Opposition leaves foe to bloodletting

DEPUTY Opposition Leader Julie Bishop concisely summed up the Coalition's tactics at its first party room meeting of the year.

"You don't interrupt your enemy when they are fighting among themselves."

The opposition, which maintains a 22 per cent lead over Labor in the polls, successfully kept to the strategy during the first parliamentary session for 2013. Though the week was short on policy announcements, opposition questions on government policy dominated question time.

It's a far cry from the character and personal attacks prevalent in the second half of 2012. The Coalition didn't need to send out its best strikers when Labor was kicking own goals and trying to manage events beyond its control.

Two senior ministers were dragged into the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry after it was revealed they had accepted hospitality - accommodation at a Perisher Valley ski lodge - from former NSW Labor factional boss Eddie Obeid.

Suspended Labor MP Craig Thomson appeared in a Melbourne court on 154 fraud charges related to his time as head of the Health Services Union, before entering Parliament.

Northern Territory senator Trish Crossin vented her anger at not being offered a post-Parliament sinecure, after being shoved from her seat by Prime Minister Julia Gillard in favour of Labor's likely first indigenous federal member, Nova Peris.

Treasurer Wayne Swan was confronted with pamphlets circulated in his electorate last year wrongly boasting the government had "delivered" a budget surplus "on time, as promised".

And Ms Gillard read the riot act to her caucus, after discovering MPs had been lining up to give journalists "negative assessments" of the government. She also spent some time explaining why she took the unprecedented step of setting the federal election date seven months out.

Then there's Kevin Rudd. He's raised his public profile during the Christmas-New Year break and questions were asked about whether he's a positive asset or a destabilising liability for Labor.

Mr Rudd urged everyone to "take a cold shower" and renewed his vow not to challenge Ms Gillard, but it's not completely out of the ballpark to ponder whether he might be recruited by worried MPs if Labor's poll woes worsen.

For his part, Tony Abbott cautioned his party room against hubris and arrogance, telling MPs their job this year was to act like a "worthy alternative government" while continuing to hold Labor to account.

The Coalition maintained this track before a slight derailing last Thursday, when a draft Coalition discussion paper proposing the establishment of regional tax zones and that public servants be shifted to northern Australia was leaked.

Mr Abbott hosed down fears that western Sydney public-sector workers would be plucked from their homes and shipped to Karratha.

With Mr Abbott making himself a small target, the prime minister characterised him as a "policy lightweight" unable to detail how the Coalition would pay for its election promises.

Ms Gillard said the Coalition would axe Labor's Schoolkids Bonus and was threatening the tax breaks for 3.5 million low-income earners' superannuation.

But Labor's own superannuation plans were called into question amid speculation the government could target high-income superannuants to fill the budget black hole - a move the Greens and unions would support.

Focusing on the economy and leaving Labor to deal with its internal bloodletting appears to be paying off for Abbott's team ahead of the September 14 poll.

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