Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Labor MP Martin Ferguson after he announced his resignation from Parliament.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Labor MP Martin Ferguson embrace after he announced his resignation. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen / Fairfax

Espionage and politics are what you may call first cousins once removed.

One is supposed to be kept secret from the public and the other is supposed to be transparent. Yet in practice, both trade in plots and intrigues with equal levels of gusto.

In Parliament, everyone is assigned a nominal side, but allegiances are more slippery than an ice rink in a detergent factory.

The Coalition discovered this first hand during question time on Wednesday when Christopher "Point of Order" Pyne tried to embarrass Labor by hauling rebel backbencher Anthony Byrne before the House.

Backbenchers are not usually in the firing line, but Pyne made an exception for Byrne as he is the chair of the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. That, and on Monday, Byrne had a turn as a double agent, criticising the "disgraceful" level of funding to Australia's national security agencies.

Hoping the Rudd backer might repeat the performance, Pyne asked Byrne for his thoughts on spy funding.

Byrne practically leapt out of his seat to respond, but began by saying he had nothing further to add to his Monday statement. Then, calm as you like, he segued into some fresh material: "I've never seen in this place in my entire time, with one exception, national security just thrown around like it's a political plaything. And I accuse you, Opposition Leader, of doing so."

To Tony Abbott, he added this little kicker: "You are the least qualified opposition leader to talk about matters of national security since Mark Latham." As Abbott frowned, the Labor benches erupted in hoots of skittish laughter. It didn't matter that Latham was technically one of their own (did it?)!

When question time ended, a tad early at 2.59 pm, attention turned to another old Labor figure.

To an audible "oh no", Martin Ferguson told the House he had decided not to recontest his seat and would leave the circus in September. It was in the best interests of his party and his family, he explained.

Sidestepping the member for Batman's famed support for Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard praised Ferguson's "proud" track record of achievement and assured Labor members that they'd give him a proper send-off.

But curiously, it was up to Abbott to praise Mar'n as "Labor Party royalty".

"The government, his party, the Parliament and our country will be the poorer for his absence," an emotional Abbott said.

"Well may we shed a tear, Madam Speaker, for things which were, which should be, but which are not. And from this side of the political trench, I salute an honourable opponent and a great Australian."

It was stirring stuff for a Labor legend.

But hang on, Tony, exactly whose side are you on?

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