MUNGO MacCALLUM. The Turnbull-Abbott shoot out.

In the normal world, the question of whether a gun could fire seven rounds or five rounds would be largely academic; if there was a dispute it could be expected to be settled swiftly and uneventfully.

But in the confused and murky world of Malcolm Turnbull, in which reality and fantasy merge into a nightmare and every step seems mired in quicksand, with progress tortuous and salvation impossible – well, that’s just another average week.

Within four short days what should have been the merest glitch has developed into major shit storm in which Turnbull and his predecessor, Tony Abbott, are trading accusations of deceit and engulfed in righteous outrage which will delight the opposition and the media for days, if not weeks to come.

A previously reliable ally, the senate crossbencher David Lyonhjelm, has been seriously disgruntled, producing convincing documentary evidence that he has been dudded by a deal brokered by Peter Dutton and Michael Keenan. Keenan has been whirled into the confusion over whether he did the deal or not and whether he had informed his then prime minister, Tony Abbott.

Against the advice of the police, the resurgent Nationals are now pushing for the weapon in question, the Adler 110, to be reclassified so that it can be released to farmers and, it appears, others. Turnbull, who originally maintained the ban on it was set in stone, now duckshoves the problem across to the fractious state premiers and their ministers, who are unlikely to agree on anything.

Abbott is firm about one thing: firearms of this kind should be, must be, kept under very strict restrictions. There may be a case to allow them to be used by professional hunters in the course of eradicating feral vermin; in unusual circumstances this could be extended to farmers protecting their stock.

But for so-called sporting hunters, rapid action shot guns are neither necessary nor appropriate. Target shooters do not need them and the rest – the people who simply enjoy killing animals – should be kept as far from them as possible. Indeed, they could probably be kept away from all weapons, including blunt paper knives, but that is another argument.

However, it will no doubt be pursued by the gun nuts (of whom Leyonhjelm is a leading light) now that the subject has been raised, creating yet another distraction. So this week, and perhaps a week or two to come, are now completely lost to Turnbull, with his chosen agenda of union and Labor bashing consumed by the coalition’s internal ructions.

The narrative that the government could not run a chook raffle in the pub, is becoming a compelling and, more ominously, a regular one. Let’s face it, there have been just three weeks of the new, improved parliament; every one of them has been a disaster, and the one just finished the most climactic.

The only questions are: what will Turnbull do for an encore? And, perhaps, what will Abbott do for a reprise? This soapie still has a long way to run.

Mungo MacCallum is a veteran journalist and was a senior member of the Canberra Press Gallery.

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