On the QT
Julie Bishop asks a question of the Prime Minister in question time. Photo: Andrew Meares
In the genteel, Pimms and croquet world of Parliament House, some things are simply not done. For example, there is no skinny dipping in the water features. There is no jelly wrestling in the Great Hall. And you can't call someone a ''liar''.
This poses a problem for MPs, who live to expose any weakness in the other side. If one can't call one's enemy a ''grand old lying liar'', what does one do?
If you're Greg Combet, you use a thesaurus. Yesterday, Combet seized on opposition predictions of carbon tax doom 'n' gloom with both ministerial hands. ''[Tony Abbott] has travelled the country, claiming time and time again, that there would be unimaginable price rises on you name it … meat pies, sausage rolls, tomato sauce, Weet-Bix, fish fillets, wetsuits, anything!'' he told the House.
Combet then took pie-sized delight in observing that the price of milk, cereal and lamb had in fact, dropped since July 1.
''Totally mendacious!'' Combet declared of the opposition's ''fear campaign,'' to hearty government applause.
But when Julie Bishop rose to have a stroll around the chamber grounds with Julia Gillard, the genteel turned a bit gruesome. Bishop was back with another edition of ''What did the PM really know about her ex-boyfriend's union slush fund?''
Gillard said she stood by all her previous statements on the matter, before wondering, ''did the Leader of the Opposition endorse the asking of this question?'' After all, hadn't he recently pledged to leave the ''nasty personal politics'' to the Labor Party?
Bishop was undeterred, spending two supplementary questions trying to ping Gillard on the slush. Problem being, the Prime Minister was also undeterred.
''How can the opposition assert that it is focusing on the nation's interests …'' Gillard ventured, before her argument was lost in the roar and tumble of Coalition shouts.
It was hard to hear anything until the voice of Coalition MP Andrew Laming rang out: ''You are corrupt!''
The collective gasp was heard as far away as Whyalla.
Sure enough, Laming was sent on his merry way (if you can't call someone a liar, you sure as wetsuits can't say corrupt). But the battle for the moral high ground was not yet dead, buried and cremated; with Christopher Pyne demanding Gillard withdraw an ''offensive remark'' about Abbott and himself.
The PM was mighty unkeen to comply, explaining all she'd said was ''this is the Leader of the Opposition's strategy and I hope he's proud of it.''
Finally, it was Bishop's turn to be unamused.
''I find it offensive as a women that the Prime Minister would suggest that I am being dictated to,'' the Deputy Opposition Leader declared. ''These are my questions. She's not answering them!''