You can feel an election coming on when Pauline Hanson sticks her addled head above the parapet. There she was in The Australian Financial Review on Tuesday, warmly endorsing the Prime Minister's sudden and impulsive war on the hordes of wicked foreigners on 457 work visas who are snatching the bread from the tables of modern Aussie families.
Please explain? With friends like that it's enough to give xenophobia a bad name, but Gillard is not for turning. ''We will support your job and put Aussie workers first,'' she assured an audience of the Labor faithful on her western Sydney odyssey this week.
It was Joe Hockey who unkindly pointed out that the government's chief spin doctor, John ''Flower of Scotland'' McTernan, is here on a 457. That aroused some angst in the Prime Minister's office. ''Not f---ing relevant,'' McTernan barked to an ABC reporter who rang him to check.
It is relevant, actually. The revolution in the newspaper business has tipped hundreds, even thousands, of Australian journalists out of their jobs. Many of them have high political and media skills, and rather more of a stake in the future of this country than some abrasive Scottish blow-in. Gillard's boast that she will ''stop foreign workers being put at the front of the queue with Australian workers at the back'' therefore reeks of hypocrisy.
Braveheart, though, thinks we are lucky to have him. There are ''many other people as brilliant as me, just not as many as confident at saying it,'' he told a Fairfax reporter who interviewed him last year. This brilliance is not readily apparent. McTernan was a flack at No.10 Downing Street at the fag end of the Blair government. He was an apologist for Britain's disastrous part in the Iraq War and for Blair's sleazy brown-nosing of Libya's Colonel Gaddafi in the infamous 2007 ''Deal in the Desert'' that eventually had the convicted Lockerbie terrorist bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi returned home to a rapturous welcome in Tripoli. More recently, he was Labour's director of communications when it lost to the Scottish National Party at the 2007 election for the parliament in Edinburgh.
What he achieves for the Gillard government is hard to discern. Not since the fall of Billy McMahon in 1972 has there been a mob so hopelessly bad at talking to the governed. Labor has some mighty achievements to its credit, not least its management of the economy through the global financial crisis, but - as Paul Keating said a while ago - there is no grand narrative that brings the show together. The government lurches from ''announcement'' to ''announcement,'' all delivered in the plonking cliches of CorporateSpeak.
If I hear just one more minister wittering on ''in terms of the challenges facing modern Aussie families,'' I think I'll scream. Yes, I'm looking at you, David Bradbury. But it can't all be McTernan's fault. This lot would turn Ben Chifley's light on the hill into an illuminated facility visible on an elevated topographical feature.
A curious thing happened on the ABC's 7pm news last Tuesday. There was a brief sequence of Tony Abbott and assorted hangers-on plodding into someone's lounge room in suburban Melbourne.
Whenever I see Abbott on his hind legs I find myself wondering if the nation really wants a prime minister who walks like a chimpanzee. But that's not the point here. What puzzled me was that neither the newsreader nor the reporter offered any explanation for this odd interlude. It was not news, not in a fit, but there it was. Abbott plonked himself on to a couch, arranged his features into what he presumably imagined was a beguiling grin, and attempted to strike up a conversation with a small boy.
''You're almost at the age of going to pre-school I presume, are you mate?'' he blathered. Possibly aware of the dangers of speaking to strange men who accost you out of the blue, the tot ignored him and stared resolutely ahead. Stunt over, the story then cut to Abbott launching into a blast of hypocrisy all his own, the gist of it being that foreigners were and are a wonderful thing.
It was outrageous. Just days before, his immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, had been demanding ''special protocols'' for asylum seekers released into the community. What those protocols might be was never explained. Tattooing numbers on their foreheads, perhaps.
There is no better way of putting this: Morrison is a grub. Time and again he plays on racism and bigotry to score political points. His leader is evidently happy with this, for there is never a rebuke from him, no backtracking.
It's a classic trick from the Liberal Party playbook. Abbott himself used to be sent out to shovel the muck so that John Howard could keep his hands clean. Now that he's leader he's got Morrison and the likes of Christopher Pyne, Cory Bernardi and Eric Abetz to get down and dirty for him. They will make an ugly government.
Speaking of John Howard, there is said to be a push for Abbott to make him our next governor-general. It got a run in The Australian the other day, a piece written by a hack from the paper's ever-expanding stable of right-wing nutters.
''He would make an excellent governor-general. It's his if he wants it,'' one Liberal heavy was quoted as saying. ''But the big question is: does he want it?''
I would have thought the big question is: do the Australian people want it? The answer would be a resounding no. Howard was a supremely successful politician, no doubt about that, but he wore out his welcome, losing not only his last election but his seat with it.
The Tories would probably try to justify installing him at Yarralumla by pointing out that Bob Hawke gave Bill Hayden the gig. But the circumstances are very different. There was public sympathy for the way Hayden was rolled from the Labor leadership before the drover's dog election in 1983, a feeling that he deserved a fair go.
Howard, on the other hand, remains a divisive figure. He would split the country in a way we have not seen since Sir John Kerr was poncing around in his silk top hat. But someone should bowl the question up to Abbott between now and the election.