Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's chief of staff Peta Credlin speaks with Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop on Monday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Independent senator Nick Xenophon is usually associated with pokies reform and South Australianness. But yesterday morning, at the Senate doors, he was all doom, gloom and heavy duty PVC.
''I've just got a bad feeling,'' he began. ''I just think the level of toxicity in this place will ratchet up so much that I can also imagine us having to have hazmat suits by the end of the week.''
Indeed, the buzz in the air as parliament resumed for its final bout of 2012 wasn't due to the prospect of plum pudding and beach holidays. It was the ominous pop and sizzle of political particles, gearing up for an AWU reaction.
After spending the break investigating Prime Minister Julia Gillard's conduct as a lawyer in the 1990s, Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop had promised question time would see more grilling than a CBD sandwich shop at lunchtime.
But as the nation steeled itself for the 2pm showdown, Gillard decided to pinch Bishop's thunder (death stare alert!) with one of her famous never-ending press conferences.
Granted, when the PM took to the stage in the Blue Room for Marathon II, she didn't seem completely at ease with the idea. Starting with a riff about what the government was doing with education, the economy and disability services, her voice wavered a little.
But Gillard soon shook the shakes, asking Australia whether they believed their prime minister's take on the union episode or Ralph Blewitt's - a man who was a self- confessed fraudster and user of ''prostitutes in Asia''.
''Mr Blewitt … has been described as a complete imbecile, an idiot, a stooge, a sexist pig, a liar and his sister has said he's a crook,'' she observed. ''Make your mind up.'' Needless to say, by the time Bishop had the floor in question time, Gillard had not only taken the heat out of the Coalition's grill, she'd worn out people's appetites for forensic discussions about the incorporation of associations in the mid-90s. This didn't stop Bishop spending every question the opposition had on the AWU, but it meant Gillard could shrug the whole thing off as passé.
''This is bordering on the embarrassing now,'' the PM declared, observing that for the record, she also had nothing to do with shoving Harold Holt onto a Chinese submarine.
Yet, while Gillard may have prevailed in round one, after question time, Bishop announced there were more particles to come. ''Today we set the scene. This is just the beginning,'' she said, ensuring hazmat suit sales are safe for the foreseeable future.