four workers involved in the Insulation part of the stimulus package. Three have tragically died as a result of electrical shocks and one from heat stroke. Whether they were working for licensed or otherwise reputable home insulation firm or were employed by 'shonks' (fly-by-night carpetbagger operators in for a quick killing) is unknown and, apparently, immaterial. Peter Garrett is guilty of something - Tony Abbott today said the specific crime is 'industrial manslaughter' - and must resign. Or so the media meme goes. Apparently Garrett is 'fighting for his political life', despite contraindications of this from his boss, Kevin Rudd, because the political journalists say he is. And when the opinionistas go to the trouble to say Garrett is potentially fatally wounded, then that in itself is proof of the severity of his wounds. These people do not exaggerate lightly.

Elsewhere in Queensland, a sparrow farted in the morning. This caused a dog to bark, which in turn caused a cat to run up a tree. A small branch of the tree came off and caused a boy on his bike to swerve. The boy was run over by a car driven by a woman who worked for an insulation company. For this too, Peter Garrett is guilty and should resign.  Ridiculous? Yes, about as ridiculous as Abbott’s gross assertion that Garrett would have been guilty of 'industrial manslaughter' in NSW, if the incident had occurred in that state and if he had been a company director employing the deceased installers (false in both cases, by the way).

Tony Abbott, in his new-found career as Judge, Jury and Executioner in the Industrial Court (who knew?) has spoken. We have no body of relevant evidence, nor even an outline of the broad circumstances of the fatal incidents, but take 'Straight Talkin’ Tony’s word for it: Garrett is guilty. In Parliament today Tony shrilled, 'Mr. Speaker, this is about death.'

Tony should know. When he was Industrial Relations Minister, in 2002, Abbott had this to say about proposed 'industrial manslaughter' laws in Victoria and Queensland. In an address to the Queensland Industrial Relations Society, titled In Praise Of Bosses (and the jobs they bring), he said this:

"There are three essential problems with industrial manslaughter legislation as proposed: first, it treats workers like children by failing to recognise that workplace safety is a shared responsibility between employers and employees; second, it shifts the workplace safety emphasis from prevention to punishment; and third, it introduces a new type of vicarious liability into the criminal law...

"The 'industrial manslaughter' mindset casts the employer as habitual villain. As a society, we need to demonstrate our abhorrence of slip-shod safety procedures and industrial short-cuts but we should also beware of the tendency to be wise after the event and seek scapegoats rather than solutions. One workplace commentator likens industrial manslaughter to convicting passengers of culpable driving. It’s not inconceivable, say employer groups, if a drunken fork-lift driver seriously injured fellow employees, that the boss could be guilty of a criminal offence while the company could not sack the worker at fault.”   Link

We can see why Tony singled out NSW (and not Queensland) for the scene of Garrett’s alleged crime. When he was Minister, as we can see from the above link, Tony specifically told those in Queensland responsible for Industrial Relations in that state that he thought an industrial manslaughter law was a non-starter.

Elsewhere, in September 2003, Abbott opined: "Legislation as draconian as industrial manslaughter legislation is much more likely to produce an epidemic of buck passing."   Link

.... except where there’s a chance to pass the buck onto Peter Garrett, and then our 'Straight Talkin’ Messiah is all ears. Being 'wise after the event' is suddenly all the rage again.

Perhaps Tony has seen the light? Perhaps he is now as accepting of the reality of industrial manslaughter as a workplace crime as he was of the 'political reality' of ETS legislation?  In the Straight Talker’s case, you never know.

It seems Abbott’s attitude to treating workers 'like children', the shift of workplace safety from 'prevention to punishment' and the onerous burden of a new vicarious liability upon bosses (who bring us all those jobs) has changed. His newfound admiration for strict industrial laws couldn’t be hypocrisy, because, with Tony Abbott, you always know where he stands. He is merely a conviction politician who seems to have changed his convictions, or as Tony would put it 'his considered opinion' is different today to what it was then.

Could I interpose the word 'crap' at this point?

The only problem with Tony’s analysis is that Peter Garrett was neither the employer nor the regulator in any of these cases, but why let that get in the way of a good headline? Presumably, in some future Straight Talkin’ World of Tony Abbott as PM (hold on to your stomachs) any federal government minister will be liable to be charged with a felony crime, involving imprisonment of up to 25 years, if a worker in any government-funded scheme, no matter how far divorced from the minister’s actual control, dies in the course of their employment.

No doubt, intrepid journalists will do the same small amount of Googling that I did prior to writing this article in researching their own grave pieces (10 minutes' worth), and they will resolve the apparent hypocrisy of the Straight Talker’s position for We Of The Mob. Those off-the-cuff comments of Tony Abbott's will be exposed for the self-serving hypocrisy they are. Perhaps our opinion leaders should start out by delving into the history of Health in recent years, especially when Tony Abbott was Minister, to see whether anyone died as a result of the pullback of funds that occurred under his watch. Or maybe there might be some Iraqi citizen, missing loved ones killed by Australian bullets in a vain pursuit of 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' who have a beef with the government of which Abbott was a senior member. SIEV-X anyone?

Tony, when even a mere sparrow farts in Queensland, you never can tell how long and how far the smell will waft and linger on.

How can the Government sell its CPRS?

It was never going to be easy to sell the Government’s CPRS.  It is a complex plan to cope with a very complex problem – anthropogenic global warming.  But as recent events have muddied the debate about carbon mitigation, the Government’s task is now even more difficult.  So far it has not done a great job in selling its CPRS, perhaps distracted by its attempts to get the legislation through the Senate that would have succeeded but for Tony Abbott’s toppling of Malcolm Turnbull, and the Copenhagen saga.  Ironically, in a speech in parliament yesterday it was Malcolm Turnbull who described lucidly what the CPRS was designed to do, more so than Government speakers. 

CPRS and ETS will be used interchangeably in this piece.

Here are some of the issues complicating the debate:

Climate change sceptics/deniers have grown in numbers and loquacity.  Whereas previously they could argue that climate has been changing for centuries and what’s happening now is just part of a natural cycle and has nothing to do with carbon dioxide or human activity, now they can reinforce their position by reference to instances of mistakes in the report of the UN International Panel on Climate Change, the ultimate and until recently unchallengeable authority on the science of climate change.  Instances of sloppy, even deceptive science, and incorrect predictions based on poor documentation in the fringe literature or by inexperienced scientists, have also been cited.  This has been grist to the mill for those who seek to tear down the validity and reliability of climate science and those who work in it.  Well-funded globe-trotting climate change denialists are in full flight and attracting enthusiastic audiences to their heavily promoted performances.

Most members of the public have little interest in the scientific foundation of climate change and scant time to sort it out for themselves.  So if they have an inclination to scepticism, these occurrences quickly confirm their suspicions that global warming is a hoax.  This is despite the mountain of peer-reviewed scientific evidence in reputable journals that go to make up the first part of the IPCC report which provides such convincing evidence of AGW.  It is in the second and third parts of the report that attempt to predict the consequences of global warming that some errors have been found, just a few despite the strident publicity that the sceptical press has given them.

The Opposition has several sceptics among its numbers who have seized on these errors to confirm their views: Nick Minchin, Wilson Tuckey, Cory Bernardi, Dennis Jensen, Andrew Robb, and of course Tony Abbott himself, who seems to waver between ‘absolute crap’ denial and reluctant acceptance of the need to take out some insurance against the possibility global warming might be happening. 

Although among the general public there are an increasing number of sceptics, the proportion who want something done about climate change is a still a solid majority, and while support for an ETS has declined significantly, in this week’s Nielsen poll 56% still favoured an ETS while 29% opposed. 

The other factor muddying the waters is the Coalition’s abandonment of bipartisanship and the introduction of a new policy that promises to solve the global warming problem with a ‘Direct Action Plan’ that on the face of it seems to cause little pain, is not ‘a great big new tax on everything’, is purported to be less costly than the Government’s CPRS, and uses ‘natural’ methods such as tree planting, sequestration of carbon in soil and algal synthesis, all laudable.  It all sounds too good to be true, and it is according to analysts and yesterday none other than Malcolm Turnbull.  But that will not stop many voters from giving it a tick. 

When presented with a choice between the Coalition plan and the Government’s ETS, 45% of those polled by Nielsen preferred the Coalition plan and 39% the ETS.  Yet when asked to choose between the Government’s and the Coalition’s approaches to climate change, the results were the other way around: 43 per cent chose the Government’s approach and 30 per cent the Coalition’s. Pollster John Stirton thought ‘the apparent contradiction probably reflected voters' low level of understanding of the schemes’.  In Pollytics, Possum has done a more complex analysis of the answers to the Nielsen questions that will be of interest to those interested in the detail.

The selling of the CPRS therefore has to take into account not only the complexity of climate change, the scepticism surrounding AGW, the complexity of the proposed ETS and the way it will affect people, but it also has to counter the simplicity of the Coalition plan which has popular appeal to those who don’t wish to delve into the details and who don’t want to pay out of their own pockets to achieve success.  Few will question the effectiveness and the real cost of the Coalition plan because it is via taxes - just so long as it’s easy to understand and seemingly painless.

So what are the messages the Government needs to promulgate?

First, it needs to convince the sceptical that global warming is real and that if left unchecked will irreversibly change the planet and all life upon it.  The hard-core deniers are probably beyond persuasion.

Next, the Government needs to convince the people that the situation is urgent.  What looks to be a long way off is so easy to ignore.  So the Government needs to show that significant changes are already occurring all around the world, and how acting now will not only begin the process of reversal and avert calamity, but will cost less in the long run.

Then it needs to convince the public that humans are such a significant cause of global warming that it is their activities that must be curtailed to begin to reverse the adverse trends.

Next it must convince everyone that acting independently of the rest of the world is the way to go, that it will minimize costs and will give our industry a head start in creating renewable energy and the technology that reduces emissions, such as CO2 sequestration.  There is a strong and persuasive argument that Australia should not go first and jeopardize its economy.  Countering this will take a lot of effort.  But suggesting the rest of the world are laggards and will eventually have to catch up, might appeal.  Unfortunately the Government has used the ‘we’ll do no more, no less’ mantra so often that acting ahead of the rest of the world is now more difficult to sell.

Then the very basic messages about what the ETS is designed to do can be promulgated, namely limit carbon emissions, heavily penalize those who pollute so that they seek to pollute less, and compensate households for any increase in living costs that arise.

Finally, the Government needs to contrast its ETS with the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan and convince the people that the Coalition’s scheme is short-term, unlikely to achieve any mitigation of carbon emissions, is costly, and that it is the taxpayers who will pay the polluters to reduce their pollutions.

When one looks at the strength of the arguments that the Government could mount, it seems like a lay-down-misère, but it isn’t – it is probably the most difficult task for the Government in 2010.

Simplicity is essential in transmitting messages.  So let’s try to draft some understandable but brief promotional lines.  Please try your hand too.

On the reality of AGW

Global warming threatens our future

It is happening now

Human activity is causing it

We must act now before it’s too late

Acting now will reduce the cost

Acting now will boost our economy and create jobs

Acting now will give Australia a head start

The rest of the world will have to catch up

On the basic CPRS messages

The Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme:

Sets a limit on carbon pollution for the nation

Penalizes polluters, who pay heavily for polluting

Will reduce pollution

Will compensate households for any increased costs

Does not use taxpayer’s money

If the Government believes it needs to counter the Opposition plan:

The Opposition's Direct Action Plan:

Will allow polluters to go on polluting

Does not set a limit on pollution

Will not reduce pollution overall

Will use your taxes to pay polluters to pollute less

Will be very costly to the budget

Will not compensate you for increased household costs

All of these messages could be embellished by images that reinforce the message, and voice-over that adds impact if they are used in TV ads.

There’s a start anyway.  I realize some of you will likely disagree with some of the premises that underpin these lists and no doubt will express your disagreement; you may want to change some of wording.  But I hope you will try to improve the messages or add some if I’ve missed any out. 

For what it’s worth, the final list could be sent to the Government as the view of bloggers on TPS.

Let’s have your suggestions.

 

Tony – this is as good as it gets

While someone as fit as you would usually have a slow heart rate, I expect your heart quickened when you read this week’s Newspoll, showing as it did a narrowing of Labor’s two party preferred lead since you took over, down to 52/48, but perhaps it skipped a beat when you saw that Kevin Rudd’s lead as preferred prime minister stubbornly remained at 32 percentage points. 

The fact that the Morgan face-to-face poll published last week carried the heading ALP strengthens lead after Summer holidays and showed a TPP of 58.5/41.5%, an improvement for Labor, and Essential Research Report the day before Newspoll showed a 56/44 TPP, the same as the two previous weeks, seemed not to dampen enthusiasm for this Newspoll result.  Newspoll seems to be the ‘preferred poll’ of the pundits, particularly at The Australian, which understands it so well ‘because it owns it’.  The fact that in early November there was another Newspoll 52/48 that bounced to 56/44 two weeks later and was therefore considered ‘an outlier’, has not deterred supportive journos from making a mountain out of the latest poll, not contemplating for a moment that this poll too might be an outlier.  You probably saw its preliminary findings the night before.  Have you noticed that if The Oz has results favourable to the Coalition coming up, there’s plenty of advance notice on its website – otherwise we have to wait patiently. 

You may have derived some cheer from today’s Morgan face-to-face taken over the last two weekends of January that shows Labour down and the Coalition up, back to where they were at the year’s beginning, but your excitement may have been tempered somewhat by a TPP of 56.5/43.5, around Possum Pollytics all pollster trend for the last couple of years, quite different from Newspoll’s 52/48.

So enjoy – this is likely as good as it gets.

If the Newspoll was a true reflection of what the public thinks of your ascent to leadership we need to ask how this is so. 

Over Christmas you had plenty of free air; Kevin and Julia and most ministers were having ‘a well-earned break’, something for which we should be grateful with a frantic year ahead. You even got a spread in Australian Women’s Weekly that ‘humanized’ you as a family man ready to give advice on moral as well as social and political issues.  Perhaps it was this uncontested exposure that seemingly enhanced your connection to the people.  Perhaps it was your policy pronouncements that attracted attention.  There weren’t all that many and they were mainly contrary, but maybe they helped.  Your promise to solve the problem of global warming, or should it be ‘alleged warming’, with a tax-free easy-to-understand scheme in which everyone is a winner, so attractive to those who wish climate change would go away, might have been a factor.  Or maybe it was just the force of your personality.  A recent Finnish study has shown that whether the elector liked or disliked a politician was more influential in deciding how to vote than was their policies.  Democracy is a wonderful beast.  Why bother with well thought-through policy if personality is the magic tool?

So the end-of-year break was a welcome opportunity for you to get started, free of a contest.  Now that the political year has begun, welcome to the real world of politics as leader, something no doubt you’ve already discovered is quite different from being a shadow minister or even a minister.

Some journalists regard you as a fight-hardened and very smart political operative, not to be underestimated.  They say that would be a big mistake.  They portray you as someone who will ‘take the fight up to the Government’, a portrayal which your pugilistic nature would endorse.

As we look for evidence of this smartness we wonder why you appointed Barnaby Joyce as Shadow Finance Minister.  You regard him as Australia’s best ‘retail politician’, whatever that means.  If you mean he has a smart turn of phrase, you’re probably right, but his preoccupation with clever one-liners is detracting from his real job, in which his accountancy skills are a poor substitute for an understanding of national finances.  Barrie Cassidy pointed out that he is behaving like a court jester.  Yet he is in politics, not vaudeville.  His performance at the Press Club this week was not a great start, and his foot-in-mouth media appearances have engendered confusion instead of confidence.  Was it smart to put him up against one of the Government’s best performers, Lindsay Tanner, who already is running rings around him?  Maybe he’ll improve; maybe he’ll learn his job; but he may turn out to be an albatross around your neck.  Already you have had to hose down comments from him that the Coalition may cut public service jobs and the foreign aid program to fund its carbon mitigation scheme.

Was it smart to bring back on the front bench old-timers from the Howard era?  That suggests a return to that era, so convincingly rejected by the people a couple of years ago.

After rejecting the Government’s CPRS after initially advocating that the Coalition pass it, you promised all the details of a plan of your own that would not be ‘a great big new tax’, but would solve the climate change problem with almost no pain to anyone.  Was that smart?  This week you delivered, but details were missing.  You promised all would be revealed, but when your announcement was made, funding arrangements were missing, details which you now say will be revealed ‘well before the election’.  By now your plan has been dissected and found wanting by Government, which insists it will increase not decrease emissions, will cost more, will provide no compensation for families, and does not reveal funding sources.  Columnists are saying likewise.  Was it smart to promise a detailed carbon mitigation plan when only a few weeks over the end-of-year break were available to do what Ross Garnaut and the Government took over two years to accomplish?  Have you discovered what you accuse the Government of so often, that talk is easy, but action takes time and effort?  Have you noticed that the mantra ‘great big new tax’ which you believed was such a PR winner is being countered by the Government’s description of your plan – ‘a climate con-job’?  I wonder which one will stick harder?

Perhaps though you felt you were smart enough to front up with a partly developed policy without costings and lacking any information about where the bucket of money to encourage polluters to pollute less would come from.  Did you expect the public to accept your thesis that the greed and the social conscience of the polluters would bring them into line and persuade them to pollute less?  Perhaps you felt ‘business as usual’ for the polluters would appeal to them, but did you believe the public would swallow it?

Perhaps you felt you were smart enough to convince the people, struggling with the complexities of the Government’s CPRS, to warmly embrace a simple plan, especially if it caused almost no pain, no matter if it was ineffective.  Did you believe the people would pick simplicity over efficacy?  Comments by some journalists on air suggest that might be so.  But that belies the inherent commonsense of the Australian public – they know a con when they see one.  Lenore Taylor nails it in The Oz when she says in Initiative is about votes, not carbon: “This is a climate change plan to get Tony Abbott through to the next election, not a serious plan to refit the Australian economy so that it emits less carbon.” 

Perhaps you hoped for some supportive comments from the media.  You were not disappointed.  Predictably, The Australian obliged with banner headlines Abbott’s cut-through climate plan.  In contemporary politics, ‘cutting through’ seems to be the most salient operative endeavour.  I suppose that means being understood by the people.  The author of the article, Matthew Franklin, went on to support you with “...most business groups have backed the plan, agreeing with the Opposition Leader’s assertion that it is ‘cheaper, simpler, and more cost effective’ than Labor’s proposed carbon emissions trading scheme.”  You know you can always rely on The Oz.  Of course, as Franklin knows and acknowledges in another article, most business groups have not backed the plan; even some of those that have expressed interest, such as the National Farmers Federation and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, want more details before committing themselves, as does the Business Council of Australia.  He should be more careful and consistent with his assertions.

Looking back to last year, for better or worse, you jumped into the ring, a place you’ve always coveted, or more correctly you were pushed into the ring by your seconds (good old Nick and Eric), and having recovered from the surprise of being chosen as the contestant to take on the champ, you’ve been throwing punches wildly, just like you always have.  You may feel you’re ahead on points so far, but time will tell how many rounds you survive.  When you have to move beyond domestic boxing to international bouts you may find that tricky, especially after Barnaby’s comments about cutting foreign aid.  How do you propose to convince the public you can handle international bouts and perform competently on the world stage?

The life of a leader is not easy – ask Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull.  You and your Coalition colleagues seem to feel though that so far the bout is going well, that Newspoll and the bevy of sycophantic journalists are right.  But if the first few days of real bare-knuckle politics are a guide, critics might conclude that unless you can lift your performance substantially, unless you can, Johnny Howard style, pull a few live rabbits out of the hat, you should enjoy this week’s Newspoll - you will likely find that right now is as good as it gets.

What do you think?

So You Think You Can Dance?

Watching the 10 Network’s So You Think You Can Dance on Sunday night reminded me of the political season about to begin this week.

The ikonic show, about undiscovered wannabees who, enraptured by high hopes of stardom and fame, enter a multi-stage dance competition – with us as intimate voyeurs of their every move - tells us a lot about human hope.

There was the plain, frumpy girl who believes Jesus is with her at every step. The lithe, enchanting young aboriginal man whose mum’s indifference to his dancing caused tears all around. The thirty-something hoofer who has been around the traps and is destined to stay trapped. The conga line of untrained hip-hop shakers and rollers with their limited talent no match for their unlimited energy. The semi-professionals, expecting to make it easily into the finals. The Hard Judge, the Mother Judge, the Cooly Professional Choreographer Judge. Hopes and expectations dashed. Dreams come true. Life in the raw, or as raw as a heavily edited commercial television show can present it: the Life Struggle, through the medium of movement, youth and expensive SMS voting fees.

On the political side of this metaphor we have seen the surprise elevation of Tony Abbott, a wildcard candidate, to the leadership of the Liberals, by one vote. The Glamour Boy, Malcolm Turnbull, has been voted off the show. The once fresh-faced newbie, Rudd, is now regarded as the stodgy old incumbent, araldited into the same seat as Howard, never seen in budgie smugglers, rarely out of a suit. His routine, especially in the Climate area, trashed with the disappointment of post-Copenhagen days, could do with some sprucing up as the bare-chested, lean-and-hungry challenger takes the fight to him. Abbott is flanked by the glamourous Ice Maiden, Julie Bishop, and the once-jovial but now permanently grumpy Joe Hockey who mocks every move Kevin Rudd, his former TV friend, makes.

The Liberals and Nationals, thrown out of a previous series in the grand final, decimated by the shock desertion or expulsion of senior members – Costello, Downer, Vaile, Howard, Nelson, Brough – have reinvented themselves as the underdogs, running a low budget campaign to steal the public’s hearts with honesty and true grit. Kevin, on the other hand, jets about the world like a Little King (how dare he use the Prime Ministerial plane for overseas jaunts?). He rarely utters an un-convoluted word according to his critics, who are many and mostly angry. The implication is that he is a phoney, couldn’t lie straight in bed. But you have to admit, the man has talent when it comes to winning the People’s Choice Award.

Abbott is a flawed character. He preaches against extra-marital sex, yet he fathered a child, then deserted both the baby and the mother, only to find that the baby never existed. Whether this is worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy or a comedy I cannot decide. He is a religious zealot who has a habit of sinning and then, in good Catholic tradition, confessing publicly. He is the whiskey priest, flunked out of the seminary for the green fields of Oxford and politics. By contrast, Rudd’s one known foray into the underworld, the Scores Incident, was so surprising to the voters that it saw his ratings shoot up, presumably in delight at the possibility of a glimmer of raunchiness in his character.

The common thread between each side of politics is that they both think they can dance.

Tony told us the other day that government is easy. You just make a promise and stick to it. You take a line and then abide by your decision. It’s a dangerous tack to sail for Tony, who has never been known to stick to any policy in his political life or, more to the point, has rarely been seen saying the same thing to any more than one group of listeners at a time. His waverings on Climate Change have wandered from True Believer, to pragmatic acceptance, to 'It’s crap', to his current position: although he doesn’t believe action on climate is necessary, he proposes to fix our environment by spending no money, using volunteers and 'incentives'. I can see the Hard Men of the coal industry dutifully falling into line on that one.

Kevin, despite the misery of Copenhagen, in the face of continuing revelations of flawed climate science (even if only here and there), is sticking to his guns. There are too many eggs in the basket of ETS to abandon it now. If he did so it would likely signal the beginning of the end of his government. Tony has given the public an out, an excuse to reject action on Climate Change. Sure it’s an impossible dream, but this is Reality TV, not reality. Kevin’s performance on Climate, supposedly his strong suit, has been technically difficult and reasonably well-executed, but is starting to be seen as too clever, lacking panache.

Never mind his brilliant performance in the GFC round, where he danced rings around several challengers in a largely impromptu performance that saw Australia come out on top of the world. Never mind the lowest interest rates in decades, the best prospects for infrastructure, comparatively modest unemployment, an about to re-boom economy, Kevin’s government is still seen as the least preferred Economic Managers compared to the Coalition. It makes you wonder what else “Good Economic Management” is about if it is not about these things. According to Essential Research the voters believe the parties who would have had them out of work, their schools without infrastructure spending, their industries fending for themselves and who told us first there was a Rudd Recession and then there wasn’t... are the savants of economics. Go figure! I guess it’s all about presentation on the night.

Which brings us to the media, stacking the studio benches with loud adoring fans, spruiking a miracle Coalition resurgence in a loud attempt to try to cover up for policy holes and inconsistencies you could drive a debt truck through. To get around Tony Abbott’s predilection for inventing policies on the run, for making it up as he goes along, they have invented the myth of the “Conviction Politician”. Tony Abbott is man who believes in what he says, at the time he says it, no matter how many times he contradicts himself. This isn’t political cynicism on Tony’s part. It’s a genius for improvisation. The conservative Papist, whose sins (long forgiven by a supportive press) prove merely the morbidity of the flesh, is up against a government that is given only grudging praise for its great successes so far, and whose Prime Minister is mocked and condemned for the slightest falter, be it fairly shaking a sauce bottle (instead of sucking it), or swearing at a poor young flight attendant. Rudd’s government is supposed to have defeated the GFC and kept all its promises, while all we have from Tony Abbott is promises to produce glittering prosperity from the Magic Pudding of 'budget savings'. Never mind that 'budget savings' means a sharp curtailment of social welfare, infrastructure and spending on other government priorities, the Conviction Politician will see us through... somehow. We can worry about that later.

So, as we exit the preliminaries and get to the series proper, junkies on both sides will eagerly await the Reality TV show called Question Time. They will hang off every word and nuance, forgiving on the one hand, condemning on the other. The wannabee from two seasons ago has become the solid favourite. The reactionary Catholic man we thought we all knew as an opportunistic hypocrite, preaching what he never practised, has been reinvented as the plain-speaking saviour of the nation. On the sidelines it will be a fascinating exercise in whether the media, deprived of the river of gold of government advertising (a promise kept, but rarely referred to), still have the clout they believe they should have.

They all think they can dance, but can the fat lady sing?