In his 17-year career in federal politics, Peter Dutton has spent just three on the backbench.
After Tuesday’s failed leadership challenge against Malcolm Turnbull, that tally became three years and one day.
Labor MPs could barely contain their glee when the former home affairs minister entered the House of Representatives for question time just before 2pm, with the entire chamber watching as he took up a new position between chief government whip Nola Marino and first-term NSW MP Julian Lesser.
Already groaning under the weight of a deposed former prime minister and deposed former Nationals leader, the backbench was where Mr Dutton shuffled papers and sent messages from his phone, surrounded by downcast MPs who appeared mostly unmoved by Mr Turnbull’s efforts to save his job.
‘Who is the Prime Minister?’
They sent text messages or worked on correspondence, one even folding origami cranes in full view of the press gallery.
Rattled by the day’s events and the prospects of yet more ministerial resignations, Coalition faces matched the assembled schoolchildren sitting above in the public galleries. They were restless and bored, despite having been promised a show.
Armed with a Dorothy Dixer, Dunkley MP Chris Crewther said he had a question for the Prime Minister.
“Which one,” howled Labor MPs awaiting Bill Shorten’s no-confidence motion against Mr Turnbull.
“Given that nearly half of his parliamentary colleagues, including seven of his ministers, have today expressed a lack of confidence in the Prime Minister, how can the Prime Minister claim to have any mandate to govern this country,” Mr Shorten roared.
Mr Turnbull’s response was quick and sharp.
“The mandate our government has came from the 2016 election. Remember that? We won and you lost,” he said.
Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek said the 35 MPs who voted against Mr Turnbull had been “lions in the party room” but were reduced to lambs and sheep having to vote with him in the chamber.
She said the government had become a “Frankenstein’s monster”.
“It has the face of the member for Wentworth, the policies of the member for Warringah, and it has the cold, shrivelled soul of the member for Dickson.”
Few did more for Labor morale than Victorian newcomer Julian Hill, coming armed with revelations Turnbull backer Christopher Pyne had recorded being given tickets to a production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet on his register of interests.
“Was the Leader of the House there to learn from Shakespeare’s classic tale of ambition, betrayal, revenge and crippling indecision?
“One wonders which way the Sweet Prince of Sturt cast his vote today. To be Wentworth, or to be Dickson? That is the question, Mr Speaker,” he said to howls of laughter.
“And as the restless ghosts of old kings walk the battlements up there on the backbench, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”
Mr Turnbull survived the no-confidence motion 76 to 67 votes, along party lines.
The Bard wrote that every dog has its day, and Peter Dutton’s might be coming sooner than some think.