Date: July 28 2012
Could there be any symbolism to be drawn from the fact that people living near The Lodge have over the past fortnight received notices warning them that between now and October some fundamental and sizeable changes will be under way at the Prime Minister's residence?
Just as the government's primary vote sinks to 28 per cent in opinion polling?
When Labor powerbrokers start seriously talking about a return to Kevin Rudd?
While backbenchers grow increasingly nervous and more vocal about their own precarious futures?
Is there any deeper meaning to be found in that this week of all weeks, it looks like reconstruction is about to get under way at The Lodge?
No, none at all.
But let's go there anyway.
Julia Gillard will be moving out of the 85-year-old heritage-listed building but Tony Abbott better not pop the champagne corks yet.
The Prime Minister's move is not a permanent one, as much as the Opposition Leader would like it to be.
Yet the advice notice issued by the Department of Finance and Deregulation to nearby residents and businesses informing them of the imminent works could be read with some amusement. It warns of heavy machinery being brought in to undertake a disruptive but necessary task - one that could take a few months to complete.
But once finished, The Lodge will be a much happier place with hazardous material having been removed, leaks plugged and new guard houses installed to keep watch.
The notice talks of excavators, cranes and large trucks being needed to ensure the Prime Minister's official residence is brought back up to a high standard. It even talks about the need to use quick saws on the job. What's a quick saw? Interestingly, the department refrained from using the power tool's complete name, which is a ''quick demolition saw'', used for cutting through the toughest and most resistant of materials.
Too sensitive, perhaps, to use the word ''demolition'' in reference to anything to do with the government right now.
And Gillard, as we know, is made of some pretty tough stuff.
Of course the department's notice is a straightforward, very proper advice to residents.
Nothing sinister at all about it.
But the same cannot be said about the antics of some of the Labor Party's would-be kingmakers.
The heavy machinery of the party is seriously considering an excavation and demolition job of its own and appears to be drawing up another set of plans for The Lodge.
In what should have been a good week for Gillard and Labor, panic over the latest dire polling figures overshadowed it all.
Yes, Tuesday's Newspoll was a horror for the government, following a string of bad figures that many inside Labor are now saying has stretched out long enough.
Labor is spooked, it is clear.
Backbenchers are circling and the faction bosses are taking note. Deadlines have been mooted and Rudd is being factored into contingency plans.
Voters aren't at all impressed with Abbott, but they have stopped listening to Gillard and they have switched off brand Labor.
Were they to tune in again they would see and hear that Gillard is actually getting things done for the nation and remains pretty focused on securing results.
But when the electorate stops listening to the government, the powerbrokers start listening to the backbench. Some insiders have told this column that Rudd pretty much has caucus support right now for a return to the leadership, but because so many current cabinet ministers refuse to work under him again there is a hesitation to take the leap of faith. Rudd couldn't care less about who wouldn't serve in his cabinet. He thinks he can do it all himself anyway. That's how he ran things when he was in The Lodge - before it all ended in tears.
Yet other Labor sources say that while more caucus members have shifted into the Rudd camp, the former PM is still far from where he needs to be to be able to move back into the National Circuit abode.
And so, no matter what the reason a Gillard media conference or interview is held, and regardless of any policy announcement she might be making, questions invariably go to her leadership. Everything is currently framed in that context, which is not a healthy set of circumstances for the government.
Meanwhile, Abbott becomes more emboldened and is prepared to act with greater self-assurance that he is Australia's prime minister-in-waiting, even on the world stage, as he did when telling his audience exactly what a government he leads will do in relation to China.
And he gave the Chinese a little taste of what he would expect from them. ''As prime minister, I would hope for political reforms to match China's economic liberalisation,'' Abbott said, after telling the same audience that Chinese people ''still can't choose their government''.
Abbott's Beijing address was indeed audacious and it may have ignored a few protocols.
It wasn't as irresponsible as publicly criticising the Australian defence budget last week while he was in Washington.
But it was a little out of the norm for an Australian opposition leader to be telling the Chinese, while he is in China, how they should behave.
Labor ministers lined up this week to criticise Abbott over the Beijing breakfast speech. But their attempts seemed feeble.
Abbott told the Chinese that he would like to see a greater move towards democracy in their country; he talked about human rights; he cautioned against being a bully nation; he urged peaceful solutions to territorial disputes; and he delivered a message about foreign investment.
Abbott made it clear that Australia under his leadership wouldn't allow the Chinese government to control an Australian business. He might have taken a step or two too far with his lecturing of an increasingly important friend in a sensitive relationship that can be difficult to manage. But most of what Abbott said would be welcome words to many here in Australia - his actual intended audience.
The point is that Abbott feels comfortable talking the way he has been over the past couple of weeks on the world stage.
He expects to be the prime minister of Australia before too much longer.
Rudd acted the same way as opposition leader when it became apparent that John Howard's days leading Australia were numbered.
In an interesting aside, it is curious to note that during the 2010 federal election campaign neither Gillard nor Abbott expressed any great interest in international relations.
Since then, Gillard as PM has become very comfortable on the world stage and Abbott is suddenly displaying his hankering to get there.
His desire to be handed the keys to The Lodge will result in more presumptive speeches and more playing hardball against Gillard.
Abbott's Liberal premier mates helped him out on that front this week over the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
They engaged in plenty of party political games before, during and after the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra.
By week's end premiers Barry O'Farrell and Ted Baillieu had been shamed into shifting to more sensible positions. But this only came after a public backlash in both NSW and Victoria over their respective premiers' recalcitrance.
The development late yesterday gave Gillard a hard-fought win, but more importantly it has potentially opened up the worthy scheme to many more Australians living with disabilities. Thankfully Katy Gallagher ensured from the outset that people with disabilities in the ACT did not become collateral damage in the political game.
Yes, there is some demolition work going on at the moment and there are plenty of volunteers willing to crank up the quick saws.
Chris Johnson is Chief Political Correspondent
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