- University head warns of higher fees impact on poorer students
- Christopher Pyne in a muddle over student loans
- The Pulse Live with Judith Ireland
When Tony Abbott knocked off Malcolm Turnbull by just one vote in December 2009, he kept the same frontbench in place, which meant retaining Christopher Pyne as chief parliamentary tactician.
Pyne was low risk, being both a safe pair of hands and a true believer in the new Abbott doctrine of ''total politics''.
The member for Sturt is nothing if not battle-hardened. Indeed, by the time he is 50 in under four years, half of his life will have been spent as a serving federal MP.
The quintessential career politician, he had come more or less straight from student politics at Adelaide University to the real thing in Canberra - a fact his critics say, is all too evident.
Yet for all his knowledge, his parliamentary guile and his demonstrable intellectual power, Pyne has distinguished himself so far as the minister most likely to be over-ruled by his prime minister. That doesn't mean his future is in doubt, it is not. But he must be careful.
Last week, he set the hares running with his thought bubble over recouping outstanding HECS-HELP loans from the estates of deceased students. Abbott, alive to the dangers, killed the idea dead (if not buried and cremated).
It would have been bad enough if this was just an unwelcome distraction from a difficult post-budget sales task struggling to stay afloat. But Pyne's detractors are now talking of a pattern. They cite politically difficult moments when subsequent ''clarifications'' were required to steady the ship.
In November last year for example, Pyne overplayed the government hand telling a compliant media host, ''Boats have been turned back''. It was precisely the kind of direct statement Scott Morrison, the Minister for Border Protection, was refusing to discuss as a so-called ''on water matter''.
That paled, however, against the own goal kicked just weeks later in his own portfolio when Pyne unilaterally declared void Abbott's central pre-election commitment to match Labor's Gonski school funding package. Claiming a $1.2 billion hole, he said the formula to which both sides had committed was ''unimplementable''.
It was an egregious error forcing Abbott to recommit to the schools promise and to suddenly finding ''new money'' the government claimed could not be found just days before.
Voters will mostly forget the prankish stunts in Parliament such as the failed attempt by Pyne and Abbott to run from the chamber to avoid Craig Thomson's ''tainted'' vote.
And they are likely to be unfazed by the recent vision of Pyne, as House leader, openly instructing speaker Bronwyn Bishop to close down applause after Bill Shorten's budget reply speech. Par for the course, many will conclude.
Internal critics, however, have long memories.