So, after all the vile insults, the spin, the mendacity, the hyperbole, the distortions, the deceit, the flagrant misuse of taxpayers’ funds, the sound, the fury, the grubbiness, the hypocrisy and the cover-ups, it looks like we’re back where we were a year ago.

According to the latest opinion polls, nigh on two out of three Australians still have no intention of voting for Labor at next year’s election.

Perhaps if Ms Gillard and her advisers, in particular Blair hand-me-down John McTernan, had concentrated on running the country rather than attempting to run the Opposition leader into the ground, things might have gone better for them.

But the reality is Australians don’t like grubbiness. The contempt of Ms Gillard’s team for normal behaviour may achieve short-term goals — a few percentage points here or there, a bunch of clicks on YouTube — but ultimately good sense prevails. Australians prefer their governments to, well, govern.

Tony Abbott has absorbed an onslaught of barbs that would leave most political leaders fatally wounded. It is to his credit that he has dealt with the ‘sexist’ and ‘misogynist’ sneering — possibly the nastiest insults ever employed by a serving Australian Prime Minister — with dignified restraint. For Mr Abbott, the reward for the personal savaging he has taken is in seeing the Coalition still riding high in the polls. That is the mark of a leader.

Ms Gillard is a talented and impressive performer who has mastered the art of pandering to the media’s love of instant gratification. Were it not for a relentless succession of broken promises, perhaps she could have made a good Labor Prime Minister. We shall never know.  Embracing the Richo credo of ‘whatever it takes’, Ms Gillard has sold out responsible fiscal management of our economy in exchange for short-term boosts to her own popularity.

The contrast with Mr Abbott could not be more stark.

Moral relativism is all the rage these days, so it’s hardly surprising that many commentators view Labor and Coalition behaviour as two sides of the same coin. Both are hungry for power. Both employ the tactics of smear and negativity.

This is to miss the point. The Opposition’s attacks on the government have been about opposing policies they deem to be counter to the national interest. Where the Opposition has targeted Ms Gillard personally, it has been because of irregular behaviour surrounding her career as a union lawyer. The public recognises the difference between smear campaigns and legitimate questions of professional integrity.

The attacks on Mr Abbott, however, have been intensely personal, completely unsubstantiated and of threadbare relevance to his suitability for the top job.

With the season of goodwill upon us, we wish both leaders a pleasant and relaxed Christmas break. And resign ourselves to a full resumption of hostilities once the summer is over.

An unwise prank

Humour’s a funny thing. Some people get the gag, and love you all the more for the wit you have displayed in telling it. Other people, however, fail to see the funny side. One person responds to the same joke with hilarity, where another reacts with horror.

In the middle of last week a radio station decided to play a prank. Of itself, this was not so unusual.  ‘Hoaxes’ are common ploys with which rock stations entertain their adolescent fans in between lengthy bouts of largely unlistenable music.

Such pranks only work when they are vaguely plausible to the target of the prank; even if patently ‘fake’ to the perpetrator. The humour comes from a reaction along the lines of ‘Oh my God — I almost believed that was for real!’ Cue laughter all round.

But should a person be under stress, or even mentally ill, the consequences of certain jokes can be tragic. The fantasy becomes confused with reality.

What was unusual with last week’s radio prank was that it involved a very famous woman with whom everybody is familiar. Our Prime Minister.

Attempting to be cool and appeal to an adolescent, inner-city crowd, and displaying the poor judgment that is her hallmark, Ms Gillard decided to make a mock Prime Ministerial announcement that was aired extensively on mainstream TV, warning the public of an imminent Orson Welles-style armageddon.

‘My dear remaining fellow Australians,’ she told viewers with a straight face, ‘the end of the world is coming.’

Julia Gillard must be breathing a sigh of relief that — unlike a certain rival radio station’s juvenile and tragic prank — her foolish Triple J ‘doomsday’ hoax didn’t have unforeseen consequences.