A bore-draw as parties keep going through the motions
Labor MP Kevin Rudd speaks to the media during his visit to the press gallery at Parliament House this week.
My mother told me that only boring people get bored. So I have always been at pains to never be bored about anything. Not even watching paint grow.
But I have to confess that the first two weeks of Parliament this year have had their moments of ennui.
Not, I should hasten to point out, the emotion-charged bipartisanship over indigenous recognition. Or the fact that Bob Hawke and all his wattages of star power dropped by to say yo.
I refer more to the seven episodes of - yawn - question time. After the summer hiatus and with the election date declared, one might have reasonably assumed that QT would go off like a frog in a sock. Instead, it was positively snoring (I know of at least one colleague who actually fell asleep in the gallery).
What we've seen is two clashing arguments on repeat, as the Coalition and Labor tried to prove that the other is a hopeless economic manager.
The opposition is pointing to the surplus and mining tax, with a sprinkle of carbon tax on top. The government is arguing that it has the fiscal settings right and the Coalition will hit working families where it hurts. The debate is going back and forth with all the intrigue and drama of a backyard ping-pong match.
In terms of theatrics, the Coalition has clearly pulled back its approach on question time. In joint party meetings, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has been calling for discipline from his MPs and for the Coalition to act as an alternative government. At 2pm, Abbott is taking a back seat, asking one or two questions a session, before letting his front and backbenchers do the talking. There have been no attempts to suspend standing orders. And less than a handful of players have been boisterous enough to get kicked out. No ratbags here …
Labor isn't doing too much too differently. But in continuing their bid to ask and answer the most ponderous and obvious Dixers known to man, they are ensuring that question time gets its snooze on.
Take this typical example from Victorian MP Laura Smyth: "Will the Treasurer update the House on recent developments in the global economy? How do these highlight the need for reforms to strengthen Australia's economy for the future and why is it important that these economic reforms are implemented in a detailed, properly costed way?"
Or this one from Queensland MP Graham Perrett to Craig Emerson: "Will the minister advise the House of the importance of developing the right policies to enable Australia to take full advantage of the Asian century? What other approaches are there and what would be their impact?" To say they have all the punch of undergraduate politics essay questions is being generous.
With the Coalition treading carefully, carefully and the government treading usually, usually, the whole thing is a terrifying preview of what we might be in for this year until election time.
There are of course other scenarios being suggested beyond the chamber. Kevin Rudd might be telling everyone to go take a cold shower/ice bath, but he has also ramped up his activities. From tweeting a self-composed Valentine's Day rhyme, to speeches marking the anniversary of the apology, interviews pointing out that the mining tax is Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan's fault and a dinner out in Narrabundah with Robert McClelland and Simon Crean - Rudd has been more visible than the Prime Minister.
With Abbott slowing his usual busy rate of doorstops and stopping his regular spot on the Today show, the member for Griffith is also more out there than Abbott.
This of course, can all be covered under the umbrella of "I'm Kevin and I'm here to help Labor win the election" - but in the words of an ultra sarcasmo Joe Hockey on Sunrise on Friday: "No, I believe you Kevin. You have got no leadership ambitions, I believe you!"
The Rudd help has a massive dose of deja vu about it. Particularly when you think that this time last year, we were gearing up for his spectacular resignation as foreign minister and attempted Coup II. The difference this time around is that Rudd has pledged and pledged again that he will not challenge the Prime Minister. By this logic, Gillard would have to step down of her own accord, Pope-style, in order for Rudd to reclaim The Lodge.
While she has the support of the caucus and (importantly) her cabinet, this looks about as likely as Labor asking a postgraduate question of itself in question time.
But if the polls are scary (watch for new editions of the major polls next week) and the parties continue to the churn through the motions, Rudd's rock star ramp-up will look less and less boring in comparison.
Judith Ireland is a Canberra Times journalist.