Ruddology - inside or outside the tent?
The talk in the papers is of new eras, what with the election of a new premier in New South Wales, the country's most populous state, and the appointment of a new cricket captain, filling what is often referred to, semi-jokingly, as the country's second most important job (the first, needless to say, is the chairman of the selectors).
But what struck me this morning when I flew back to Sydney after a few weeks' absence was how the news agenda was pretty much the same as when I left. There's a new poll out showing that Labor's popularity continues to fall, this time plunging to its lowest level since 2001 in the aftermath of the Tampa crisis. There's another row over asylum seekers, with the government announcing the opening of a temporary new 400-bed detention centre in Tasmania to relieve pressure on the overcrowded facility on Christmas Island. And a couple of rugby league players are in trouble again - it seems almost mandatory - this time for public urination.
What gave the papers even more of a recycled feel was the presence on the front pages of one Kevin Michael Rudd causing more trouble for the woman who deposed him, Julia Gillard. Were we to borrow Lyndon Johnson's memorable aphorism, I suppose you could call it public urination of a political kind.
When I left, the former prime minister stood accused of essentially running his own foreign policy, with his open calls for a no-fly zone over Libya which at that time put him at odds with the US president, and thus the Australian prime minister. "He's out of control," one of Julia Gillard's advisors reportedly told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Now he has appeared on ABC's popular Q&A debate programme, and said that he was wrong to delay the emissions trading scheme, a decision that arguably cost him the prime ministership, and that unnamed cabinet colleagues wanted to ditch it completely.
Rudd has been accused of breaching cabinet confidentiality. "I do not believe that it is proper to discuss confidential discussions between cabinet colleagues," said Julia Gillard this morning, in a clear rebuke. The opposition has gone further, suggesting that he is "applying to be prime minister," in the words of the shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey.
For Australian Ruddologists this is a key moment. It is right up there with his statement last month that he stood more chance of becoming the coach of the Brisbane Broncos (rugby league team) than recapturing the prime ministership, a caustic reprise, perhaps, of Julia Gillard's oft-quoted quip from May last year: "There's more chance of me becoming the full-forward for the Dogs (AFL team) than there is any chance of a change in the Labor party."
Clearly, their relationship is deeply dysfunctional.
Of course, strong governments can withstand poisonous personal relationships at their very heart, as evidenced by the Blair, Hawke and Howard administrations in their pomp. But what about a minority government that is slipping in the polls? It is not a good look.
Has the time come for Julia Gillard to decide whether she wants the man she deposed inside or outside of the tent?