Brace yourself for bench warfare
Illustration: David Rowe
The good news for most Australians is that Federal Parliament has risen for another year.
And now the bad news: 2013 is an election year.
This means that those of you who've been sickened, angered, annoyed, disappointed, enraged or just plain bored by the tone of the least edifying Parliament since, perhaps, 1955 - when Doc Evatt dropped his marbles in the chamber daily and the background soundtrack was the cry and counter-cry of ''liar'' - will find that next year will be pretty much the equivalent of a 365-day, 24-7 political cage fight.
It's instructive that a decade after Labor split and was trounced at that most acrimonious of elections in 1955, Robert Menzies - still prime minister - served as pallbearer at Evatt's funeral.
Then again, Menzies had been pallbearer at Ben Chifley's funeral in 1951, too.
While the rich metaphoric potential of Menzies helping to literally bury his erstwhile political opponents might seem irresistible today, all of this actually points to a human civility that underpinned public life from the 1950s to the noughties - with some exceptions, of course - in a way it no longer appears to.
Speaker Anna Burke last week seemed to precis the tone when she said: ''This is not amusing. It really is not. It is absolutely disgraceful that you treat your Parliament with such contempt.''
Burke sin-binned three opposition MPs, including the charming Sophie Mirabella, who managed to heap contempt upon contempt by sneering ''liar'' while leaving the chamber.
Nah. They don't get it on either side. Come on down, Labor's Steve Gibbons, who that very morning tweeted: ''Libs are led by a gutless douchebag & narcissistic bimbo who aren't fit to be MP's [sic] let alone PM & Dep. Bth shld b sacked.''
Well, if my seven-year-old ever calls her brother a douchebag, at least I'll know who to blame.
In Parliament's better moments, members and senators like to speak of the nobility of their cause, of the ethic of service that underscores commitment to public life.
But such small moments of nobility have been swamped for the most part by the ugly realpolitik of a hung 43rd Parliament in which the Prime Minister, repeatedly branded a liar for introducing a carbon tax, is now accused - on the basis of the flimsiest evidence - of criminality.
The details of such vague alleged malfeasance, relating to Gillard's links to (unbeknown to her) crook elements of a union when she was a solicitor in the 1990s, are incomplete, complicated and based on numerous assumptions. That's why, for the most part, the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, seemed content to let his deputy, Julie Bishop, his House of Reps attack dog, Christopher Pyne, and the shadow attorney-general, Senator George Brandis, prosecute the case.
Until last Thursday, that is, when ''new'' parts of almost 20-year-old paperwork lent a slightly stronger, but no less circumstantial, edge to the case against the Prime Minister's powers of recollection and, by strong innuendo, her professional legal conduct.
Only then did Abbott (having set upon a course in late 2010 of chicken-wing tackling the minority government at every turn, only to realise in the second half of 2012 that Australia really was tired of it all) finally buy in.
On Thursday it seemed like the Parliament might actually have been doing its job when the government introduced legislation for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which will overhaul the services available to 400,000 disabled Australians and their carers at an estimated cost of $15 billion.
It is a hugely ambitious and important program.
A fundamental tenet of a civilised democracy rests with the way those who are disadvantaged at birth or by accidents are treated. Sadly, in Australia, many live in poverty and uncertainty. Abbott's Coalition has given in-principle - though at times heavily qualified - support to the NDIS.
For its part, the government has not adequately outlined where it will find the money to fund it and achieve an election-year surplus.
We might well say ''hurrah'' to Abbott's vow that 2013 would be the year of ''policy''.
Bring it on - and then some - and we'll believe it when we see it.
Gillard's government has improbably, for Abbott at least, made it to the end of the year. He's doing his best to ensure 2013 will be different. Gillard, meanwhile, may be starting to believe that what doesn't kill you as a political leader almost certainly makes you stronger.