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Member for Sturt must not become a Pyne in the neck

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Christopher Pyne confuses student loan debate

When asked on ABC's Insiders program if students who are enrolling today or next year would repay their debts at a higher rate, the education minister says "nothing will change", contradicting information on the Government's website.

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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.

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247 comments

  • Oh Yes Pyne, man who spent uni fashioning a forked tongue and then found his natural home in politics. I despise this man for being nothing more than a trumped up snake oil salesman devoid of care and compassion. To bang about about the new opportunities that a deregulated uni market will bring to students form disadvantaged backgrounds is sheer stupidity. And that uni fees will be kept in check by competition - ROFL. Does he think honestly think that there wont be a gap in fees between say Melbounre Uni and Swinburne Uni???? Of course there will. Melbourne will charge on reputation and that getting a degree from them will lead to better job opportunites that a degree from Swiny. Funny how competition produces the best outcome for uni education but a carbon trading system if evil and government hand outs are more efficient. So much stupidity in such a short space of time from Abbott et al. One term government for sure.

    Commenter
    lunatics
    Date and time
    June 02, 2014, 7:23AM
    • This article is about....nothing. Just making up the quota of negative opinion pieces about the Government.

      Commenter
      Flanders
      Date and time
      June 02, 2014, 8:45AM
    • Pyne for leader, rar rar rar !

      Commenter
      KIDDING
      Date and time
      June 02, 2014, 9:07AM
    • Pyne appeals to many people and argues the government case energetically and with conviction. Therefore I think his position is safe (even though I disagree with many of the governments policies).

      Commenter
      Good Logic
      Date and time
      June 02, 2014, 9:21AM
    • If only I was as confident in your last statement as you appear to be.

      Don't overestimate the Australian electorate.

      Commenter
      Suido
      Date and time
      June 02, 2014, 9:25AM
    • @Flanders - and your comment is about - nothing. Just making up the quota of commentary in response to anything that might put the current government in a negative light. And with Christopher Pyne, you never have to look very far for that.

      Commenter
      Helsey
      Date and time
      June 02, 2014, 9:36AM
    • I am sick of occasionally reading Fairfax articles that DON'T try to trash the Government or slime Liberals. 99% of Fairfax articles are fine, but every fortnight or so there's an opinion piece by Vanstone that presents the other side of the story. Outrageous that I have to see this.

      If I want to be exposed to views I don't agree with I'll go elsewhere thanks. If I wanted to hear both sides of the story and make up my own mind I'm perfectly free to read a News paper.

      Commenter
      Gatsby
      Date and time
      June 02, 2014, 9:49AM
    • Dear Flanders,
      Why do you read the the SMH? You're only hurting yourself. There is a newspaper called "The Daily Telegraph". All your views will be validated when you read it. There you will find all the climate sceptics, religious loonies, gun nuts, shock jocks etc that you will enjoy. You know I'm right. Be kind to yourself. Stop banging your head against that brick wall called "the truth"

      Commenter
      Distopia
      Date and time
      June 02, 2014, 9:51AM
    • @Flanders. And are we to presume that any of the many articles by Fairfax that were negative towards the Labor government prior to the last election received equal criticism from you at the time?? Well Fanders???? I'm guessing not. My, oh my how the LNP sycophants cry foul like spoilt children when things aren't going their way!!

      Commenter
      Peter
      Location
      Carrum Downs, Vic
      Date and time
      June 02, 2014, 9:51AM
    • Flanders......it must be be pointed out i feel, pyne is an example of why SA is the only state with a Labor gov.

      Commenter
      factsarefacts
      Date and time
      June 02, 2014, 9:54AM

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