'Labor's mess' becomes government's theme

From debt, through taxes and TPVs to bad school report cards - it's all Labor's mess, or so the government claims.

The government has found a useful all-purpose insult: cleaning up Labor's mess.

The phrase also has the virtue of excusing - or so the government hopes - its own broken promises.

"Labor's mess" was the main theme of Wednesday's Question Time, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott expounding from his first question.

Every day, this contemporary Hercules said with stoic weariness, the government was clearing up Labor's mess - trying to repeal the carbon tax, the mining tax, bring back temporary protection visas.

Yet Labor was blocking it all. It was even voting against measures - a reference to university funding cuts - that in government it had announced.

Bill Shorten, the PM continued, was not only in denial over the change of government, he was in denial that he was ever in government.

Mr Abbott is not alone in his mess-clearing labours.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison reckoned his mess - 33,000 unprocessed asylum seekers and "massive chaos" - was the worst mess of all.

Treasurer Joe Hockey bemoaned his mess, the budget Labor had bequeathed with a debt "as far as the eye can see".

He knew exactly who to blame: former treasurer and now backbencher Wayne Swan.

"Don't go away, Wayne," Hockey implored, which suggests Mr Swan can look forward to more baiting.

Then Health Minister Peter Dutton claimed his share of messes, saying his portfolio was littered with difficulties of Labor's making.

But Mr Dutton found the economic mess useful.

Asked why the government had slashed funding for the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council, which Mr Abbott had said he wanted to work with, the health minister naturally blamed Labor's debt.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne joined the blame contest with typical enthusiasm.

He was very concerned about the latest international report card showing Australian kids were slipping.

But that, of course, was all Labor's fault.

Mr Pyne, who doesn't believe pouring more money into schools is the answer, said Labor spent more money and got worse results.

He withstood all his opposite number, Kate Ellis, could throw at him, chortling that it was "like being attacked by a pot plant".

At least the object of his insult was there to hear it.

By the time Julie Bishop got the chance to unload on Tanya Plibersek with "her mischief knows no bounds", Labor's deputy leader had been tossed out for an hour.

Source AAP

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