Tony Abbott pedalled and back-pedalled, with success.
It was a high profile political week. The prime minister sought to wedge Abbott on her historic DisabilityCare reform. The Opposition Leader changed his mind, and ignored his shadow Treasurer, on another great big tax. Whatever the politics, we ended with long overdue and highly decent public policy.
To top it off, the rollout agreement signed between Gillard and the increasingly impressive Victorian Premier, Dennis Napthine, reminded us again of the substance of the policy.
Despite the often turgid process it will be part of the Gillard legacy, long after she departs.
What next as we count down the days to the election? In political terms it will be momentarily interesting to see if Tony Abbott still goes ahead with his widely publicised and loudly argued motion of no-confidence in the Gillard government next Tuesday.
If he proceeds, will it look like another stunt after the past few days of bi-partisanship?
If he quietly drops his stated plan to win the vote and trigger the prime minister’s visit to the Governor-General, what will that say, and how will it be reported?
His pitch to the House would be easy enough. I’ll save readers from tuning in. It would go something like this for the first few minutes:
"As promised, I move – without regret or rancour – that this House has no confidence in the current government of Australia to fulfil its constitutional duties and written obligations.
“It is a divided, divisive and directionless government. It has comprehensively failed in its duty of care to millions of ordinary Australians, to families, to business and to community.
“It is a government without leadership. It is a government without compass. It’s run by a Cabinet of cast-offs, and watched over by ex-ministers who sit idly and with certain foreboding menace on the grim backbench.
“It has plainly and patently squandered its inheritance. It has forced hard-working, decent Australians – whatever their circumstance and wherever they live – into shouldering a burden of massive and growing and unchecked debt.
“It’s time to end this national nightmare, and time for the government to go now, and go decently. It’s what Australians want, and what they deserve.
“Why move this motion now, and why not simply wait it out until the Spring clean-up? The answer is clear: every day, every week and every month is vital when it comes to the management of billions of taxpayers’ dollars.
“In this bold and fast-moving interconnected era, time matters. Australia simply cannot afford more inward focussed and self-serving national leadership.
“We all know that every decision made by this wreck of a government is determined by internal ALP politics. It’s a government of its Party, by its Party and for its Party. And that Party is a grey and wavering shadow of its once fine incarnation.
“I accept that this call for no confidence is a big call. But it’s one that I have an obligation to make. It is time for the people’s will and expectation to be forced on the prime minister.
“This call is not personal. It is not political. This call is about trust, confidence, leadership and putting Australia’s future ahead of bitter ALP internal politics.”
And so on.
The response from Julia Gillard would tread a familiar path.
“What a display of shallow, fact free and vacuous timidity we have just witnessed from the man who seeks the highest elected office in the land.
“He has just demonstrated – in his own words – why he is not fit for this great office. He has just ensured that his motion – and his quest – will flounder and fail.
“At every hour on every day he stands before cameras and microphones and seeks to tear this great country down.
“He engages in a calculated and deliberate attempt to smash community confidence, to belittle our nation’s great achievements and to ride into high office on the back of fear mongering that he desperately hopes will succeed.
“Speaker, we are all better than that. We are smarter than this political feather-duster. We think more of our country, more of our future and more of our achievements than he ever will.
“We are a great nation, leading the world with our sense of community, our resilience, our values and our determination to succeed through the age-old spectrum of a fair go for all.
“I stand before this House, and this Leader of the Opposition, with pride, with optimism and with a steely determination to continue with great Labor reforms – reforms to schools in every town and suburb …..”
Of course, there’s nothing new in all of that.
A rowdy debate would ensue, including contributions from the Independents. A vote would be taken – and lost – and it would be back to matters of the budget and DisabilityCare legislation.
In essence it would be just a day in politics – a bunch of words.
We’ll really have to wait till September 14 when voters cast judgement, not on policy, but on the two competing political arguments – and not with raised baseball bats, but with reluctant purposeful clarity. It’s shaping as an historic turning of the tide.