Not since the Keating era have we so enjoyed displays of Parliamentary abuse of the kind occasionally laid on by DPM Gillard. Her effort yesterday in characterising Christopher Pyne as a “mincing poodle” will probably be as damaging to him as the worst of Keating’s barbs, hacking into Hewson for his Ferrari and being a “feral abacus”, referring to Liberal Lefty Fred Chaney as “Red Fred” and equating Bronwyn Bishop with an out of control firecracker wheel.
Many piously shake their head at such takedowns, we say they are the lifeblood of modern politics. Nothing clarifies more than an insult. Nothing cuts through like the unvarnished truth.
The elevation of Christopher Pyne as Manager of Opposition Business by Malcolm Turnbull was probably the right call for Turnbull as he seeks to achieve generational change, to present a new face for the Liberal party.
It’s a shame because Tony Abbott -when well prepared and on form – can be formidable and imposing and can give the Liberal backbenchers solace during these challenging times, as they bump along the bottom of opinion poll charts.
Pyne will struggle to have the same impact as Abbott would.
Partly that’s because he is so well-spoken, with an Adelaide accent one can hear at the Royal Adelaide Golf Club talking conspiratorially about things that would never be repeated off-course. Except on Senator Bernardi’s blog of course.
But he’s not a complete dud, he’s one of their best and should not be spooked by Gillard’s attack that he is a “mincing poodle.” A nasty insult to be sure.
Mincing means “affectedly dainty or delicate”.
But poodles are of course the smartest and most cunning of hunting dogs. So hopefully he’ll be more poodle than mincing for the Club Fed Libs.
Some will take the reference to mean that she’s implying he’s gay. We doubt that’s what she meant. This is a War on Accents not on sexuality. One is fair sport the other mercifully – and increasingly – forbidden. Unless of course there’s cheating of some kind involved.
Whatever Pyne-o-Clean does, he should just be himself and focus on the arguments. In some settings, like Lateline he puts his case pretty well. He will grow in confidence in his senior role.
As he does, he will find he has the ongoing man-love of his bestest mate and former house-mate Christian Kerr who wrote in The Australian today:
Julia Gillard tried a metaphor of her own on Pyne, arguing his elevation ahead of Tony Abbott amounted to choosing ABBA ahead of Cold Chisel.
“I must admit that I did want to see the Member for Warringah (Tony Abbott) making a comeback,” the Deputy Prime Minister said. “In a choice between macho and mincing I would have gone for macho myself …
“Obviously the Leader of Opposition, faced with the choice of a doberman or poodle has gone for the poodle.”
It didn’t work. True, Pyne can yap, but he isn’t silly. Instead, he resembled some lithe, little creature popping up to look around at what was happening, darting in and out proceedings and offering occasional comic relief – along with the odd sharp bite.
Think Timon the meerkat from The Lion King
Very Don Dunstanish banter there. And of course when an insult-line about an opponent is repeated in every daily newspaper, on every news bulletin and on most talkback shows the following day, chances are it has worked well, devastatingly well.
Gillard of course is herself. She used to do OK in Parliament in Opposition. She made a big success of Immigration and took it up to Abbott with some skill.
But as can be the case when politicians transition from Opposition to Government, she has soared to a degree some find astonishing. Us included. Her takedowns of the “mincing poodle” are in the fine tradition of rigorous Parliamentary debate. More power to her untattooed arm.