Labor MPs Kevin Rudd and Anthony Byrne greet each other with air-punches at the start of Question Time. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
For nine long weeks, the House of Representatives had stood dormant. Just a big, empty theatre, with only the odd inquisitive tourist or disgruntled ghost for company.
Then, on Tuesday, doors were flung open and water glasses filled as MPs flooded back in, taking their places at the cushioned benches.
At first glance nothing had changed. The opposition was still calling on the government to apologise for the carbon tax. And Climate Change Minister Greg Combet continued to shout about the Coalition's ''mendacious'' campaign.
Manager of Opposition Business Christopher Pyne was still rising with extremely general points of order. And his frontbench colleague, Bronwyn Bishop, was still rising with extremely specific points, dug from the depths of House Practice.
Speaker Anna Burke seemed just as fed up as she had before the holidays: ''I was hoping everyone had had a nice break, and we could all play nicely, but obviously not.''
But as question time groaned on, the House showed some signs of alteration. Nine weeks is a long time in politics,
On the opposition frontbench Joe Hockey was noticeably slimmer than his pre-Christmas self. He had already made a joke about it in the Coalition party room meeting, linking his own, reduced waist and what he would do to government waste (geddit?).
Then in parliament, it was Julia Gillard's turn. As Hockey tried to ping the PM with hefty piles of paper, featuring the 532 times she and Treasurer Wayne Swan had pledged a budget surplus, she shot back: ''I can see that the summertime fitness regime has involved weight lifting as well.'' Other changes also became apparent. Nicola Roxon, who for five years had been a central feature of Labor's question time team, was now up in the cheap seats.
She watched quietly as her successor, Mark Dreyfus, took his first question as Attorney-General. As the newly minted AG, Dreyfus hasn't been able to wipe the smile off his dial.
But sensing fresh blood, the opposition was keen to try. Dreyfus began his Dixer on natural disasters by saying how proud he was to serve the Australian people, only to be interrupted by heckles: ''It's not about you!'' Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop later lobbed a curve ball at the QC, asking a question involving West Bank settlements, international law and what Foreign Minister Bob Carr thought about it all … Luckily, Burke objected to the ''phrasing'' and ruled it out of order.
All the while the Member for Griffith sat in his now-familiar backbench spot, behaving himself for all to see.
Kevin Rudd, of course, doesn't need to draw attention to himself. The attention draws itself to him.
Earlier that morning he had batted away leadership speculation that had once more reared its head (with feeling).
''Give us a break, give us a break,'' he said outside a church service to mark the start of the parliamentary year.
Perhaps he didn't realise, everyone had already had their break. For better or worse, the game was now back on.