Just don't be snide, the Leader of the Opposition told his party room on Tuesday. You can be optimistic, he said. You can be confident. But with an election win in the cross-hairs, arrogance and ''personal snideness'' are to be avoided.
A noble ideal, and one most worthy of a potential prime minister. But a sub-realistic one - for to make such a request of politicians is like asking the birds not to tweetle or the tide not to turn. You may as well write a polite note to the sun requesting it refrain from rising tomorrow.
It's the surplus, stupid.
The first question of the year's first question time - and the opposition targets economic credibility.
The pollies managed fairly well until question time - a good few hours. But once they had nestled their buttocks into the leather banquettes of the green chamber, the impulse to engage in snideness grew overwhelming. Irresistible.
It was like watching one of those impulse-control experiments they conduct on preschoolers, where a marshmallow is placed in front of a child who is told that if they refrain from eating the treat now, they will get two later.
For some it is just too hard.
The Member for Mayo, Jamie Briggs, cracked first.
The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, was asked a very dixery Dixer on economic growth and the ''jobs of the future''. (In the Labor lexicon, this is the only genre of jobs available. It's almost as though they're trying to tell us something.)
As Swan declaimed the reasons the surplus will not be achieved (''We took a whack to revenues,'' he said in the passive tense), Briggs was heard to interject. ''How's the mining tax going, Swanny?'' he shouted across the chamber.
It might have been a genuine and earnest inquiry into the quantum of revenue raised by the government's much-vaunted resources rent tax, the one which has so far collected nothing.
But it sounded a lot like personal snideness.
Next, opposition frontbencher Sophie Mirabella was up, reporting the plight of employees of a soda-ash plant forced to close, partly due to the pressures of the carbon tax. Will the Prime Minister apologise to these workers? A solid seven on the snideness scale. Then came the shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, who sought to table a stack of papers he said documented the 166 times the Prime Minister had promised a surplus, and the 366 times the Treasurer had promised same.
The Leader of the House, Anthony Albanese, refused permission.
''Nah, I don't like him,'' he said. It's a new year but we still have a Parliament of marshmallow-gobblers. Settle in for the 219-day ride.