The job of government, Tony Abbott assured parliament piously on Monday, was not to bombard people with bits of paper.
It was part of a defence that reduced his Labor inquisitors to – to borrow a Maoism – paper tigers.
It was also, perhaps, a promo for Wednesday week’s big event, the ritual slaughter of squillions of strangulating regulations on Red Tape Repeal Day.
But on the immediate cause of the PM’s remark, Labor had a point.
The government has been sitting on an interim commission of audit report, aka how we’ll have to slash and burn, which would probably be of more than passing interest to the voters of Western Australia in their re-run Senate election on April 5.
On the face of it, Labor’s demands that the report be released before the vote looked reasonable. Voters, after all, surely deserve to be informed.
But Abbott was impregnable, partly because Labor was in a glass house.
For a start, the PM said, it was only an interim report, with the final version due at the end of March. It would be considered properly and released at the appropriate time. (Appropriate, of course, means convenient or expedient.)
And a month wasn’t so long. The Labor government had sat on the Gonski report into school funding for three months and the Henry tax review for four.
And when Bill Shorten lobbed in Abbott’s defiance of a Senate demand for the report, he shot back that the previous Labor government had failed to comply with more than 40 Senate orders.
Eventually Abbott lost patience, wondering how low a once-great party could sink in its “pathetic, embarrassing scare campaign”.
Everything Abbott said suggests the WA voters will go to the polls without benefit of the report.
And yet, Abbott can surprise. It’s not impossible that on the Friday afternoon before the vote he’ll drop it, with that sly half-smile that hints he enjoys doing the unexpected.
What seems certain is that the report, whenever it comes, will be a horror.
Joe Hockey, who’d certainly know what’s in it, set up a question from his own side so he could warn there was no chance of a budget surplus over the next 10 years and that there was a massive logjam of increased expenditure.
It was, naturally, all Labor’s fault – “legacy of incompetence” and “legacy of largesse”, he charged.