Deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop concisely summed up the coalition tactics at its first party room meeting of the year.

"You don't interrupt your enemy when they are fighting among themselves."

The opposition, which maintains a clear lead over Labor in the polls, successfully kept to the strategy during the first parliamentary session for 2013.

While the week was short on policy announcements, opposition questions on government policy dominated question time.

It's a far cry from the character and personal attacks prevalent in the second half of 2012.

The coalition didn't need to send out its best strikers when Labor was kicking own-goals and trying to manage events beyond its control.

Two senior ministers were dragged into the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry after it was revealed they had accepted hospitality - accommodation at a Perisher Valley ski lodge - from former NSW Labor factional boss Eddie Obeid.

Suspended Labor MP Craig Thomson appeared in a Melbourne court on 154 fraud charges related to his time as head of the Health Services Union, before entering parliament.

Northern Territory senator Trish Crossin vented her anger at not being offered a post-parliament sinecure, after being shoved from her seat by Prime Minister Julia Gillard in favour of Labor's likely first indigenous federal member, Nova Peris.

Treasurer Wayne Swan was confronted with pamphlets circulated in his electorate last year wrongly boasting the government had "delivered" a budget surplus "on time, as promised".

And Gillard read the riot act to her caucus, after discovering MPs had been lining up to give journalists "negative assessments" of the government.

She also had to spend some time explaining why she took the unprecedented step of setting the federal election date seven months out.

The opposition created a short-lived distraction about whether or not the government was really in "caretaker" mode and should be allowing major government agencies to award contracts that might not be honoured if the coalition won government.

Then there's Kevin Rudd.

He's raised his public profile during the Christmas-New Year break and questions were asked about whether he's a positive asset or a destabilising liability for Labor.

Senior Labor figures say he is undoubtedly an asset, given his popularity. But having him in the spotlight is also a constant reminder of what for many voters was his unjustified dumping as leader in 2010.

Rudd urged everyone to "take a cold shower" and renewed his vow not to challenge Gillard, but it's not completely out of the ballpark to ponder whether he might be recruited by worried MPs if Labor's poll woes worsen.

For his part, Abbott cautioned his party room against hubris and arrogance, telling MPs their job this year was to act like a "worthy alternative government" while continuing to hold Labor to account.

The coalition maintained this track before a slight derailing on Thursday, when a draft coalition discussion paper proposing the establishment of regional tax zones and that public servants be shifted to northern Australia was leaked.

Abbott hosed down fears western Sydney public sector workers would be plucked from their homes and shipped to Karratha, and pledged any policy would be "carefully targeted".

Two shows of bipartisanship - the laying of wreaths at the Australian War Memorial to start the parliamentary year and a speech on the government's progress on Closing the Gap on indigenous health and living standards - enabled him to appear equally prime ministerial.

With Abbott making himself a small target, the prime minister characterised him as a "policy lightweight", full of platitudes and slogans, and offering no detail about how the coalition will pay for its election promises.

Gillard said the coalition would axe Labor's Schoolkids Bonus and was threatening the tax breaks for 3.5 million low-income earners' superannuation.

But Labor's own superannuation plans were called into question, amid speculation the government could target high-income superannuants to fill the budget black hole - a move the Greens and unions would support.

While Gillard claimed in parliament Abbott was in "economic kindy class", the gloss appeared to be wearing off the government's economic credentials.

The latest Newspoll rates the coalition at 50 per cent to Labor's 28 per cent in terms of which side is the better economic manager.

It also gives the coalition a four-point lead on job creation.

Focusing on the economy and leaving Labor to deal with its internal bloodletting appears to be paying off for Abbott's team ahead of the September 14 poll.

 

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