A distraught Brendan Nelson this evening confronted the Rudd Government over its savage treatment of a range of community groups in his Budget Reply, which will go down as one of the most extraordinary ever witnessed in Parliament.
Nelson rose to the Dispatch Box at 7.30pm, already visibly angry, his eyes red-rimmed, needing a moment to compose himself even before he commenced addressing the chamber.
"I rise to speak against the most outrageous attack on ordinary Australians since Federation," he commenced, gripping the Dispatch Box so tightly his knuckles were whiter than the pages from which he read.
"I say to this Government about its Budget, on behalf of all Australians, I ask a simple question: for God’s sake, why?"
Nelson, shaking in barely-restrained fury, then launched into a recitation of the Government’s crimes, starting with its assault on ordinary Aussie men.
"These ordinary Australians have been targeted in the most pernicious revenue grab in a generation. Since Tuesday night, I have been repeatedly stopped by ordinary blokes in utes, and they’ve all said to me the same thing – "Brendan, for GOD’S SAKE do something."
"Hear hear," the Coalition backbenchers chorused, nodding in agreement.
"Often times when I was a doctor I met young men, ordinary young blokes, who were mocked and jeered by their mates for enjoying a Bacardi Breezer. Mocked just for the sort of drink they liked to enjoy after a hard day. Many were depressed about it and oftentimes I found myself counselling these fellows about how a Ready-To-Drink was entirely consistent with Australian masculinity.
"But now the Government has joined in that mockery, suggesting that alcopops are a girl’s drink, and lifting the excise to curb binge drinking. ‘Brendan,’ these men have said to me. ‘We’re not binge drinkers. We’re responsible. We just enjoy our RTDs.’
"Does the Government REALLY UNDERSTAND what it is doing to these young men?"
At this point Nelson had to stop and compose himself, as tears began to drip onto the pages on the Dispatch Box. Joe Hockey rose and placed a glass of water near Nelson, and gave him a reassuring pat on the back. Nelson gratefully sipped from the water, dabbed his eyes, and resumed.
"But even worse is the Government’s assault on mothers," he said, his voice breaking. "I say to the Government, for god’s sake, have you at last no shame? To say to a mother, who just happens to be married to someone and they earn $80,000 each, not such a big income when you’re doing it tough, to say to that mother, your baby is not worth as much as other babies, I say that that is shameful, that is wrong. All mothers love their babies. All babies love their mothers. Why is Labor trying to drive a wedge between mother and child?"
At this stage, foam had joined tears in raining down on Nelson’s papers.
"And Labor’s assault on families doesn’t stop there. For families with more than a couple of kids, who have done Australia proud by having three or four kids, now they’ll be punished by having to pay more for a Tarago. For God’s sake, people movers! I..."
At this point, Dr Nelson was unable to continue. He stood downcast for a moment, tears of impotent and sullen rage swelling from his eyes, before turning to his Deputy, Julie Bishop, and thrusting his speech at her. Shadow Treasurer Malcolm Turnbull was instantly to his feet, placing a comforting arm around Nelson, and slowly led his leader from the silent chamber, the latter shaking his head in dismay, sobbing and loosening the tie from around his deeply-flushed throat.
"I say to the Government," began Ms Bishop, bravely picking up the standard of her fallen leader. "I say to the Government, this must stop, and it will stop. The Opposition will not stand idly by while men in utes, mothers..."
However, at this moment, she was rudely pushed aside by a returning Malcolm Turnbull, who brushed Nelson’s notes off the Dispatch Box. "Right," he said loudly, before being in turn pushed aside by a furious Bishop. "We discussed this in the party room, Malcolm," she was heard to hiss sibilantly. "I take over if he’s too upset. We agreed on that."
"You can do Lateline ," said Turnbull. "Don’t make a scene. This is our big moment. You and me, we can do this."
Turnbull turned and faced the stunned Government ranks. "I turn now to the outrageous attack on the tax-deductible component of capital-protected loans used to buy shares. Dozens of financial services companies are now having to re-tool their end-of-year financial products to adjust to this outrageous example of the politics of envy..."
At this point the House dissolved into uproar.