11 November 2015
by Fleur Anderson

Christopher Pyne sniffs a Labor leadership plot

Apart from his uncanny ability as "a fixer", Christopher Pyne can also detect a secret leadership change in his water, a hard-won superpower that comes with two decades of federal political experience.

Having survived the latest prime ministerial bloodletting, he reckons he can pick Labor backroom machinations from a mile away.

"I see the junior woodchucks doing a lot of shouting" he told Speaker Tony Smith in Parliament on Tuesday.

"They tend to do that when a sense a leadership change coming. That's been my experience over the last 22 years."

Labor leader Bill Shorten tut-tutted and disapprovingly shook his head. As if Shorten, survivor of two Labor purges, needed any warning on a terminal leader.

Labor's Tony Burke had just asked Pyne, in his position as manager of government business, whether it was true he promised restive backbenchers the Coalition would not take a change in the GST to the next election.

A "juvenile" question", Pyne snorted before embarking on his own bit of mischief making.

"They get very shouty when they feel a leadership change coming because they want to impress the other pretenders on the front bench about how good they will be if the leadership changes and they want to get on the front bench," he said.

It was a classic distraction ploy to counter Labor's sustained attack on Malcolm Turnbull's will-he-won't-he GST hike, and it provoked those Labor junior woodchucks to become very "shouty" indeed to Pyne's great pleasure.

"The Member for Melbourne Ports knows exactly what I'm talking about. He's become very boutique, Mr Speaker," Pyne said conspiratorially to Victorian Labor MP Michael Danby who turned an intense shade of puce.

It was a welcome outbreak of vaudeville in a question time session heavy on repetition as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his frontbenchers attempted the near-impossible: talking about a change to the GST without scaring the bejesus out of the voters.

Every question from Labor MPs was focused on the GST and be warned; we're going to have months of this.

Labor's strategists report that even a hint of a higher GST is producing a great stench among voters.

As for Turnbull – in between giving both long and short answers on tax and finding the opposition satisfied with neither – his ever-present buoyancy seemed a little deflated.

Labor vowed on Tuesday morning it would block the family payment's package from the 2014 horror show budget – in a single move forcing Turnbull to negotiate with the crossbench senators and the Nationals who insisted on a $1000 baby payment in secure their support.

It was a question about the GST impact on the price of a secondhand ute – reflecting on Turnbull's unfortunate involvement in the 2009 Godwin Grech affair – that finally prompted the Prime Minister to lose his sunny demeanour.

"I give a short answer, they're unhappy. Then they ask me another one, I give it for three minutes and actually make a few points about the different deadweight loss of different taxes, and now ... they now come up with a joke question," he complained.