The High Court torpedo that hit a listing government amidships came just as focus was starting to shift towards Tony Abbott.
In the days before, stories had begun to emerge about MPs having the odd grizzle about their leader.
The complaints varied. Abbott was populist on industry policy, Barnaby Joyce had too much influence while Liberals had to bite their tongues, Abbott eschewed revenue measures while promising new spending, and he was too simplistic about property rights, creating the impression he would do something about this vexed area if elected. One Liberal MP blamed Abbott's ''natural inclination to give comfort''.
Advertisement: Story continues below The talk was not hostile, just anxious, given a growing certainty in the Coalition that it will be in government in two years, if not earlier. If Labor is as far gone as some think, MPs argue that rather than create a rod for its own back, the Coalition needs to adopt only a cautious and party-principled policy approach from here.
Conversely, one area where Abbott has felt the heat internally for being timid is industrial relations. But he shows little sign of doing anything controversial here, no matter how much the pressure builds along with the Coalition's stocks in the polls.
A month ago, about 300 of the Liberal faithful attended a function to celebrate the Coalition frontbencher Kevin Andrews chalking up 20 years representing the Melbourne seat of Menzies. Abbott gave a speech and lauded Andrews on two fronts. Neil Brown, the Liberal who held the seat before Andrews, summed up Abbott's speech in a column for The Spectator Australia.
''Abbott naturally praised Andrews for his role in stopping the rot on emissions trading and instigating the change in leadership.
''But the most interesting part of his speech was a self-deprecatory remark that when Work Choices was before the cabinet, its least enthusiastic advocates were Abbott himself and Kevin Andrews, the responsible minister. I was pleased to hear it. It shows he is thinking that moderation is the best approach on industrial relations.''
This confirmed that Abbott and Andrews argued internally against the more extreme elements of Work Choices, the most controversial of which was to rip away the safety net of terms and conditions which underpinned individual agreements, known as Australian Workplace Agreements.
Abbott's message to such an audience was another clear sign that he will not roll over on everything business or party hardheads want on industrial relations. Last week there was a stampede of business and industry luminaries including Heather Ridout, Don Argus and Peter Anderson calling for Labor's Fair Work Act to be changed to increase ''flexibility'' and boost productivity. None called for a return to Work Choices per se, but all want more flexible individual agreements.
Before Work Choices, AWAs were non-controversial because there was a no-disadvantage test, meaning workers could not be worse off than if on the relevant award or collective agreement.
On the same day the High Court cruelled Labor's Malaysia plan, Abbott gave those he believes to be ideologues hope.
''I think we ought to be able to trust the businesses and the workers of Australia to come to arrangements which suit themselves,'' he said. ''Now, there's got to be minimums, there's got to be fairness, but there's got to be freedom.''
Peter Reith, who is running an internal guerilla campaign on IR policy, effused: ''Tony Abbott took a big step towards becoming Australia's next Coalition PM by declaring he would not fudge on the issue which is key to jobs and living standards.''
Abbott, however, remains cautious. He announced his broad position in his budget reply speech in 2010 and has not shifted since. He plans to make Labor's individual flexibility agreements ''more flexible'' but has given no details except to promise any no-disadvantage test will be based on the safety net Labor restored.
Last week he said: ''What we have been looking at is trying to make individual flexibility agreements work better within the existing legislation.''
Business is calling for more than this. It is also targeting the award modernisation process which the Howard government abandoned because it was too hard, and it wants unfair dismissal protections abolished. Abbott, not wanting to be targeted with an anti-Work Choices campaign, especially while he campaigns as the workers' best mate over the carbon tax, continues to resist demands to provide a policy - except to demand the review of the Fair Work Act, scheduled for next year, should be brought forward.
Hardly revolutionary, just pragmatic.
Phillip Coorey is chief political correspondent.