One of the most well-worn strategies in opposition politics is to sit around and brainstorm questions that will catch out the government of the day.
That’s balanced out, of course, by government spin doctors who also sit around in rooms and try and pre-empt those questions, then prepare corresponding answers for ministers and bureaucrats.
Unfortunately, government spinners either didn’t find time to sit with Senator Eric Abetz this morning… or more likely, they just never saw this question coming.
Over to Labor Senator Penny Wong, who is grilling the Minister for Employment (and Leader of the Government in the Senate) this afternoon during Senate Estimates.
WONG: Ah, Senator Abetz, ah, the Prime Minister in his press conference of the 9th of February, umm, said a number of things and one of the things he said was ‘I’ve listened I’ve learnt and I’ve changed and the government will change with me.’ Can you tell me how the Prime Minister has changed?’
Senator Abetz could have said a lot of things. Unfortunately, he said this…
ABETZ: “Look, er, the Prime Minister is an exceptionally, er, capable and, er, good individual and erm, you know, sometimes the good even gets better and that is what, er, the Prime Minister has, er, committed himself, er, to doing, to, er, be more, as he said publicly, more consultative, er, with the backbench, erm, and with the community.
WONG: So is the ‘I’ve changed’, ah, being more consultative with the backbench and the community?
At this juncture, it’s important to acknowledge that Senator Abetz is not exactly famous for having the most nimble of minds. He is, after all, deeply conservative. His greatest claim to fame, apart from having a great uncle sentenced to jail for being a Nazi war criminal, is an annoying habit of over-enunciating his words, so much so that he sounds like an overly-officious school teacher providing elocution lessons to very young children.
On this occasion, however, Senator Abetz decided to add a correspondingly smug expression to his over-enunciation, by sporting a sly grin which seems to have formed as it dawned on him that the best way out of the trap set for him was to do what all good ministers and bureaucrats do – stall for time.
ABETZ: Oh, amongst many other things I’m sure and, er, and I will take that on notice and I’m sure we’ll be able to provide you with a detailed list.
Trap sprung. Cue Senator Wong going in for the kill.
WONG: You need to take on notice how the Prime Minister’s changed?
Needless to say, the grin was wiped from Senator Abetz’s face.
ABETZ: Well, there are so many good things, er, to talk about Senator that it’s very hard to recall them all immediately.”
Followed by one of the best withering stares for which Senator Wong has become quite famous.
And this is only Senate Estimates. And it’s only February.
If you like politics, 2015 is shaping up as a glorious year.
Donate To New Matilda
New Matilda is a small, independent media outlet. We survive through reader contributions, and never losing a lawsuit. If you got something from this article, giving something back helps us to continue speaking truth to power. Every little bit counts.