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Shorten's lack of agility leads to low trousers

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Tony Wright

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Backflip on Gonski backflip

While the government backflips on Gonski funding, Labor says it is still a broken promise.

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It's always unattractive to see politicians caught with their pants around their ankles.

Just such a moment occurred – for the first time – to Malcolm Fraser in 1983. He hurried out to the Governor-General's residence to call an election, believing he could beat opposition leader Bill Hayden.

By the time he got back, he discovered the Labor Party had ditched Hayden and had a new leader, a fellow named Bob Hawke. Fraser's pants stayed, at least metaphorically, around his ankles until his government was thrashed by Hawke.

The new Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, found himself in a slightly analogous plight on Monday.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Education Minister Christopher Pyne had spent more than a week digging themselves into a ditch over schools funding. Pyne, having turned a somersault with at least a half-twist about his pre-election promise to maintain Labor's education package dollar for dollar, had taken to insisting all the critics were mad: they simply couldn't understand that black was white.

Abbott had tied himself in a rhetorical knot, arguing that the universe was confused about what his party had promised, which was "not the promise that some people thought we made or the promise that some people might have liked us to make". He sounded as if he were trying to rewrite George Orwell's 1984.

Unsurprisingly, Shorten's opposition was licking its collective chops at the chance to savage Abbott and Pyne with their own deception. Why, Abbott had spent three years accusing Julia Gillard of lying about a carbon tax. Perjury about paying for the schooling of the nation's young was an infinitely greater sin.

Abbott and Pyne knew what was coming, and pulled a swiftie.

Minutes before question time, they announced they would not only meet the commitment to match Labor's scheme dollar for dollar, but they'd overcommit with an extra $1.2 billion to cover all states and territories.

This was close to perjury – the "extra" billion had earlier been earmarked by Labor for Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, but Labor had put it aside when those states and the territory hadn't signed up. And it was another somersault. In politics, of course, too many somersaults are regularly barely enough.

The announcement, however, left Labor with nothing but the questions it had written before the change in the wind, and apparently too little time to change tack.

Shorten and his colleagues forged ahead with demands for guarantees that no school would be worse off.

Abbott, clearly recognising the sound of pants descending to the ankles on the opposition benches, chortled happily.

"He [Shorten] obviously had what he thought was a fantastic question time strategy. He is incapable of adjusting it in the light of the facts as they stand," he taunted.

Pyne, who can never be accused of modesty, chose to quote Ataturk, the military leader who drove the Anzacs off Gallipoli: "When the battle changes, a good general changes their battle tactics."

Shorten was driven to such emotion that he tried, unsuccessfully, to censure the government, apparently for pulling a dirty rotten trick and leaving him in his underpants.

11 comments

  • Funny, but the sad thing is we actually pay them for this.
    Yea yea I know we hear it every day, endlessly, It's all Tony's fault, again.

    Commenter
    J Walker
    Date and time
    December 03, 2013, 8:18AM
    • Where is the $1.2 billion coming from? Somewhere else in the education budget? Has Pyne bound the states to give the extra money to each school according to the Gonski formula?

      I think Shorten was perfectly correct to ask the questions he did. More questions need to be asked.

      Commenter
      Dive Pass
      Date and time
      December 03, 2013, 8:33AM
      • The opposition's line of questioning remained and remains pertinent. This so-called "national agreement" demands nothing from WA, Qld and the NT - no benchmarks, no co-payments, not even a promise to maintain their funding levels. The best the government could manage was that funding would not fall "through any action of the Commonwealth" and that failures to maintain funding would be regarded as "poor form".

        Commenter
        Keith
        Location
        St Kilda
        Date and time
        December 03, 2013, 8:41AM
        • Keith, and you know this as fact from where and how because the Oppositions does not what was agreed upon nor does the leftist journo's working for Fairfax, the Age, ABC, Guardian and SMH because it would have been front page news today and guess what nada, zip and the silence is deafening
          A typical lefty response just throw it out there and hope that Fairfax, the Age, ABC, Guardian and SMH picks it up and runs with it

          Commenter
          Abloke
          Location
          Perth
          Date and time
          December 03, 2013, 11:23AM
      • Indeed.

        I have the sinking feeling that brazen liars, incompetent and policy-bereft as the coalition members are, yon Bill is not up to the task of shoving it up their nose. Neither is Kate Ellis. Unfortunately, Labor lost its best talent when they refused to serve under a resurrected Rudd.

        People sneer at Peter Garrett. Yet he was the one who took the fall for Rudd's stuff-up over aluminium sarking after Garrett and his department had said no to it, who instituted and saw through the Gonski review and took not a backward step in Parliament. He had the full measure of the scarlet-faced popinjay, as did the other 6 ministers in their portfolios over the coalition.

        The way that Abbott is going, the electorate will be so sick of the turmoil he creates that they may well just get rid of him anyway. The polls say Campbell Newman ids on the way out - a similar approach to Abbott and Pyne - just create turmoil and see what comes out of it.

        Commenter
        BillR
        Date and time
        December 03, 2013, 8:42AM
        • I don't think Bill has to really do much, this government is putrifying before our very eyes. They are extreme neo con tories and their deflection and lies may have been overlooked in Opposition because of the focus on Labor that Rudd created and because they weren't responsible for anything. But it's not looking like most Australians will cop this from them now they are in government because what they do impacts on people's lives. It's not only the business community that needs the certainty that a government provides when it runs on the basis of a defined set of values, most people plan for their career, family and retirement and having decisions changing 4 times in 4 months is useless to them.

          It's would also be galling for Bill in particular that Pyne is trying to take credit for bringing the 3 remaining tory premiers on board when, prior to the election, they were only off board to help their Federal mates.

          Commenter
          havasay
          Date and time
          December 03, 2013, 9:30AM
        • Don't worry about Campbell BillR. He will be returned with a very sizable majority. Has been an excellent Premier.

          Commenter
          mh
          Location
          Brisbane
          Date and time
          December 03, 2013, 9:35AM
      • Tony you miss the point again, distracted by spin and miss the issue.

        It was a bad look for Abbott to make backflip after backflip, lie after lie. You are an apologist for Abbott if you think it's a good look for an incompetent Government to create utter confusion, be called liars by their own side of politics and others, and then embarrassingly change course again when it got all too hard.

        Shorten wasn't the issue, so don't try and make him the issue to distract attention from Abbott and Pyne. The only pants down were those of these two incompetents.

        Commenter
        Black Bart
        Location
        Potts Point
        Date and time
        December 03, 2013, 10:31AM
        • Oh no criticism of the rank and file choice as federal Labor leader from out side the Labor, oh wait carbon electricity Bill was Labor caucus choice and not the rank and file
          Now that all states have signed up to the Gonski's school funding by the Abbott government, the left have no argument so they now turn to arguing that the Federal Government should dictate how states fund their schools, I am sure that the left would not like their employer dictating how they use their pay to fund their mortgage, car, child's needs and wants, personnel loans, groceries, petrol, clothing, furniture and so on, which is the argument being presented by the left now
          What a jock the ALP and its followers are

          Commenter
          Abloke
          Location
          Perth
          Date and time
          December 03, 2013, 11:17AM
          • The ALP are "a jock"? I guess that makes you "Ablock" instead of "Abloke".

            I object to you using the name "Abloke" to suggest that you're the voice of the people, just a regular guy, standing up for tories and rednecks, those born to govern but reluctant to actually do so.

            Commenter
            Mick
            Date and time
            December 03, 2013, 3:59PM

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