Siddle’s hat-trick signalled the end of the political year
Like a distant fog-horn through the acrid smoke of political battle, an early English wicket in the first Ashes Test on Thursday morning echoed across the divide between real life and politics: Summer’s here!
By late afternoon, as the scheduled end of the parliamentary year came and went, and politicians huffed with even more indignation than normal, the origin of that fog-horn, let’s call it the ``life’’ side, upped the ante, perhaps aware its initial message had not been heeded.
What happened next, one of the genuinely golden moments in Australian sport, made for a stunning contrast on Capital Hill.
Journalists, political staffers, security officers, frankly anyone near a TV in Parliament House fumbled with the remote switching away from proceedings in the Senate, where the Government’s structural separation of Telstra bill remained bogged, to the cricket.
Peter Siddle’s outstanding hat-trick, half of a memorable ``six-for’’ in an all-round brilliant day’s play, sounded a reality-checking fog-horn, this time so loud it was audible even in Canberra’s hermetically sealed political bubble: ``Stop already!’’ it bellowed. ``Enough is enough you fools, the cricket’s on, nobody cares!’‘
Mind you, not everyone switched across. In one of those bizarre coincidences, some journalists were at that very moment trapped in Parliament’s window-less ``Blue Room’’ attending a Stephen Conroy press conference on, wait for it, how to ensure ordinary Australians had free access to `iconic’’ sporting telecasts such as test cricket.
But that’s another story.
The fact that parliamentary sittings have failed to wind up when scheduled on Thursday (and will now have to return on Monday) should not surprise us really. It has been that kind of a year. A year when protracted arguments, like those on asylum seekers and resource super profits taxes and national broadband networks, went on and on. A year when a long foreshadowed election came and went offering no closure, just more uncertainty.
Yet in hindsight, it has also shown the system to be surprisingly robust.
For all the dire predictions of unworkability and of a shaky, minority government never more than a by-election or two away from defeat, the Gillard operation has generally found a way.
It was a point well made during the final question time of 2010 by the Government’s invariably punchy manager of business in the Reps, Anthony Albanese.
``When the 43rd Parliament was formed some were critical about how effectively we could govern,’’ he told the House.
``Well, after five weeks of sittings we can say that this Government has shown that the 43rd Parliament is able to get legislation through and is able to function in the national interest.’‘
Among the 51 pieces of legislation processed, Mr Albanese picked out key bills relating to the National Health and Hospitals Network, the National Broadband Network, higher education, and child care reforms.
``Indeed, the Government has not lost a single vote on legislation nor has a single amendment been passed to its legislation on the floor of this House _ a remarkable achievement and a fact,’’ he said.
``This is a parliament that is functioning and passing our legislation.’‘
Mr Albanese’s assertiveness betrays two things: a gathering confidence within the new Government that it has what it takes, and an accompanying sense of injustice that it is not been recognised as such. A theme is now apparent that senior Labor figures believe they have been getting bad press, that Labor was unfairly treated in the election campaign, and that Tony Abbott scored an easier ride because expectations of him had started out much lower.
On several occasions in recent weeks, Julia Gillard has found ways of gently upbraiding the press gallery for what she regards as excessive negativity and cynicism, and for failing to distinguish between real stories and frippery.
It may be valid commentary but it conveniently ignores the fact that governments rely on taxpayer-funded spin machinery dedicated to selling government messages, routinely attaching the same weight to fact and fiction, and which lack even the pretence of objectivity.
After a scratchy campaign, and a shaky start, the Government heads into the summer break in better shape than many within its ranks thought likely just weeks ago.
Gillard herself is increasingly convinced she has Tony Abbott’s measure. This week, after progressively turning up the wick since returning from international meetings, she believes she stung him on a couple of key occasions. Time and again in parliament, she honed in on his approach as unerringly negative, directing a warning over Abbott’s head to the Liberal party-room that their leaders’ `total politics’ style of absolute opposition will be simply unsustainable over a three year term. Some know it is true.
There’s no doubt Julia Gillard is learning on the job. Any new PM would be. But she is also growing in the job - becoming more accustomed to its pace, its demands, and its opportunities.
Next year, she told press gallery journalists at her Christmas drinks, there will be plenty of big stories around but less of the other kind.
That’s as may be. But for now, Australians are turning their minds to more pleasant realities: long hot days; summer salads; and the knowledge that the only politician they’ll hear from will be making the odd guest appearance in the commentary box at the cricket.
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