Illustration: Andrew Dyson

Illustration: Andrew Dyson

Fasting, abstinence and prayer is the call that goes out on the first day of Lent which, translated into today's lexicon, consists of dieting, bottled water and self-help classes.

Who could disagree with fasting when you need to lose a few kilos and, given that ''Febfast'' never really hit the high notes, trying to see if I can tolerate the mundane without three glasses of wine at dinner for the next month or so should be a challenge. Politics has also started to lay down some new challenges as well.

One hundred years after the start of World War I, there is a very unsettling standoff in Crimea between a nuclear power and a former holder of nuclear weapons. It is always startling when a distant event we passed over in the news in the rush to get to the cricket score becomes one that flares up in a manner that could have a devastating effect here. All it requires is one person to make one misstep in an area armed to the teeth and we all have a major problem.

Domestically, politics has thrown up its own set of challenges. Hopefully the Qantas crisis will be resolved in a fashion that saves the organisation from a precarious financial position it will arrive at if does not attain a better return on the capital it has employed. In regional areas they ask the valid question: why does it cost around about the same amount to fly from Moree to Sydney as it does to get from Sydney to LA?

Observations of Labor tactics show what seems to be a lack of passion and authenticity to carry their message. Maybe we could send them to Crimea to show the people there how to avoid getting excited - about anything.

If the chamber is a reflection of the state of play between the alternate forms of government, I would have to say it is currently a ''no contest''. But this can change and change quickly. The trouble for Labor is that if it required a change of leader, it cannot happen without all-out political civil war because it is shackled to the absurd ''Rudd clause'' in party leadership selection that requires a ballot of membership as well as caucus.

Government is making things happen: drought packages are delivered, free trade agreements signed, boats stopped. The days in Canberra have evolved into attendance at question time in a search of the excitement that would come from an attack from an opposition that had its act together. Alas, to no avail! Then back to my office to manage the portfolio.

The feng shui of the Labor Party in the chamber does not work. It has caucus' choice, Bill Shorten, and the peoples' choice, Anthony Albanese, in an uncomfortable orbit of one another. Then it has Tanya Plibersek as the great hope of the crazy left sullenly biding her time, her gaze intently fixed on Shorten's back.

Labor seems to have a number of ''leaders of opposition business'', including Tony Burke; unless it gets serious, then it reverts to Anthony Albanese; or for comedic value, Joel Fitzgibbon; and for bombastic absurdity, Mark Dreyfus. And when they start to get oxygen on an issue, up pops Stephen Conroy to insult a highly decorated army general.

The issue could be put to bed by a simple apology. But Shorten lacks the authority to enforce it and Conroy lacks the common sense, as the opposition spokesman for defence, to give it.

With all the material that is around, Labor has decided that the raft that it will float to relevance on is the former aide to the Assistant Minister for Health. When this had long lost oxygen they just kept going, the attack drowned out by the murmurs of ''what are you doing at the weekend?'' or ''I am thinking of buying a new fridge''.

The paradox of Parliament is Clive Palmer, who is rarely there yet seems to be in the media on every issue. The apex of absurdity was Clive giving a press conference at the Gold Coast in blue shirt and jeans while the seat in Canberra for the Member for Fairfax at question time was vacant.

Barnaby Joyce is Minister for Agriculture and deputy leader of the Nationals.