The four Ps that will define the new parliament

It's hard to escape the sinking feeling that the new parliament will be defined by four P's: political posturing and policy paralysis. Until the weekend's more conciliatory approach, the post-election speeches of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and senior ministers were largely about attacking Labor and issuing ultimatums. It got so bad that former prime minister Tony Abbott, the high priest of parliamentary rancour, felt compelled to make a speech warning of "the hyper-partisanship that now poisons our public life".

Therein lies the prime minister's problem. When Mr Turnbull takes his seat in the chamber today he will be confronted by two oppositions: Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition across the aisle and the enemy within. The more Mr Turnbull tries to appease the masters of hyper-partisanship in the Coalition's extreme right by pursuing their lunar agenda and by slagging off at Labor and progressives in the broader community, the less productive will be the 45th parliament and his own prime ministership.

If the prime minister is to avoid that miserable fate, he needs first to get over the circumstances of the close election result. Scare campaigns are unethical, he protests. But Mr Turnbull's real gripe is that his own scare campaign about "Labor's housing tax" crashing house prices didn't work while Labor's campaign on Medicare privatisation did.

Bill Shorten has pledged that Labor will be constructive, without abandoning its core values. Yet the temptation will be to oppose each government policy measure as it is introduced in order to create grief for the prime minister and joy for his backbench. Hopefully Mr Shorten will not seek to emulate St Augustine, who asked of the Lord: "Help me be pure, but not yet."

Having taken Labor so close to victory, Mr Shorten has an opportunity during this parliament to demonstrate that he is Australia's next prime minister. That requires not only holding the government to account but a level of statesmanship and bipartisanship where the national interest is at stake.

Australia does not have the luxury of three years of political posturing and policy paralysis. Recognising the torpor that beset the last parliament, business, trade unions and civil society groups came together in 2015 in search of common policy ground. The statement released at the National Reform Summit last August found plenty of it. After a promising start under Mr Turnbull's prime ministership, the summit statement has been ignored in the lead-up to the election and since.

Indications are that key signatories of the summit statement are willing to have another go. Certainly ACTU secretary Dave Oliver and CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service, Cassandra Goldie, have indicated they are up for it. Business organisations played a constructive role in the National Reform Summit process, on productivity growth, workforce participation, fiscal policy, tax reform and retirement incomes policy.

Policy items could be added to the agenda that did not receive adequate attention during the summit process, particularly infrastructure investment, the future of work and the alleviation of social disadvantage.

If, on these matters, common ground can be found by business, union and community-based organisations, it should not be beyond the capacity of the parliament to do so. A less belligerent approach to budget repair, involving sitting down with Mr Shorten's talented economic team – Chris Bowen, Jim Chalmers and Andrew Leigh – might yield some surprising results.

Why not come to an agreement to pick up some of Labor's savings ideas instead of rejecting them simply because the government didn't think of them first? In a demonstration of willingness to co-operate on budget repair, Mr Shorten's first post-election policy announcement was an offer to modify the government's superannuation reforms to improve the budget bottom line by a handy $1.7 billion.

A guiding principle for these negotiations should be the one agreed by all parties to the National Reform Summit: people on low incomes or who are otherwise vulnerable should be protected from the impacts of fiscal repair.

Whether another high profile summit is warranted is moot. Perhaps it would be wiser for the parties to last year's summit to toil away quietly.

If the 45th parliament chooses to spend its time bickering and point-scoring for perceived political advantage, the voting public will add to its epitaph a fifth P: pathetic. It's in the interests of neither the nation nor the major political parties for such a damning judgement to be passed.