It's not often a leader of the opposition loses Question Time before it even starts, but today Brendan Nelson did. After a couple condolence motions, Kevin Rudd welcomed home the Australian Olympic team, and offered his congratulations. Rudd's speech was full of the usual blather and included his tendency to mangle phrases as he searches for the right expression - when referring to how Australia would respond to the challenge of Great Britain, he said of London 2012 that "our athletes will be there with spades on", which is perhaps not quite what he meant to say...
As is the case with such matters, the leader of the opposition gets his chance to mouth the same blather; which Nelson duly did (in his usual overwrought manner). But he ended off by congratulating Channel 7 on its wonderful coverage. Why on earth did he do this? Obviously he's a man who thinks sport is best when watched two hours after it has occurred. Bizarre. Any skerrick of respect I had for the man departed at that point.
After that, I thought he could only improve, but just to prove me wrong, he got worse.
As it was the first QT since June, one would expect Nelson has worked hard on his bowling in the off-season, and McGrath-like would have Rudd playing and missing from the first delivery. But no, like Steve Harmison in the last Ashes series, his first delivery was wide and harmless.
His first question was to ask Rudd "why are Australians worse off since the election of the Rudd Government". Now obviously he has been reading Andrew Bolt's blog, as Bolt keeps repeating this statement (with reference to Peter Costello) as though sooner or later it will become fact and the populous will rise up and vote out the ALP.
But what may sound nice on a blog, does not do well as a question in QT. So general was Nelson's question that Rudd was able to talk about everything and anything he wanted. In fact he seemed to run out of things to say as he realised he was going into the material he had saved for the first Dorothy Dixer.
Next up Julie Bishop asked a question of Rudd in what would become the common delivery of the day; namely the opposition picking a tax from the budget and asking how the raising of it would help fight inflation.
Now you have to love Julie B - she's a trier. She doesn't have skill, but she makes up for it with blind self belief. She always thinks she has stumped the Government; whereas in reality the ball has gone well down leg side and passed the keeper for four byes.
Rudd laughed and wondered how taking $6 billion off the surplus would help fight inflation (this would be the common response from the Government to the common delivery of the opposition).
The LNP are pretty much stuffed at the moment if they want to argue that raising a tax on alcopops and luxury cars is going to increase inflationary pressures. For a start they obviously think the RBA live in a vacuum and would look at the CPI figure and be wondering to themselves, "Gee why has the price of alcopos gone up so much? It must be inflation! Raise interest rates!" Tax increases do not affect the underlying inflation rate. The GST increased prices, but the RBA didn't need to raise interest rate in response because it was a one off.
Next up Swan was asked how increasing the cost of motor vehicles (no mention of "luxury") would help fight inflation. Swan swatted it away with ease (and there's a phrase the LNP should shudder to read - Swan; ease? what the hell's going on?).
Swan was then answering a Dorothy Dixer on the budget when he delivered an obviously over-rehearsed joke (the big problem with Swan is the delivery - he has some good lines, but has no real sense of timing): he referred to Nelson, Turnbull and Costello as "the three stooges - one can't do the job, one can't get the job, and one won't take the job".
It was quite good, and it obviously annoyed the LNP because up popped Julie B with a point of order. Unfortunately for Julie she demanded Swan be relevant to the question of fighting inflation, forgetting that that was actually the previous question.
Let's just say her gaffe elicited a fair bit of laughter and scorn from the Government. At this point, the brave avuncular one, Joe Hockey, jumped to his feet to defend the honour of the fair princess from the West. He protested the point of order, the Speaker sat him down, and the knight from North Sydney, in a fit of petulance that has been growing ever since Nov 24, snapped back at the speaker, who thereupon threw him out for an hour.
The rest of QT was as before - questions about how does [insert tax] help fight inflation; the Government replying that blowing a $6 billion hole in the budget by blocking [insert tax] and [insert tax] was no way to help fight inflation.
The opposition, now denied the gallant Sir Joe were left to only bicker from the back benches - Barry Haase got bounced for calling Swan a dud (or more accurately he got bounced for refusing the Speaker's request to withdraw the phrase - note to LNP, you can call Swan all the names you like, but defying the Speaker doesn't work when you're in opposition).
The remaining time was pretty uneventful - but it is some measure of Turnbull's standing (and Nelson's confidence that he has the numbers on him) that he only got to ask the 6th question. It was to Swan, and such a poor effort was it that Turnbull is quickly becoming the Simon O'Donnell of the Liberal Party - likes to chat up his chances, and he looks the goods, but when you have a squiz at his figures, you see he averages 29 with the bat and 84 with the ball.
Turnbull asked about tax, and why taxes have in fact gone up? This effort allowed Swan to look like Ponting at the crease. I'm worried about Turnbull, he obviously knows the questions he asks are stupid - of course total taxes have gone up (the economy is getting bigger), but they've gone down as a percentage of GDP - but he keeps asking them.
His next question to Swan was about how Swan in February talked up interest rates but was now talking them down. How easy was this? Swan was laughing as he got to his feet. Now you can argue Swan isn't that great at QT (no argument here), but you don't want the supposed worst performer in the Government to be so comfortable that he is laughing at you. That is not how a shadow treasurer convinces back benchers he should be given the new ball.
From then on nothing of note happened, other than Rudd ripping the LNP a new one on a question about infrastructure (a phrase about fish and a barrel comes to mind), and Kate Ellis taking some net practice with a Dorothy Dixer on the Olympics.
She rabbited on a fair bit, but in between reading her brief in a nice orthodox manner she flashed at some shots fired at her from the other side with a confidence that suggests she should forget the notes and try out her footwork. As Sports Minister it's unlikely she'll get a chance to score many runs, but she showed she is starting to warm to the role and is unlikely to be the first one dropped when messes McKew, Combet or Shorten are elevated to the Seniors.