Labor might remain in desperate confusion about how to round up the blue-collar voters and shepherd them back into the home paddock, but Anthony Albanese is making one thing clear. Unlike his predecessor, he won't be outdone in the ordinary bloke game.
Albanese has found a riposte to Scott Morrison's quiet Australians, and he tested it on Tuesday morning at the Labor caucus meeting, which was opened to the media.
"What he really means is everyone should shut up and listen to him," Albanese said.
But Australians won't be quiet. "You walk into any pub and hear a discussion, you don't hear quiet people sitting there sipping on a beer," he said.
Australians like voicing opinions, "it's the Australian way", he said, to enthusiastic applause. And you can now expect to hear Labor politicians everywhere yelling about how un-Australian it is to be quiet - at least until Morrison drops the line.
As for Morrison, he's the "ad man with no plan", a slogan that has taken hold well beyond Labor ranks already, and was spat angrily by the One Nation senators last week after they blindsided the government on its union-busting laws.
"We want actions not just words," One Nation's Malcolm Roberts said in an unusual moment of fluency. "This government has been building facades and marketing them. Scott Morrison has been a marketing man, not a governor."
Albanese delivers the third of his "vision statements" on Saturday but seems more excited about his Q&A appearance alongside Malcolm Turnbull next week. Turnbull has been having the time of his life watching the parade pass and choosing just the moment to roll in a marble. "Being blunt about it, it is a call I would not have made," Turnbull offered last week, as Scott Morrison was about to face another Question Time barrage from Labor over his call to the NSW police commissioner in the Angus Taylor affair.
Albanese told his Labor colleagues that he's looking forward to the show. And he's looking forward to the next election, when "people will be sitting there and going ... what was the point of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government".
"Interesting," he chortled, "that two of those probably agree."
Canberrans will enjoy Q&A also, not least for the appearance of Brian Schmidt, who discovered dark energy, the unknown force that powers the acceleration of the universe. He's also the ANU vice-chancellor whose university was targeted by the Chinese in a cyber attack he has likened to a diamond heist. China, needless to say, has become a big political issue.
Albanese's speech had pedestrian moments - his insistence that Labor goes into 2020 with confidence (including confidence that it can "deal with climate change with a plan which creates jobs, lowers emissions and lowers electricity prices") felt wishful rather than bullish. And when someone resorts to a cliches like "we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off" to explain the bad moments you know they have a bit of coming to terms with things still to do.
Bill Shorten arrived late to the caucus meeting, perhaps planning to miss the speech altogether. But he was unfortunately there in time to hear that he had dusted himself off and was ready to "charge" down the corridor with his colleagues towards the offices of government, albeit with the back of Albanese's crumpled suit in view.
Albanese's best line was "Angus horribilis", apt for the state of the Morrison camp, which has looked in the past fortnight like it would struggle to order a beer in Albanese's hypothetical opinionated pub without accidentally ending up with the Italian prosecco and forgetting to pay. The Nationals held their annual seafood barbecue in the Senate courtyards on Tuesday and it was a raucous and luxurious affair, with booze, frantic with tray upon tray of scallops and 70 kilograms of prawns - that's about 2100 of them! It was especially disorienting as it was held at the same time as Labor's quiet barbecue with snags and chickpeas, a photo with Santa and a donation to Vinnies.
The Taylor debacle has come at a good time for Labor, allowing it to end a year it began with such shocked disbelief on a high.
Not to make too much of it, but while the Nationals were living it up outside, the media was being told over the loud laughter out the window about Scott Morrison's commitment to accountability in banking and the corporate world. A discordant message in light of his flat refusal to force any kind of accountability for the false document used by Angus Taylor to try to discredit the Sydney mayor on, of all topics, climate change.
Which is where Naomi Wolf comes in. Morrison might have lived next door to the NSW police commissioner, while never bringing in his bins, but Taylor can do one better. He told parliament in his first speech in 2013 that he bunked down the corridor from Naomi Wolf at Oxford in 1991. This was a parable about political correctness gone mad for the evidently straitlaced young Taylor, who recounted that some of the students had a plan to ban the annual Christmas tree in the interests of inclusivity. Shrill elitist voices, declared the former Rhodes scholar and big Southern Tablelands landholder. Insidious political correctness.
It didn't happen! tweeted Naomi Wolf sensationally this week. She wasn't at Oxford in 1991, she loves Christmas, and Taylor's story was nothing but a "fever dream". "Imaginary war on Xmas worked in US too," she said.
Albanese recounted this story to hilarious laughter in a party room which can barely believe its luck with the myriad ways Taylor has messed up. The Taylor debacle has come at a good time for Labor, allowing it to end a year it began with such shocked disbelief on a high.
I was a Rhodes Scholar in Oxford 1985-88. Angus Taylor recalls me in a fever dream at Oxford in 1991 among those warring on Xmas.(I was in NYC). (Plus I love Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa.) Flattered to be on this mythological hate list. Imaginary "war on Xmas" worked in US too.— Dr Naomi Wolf (@naomirwolf) December 2, 2019