IT'S still bitterly cold in the national capital; one of those Canberra winters so bleak you worry that spring will never come. The only hint of warmth right now is stronger daylight to put shimmer on the frost.
Federal Parliament is ruthlessly ignoring the prevailing weather conditions to click over into the spring session. Hibernations, such as they were, must cease.
MPs will flood back today and tomorrow from the rigours of their overseas study jaunts, and the daily grind of winter made-for-TV ''announceables'' in drafty factories.
The Prime Minister has departed the warmth of Port Douglas for her Canberra office. Tony Abbott is back from a spot of library building in Aurukun with Noel Pearson.
We who watch federal politics will rendezvous at the point where we parted company six weeks ago. It'll be grinding political debate over asylum seekers: the sequel.
Cabinet will consider advice from former Defence chief Angus Houston. Parliament will then have the opportunity for a moment's reflection.
Politics will have a chance this session to rise above cheap sloganeering and strive for points of common ground over potential policy responses to unlawful arrivals by boat. The opportunity is there, if our elected representatives will only grasp it. Perhaps they will. The preamble suggests, however, no one should bet the house on it.
Still, there was one by-product of June's asylum impasse worth preserving: backbenchers, looking to break through the political deadlock imposed by their party leadership, looked with goodwill at their colleagues across the aisle.
The boats issue blew up politically because of tragedies at sea to our north. A group of well-meaning parliamentarians felt compelled to act in a multi-partisan way rather than lurk around pointing fingers and grandstanding.
The impulse to talk, reflect and compromise ran counter to the prevailing hyper-partisan orthodoxy of this Parliament. It was like the Parliament, or at least elements of it, spontaneously sued for peace - shocking itself in the process.
In the end the mini-rebellion failed. A couple of Liberals of a mind to dissent were herded back into the strictures of party discipline.
There were whispers the Greens, too, had searched haltingly for common ground. Greens migration spokesman Sarah Hanson-Young had seemed to move on offshore processing. Whatever the reality, she quickly found her party leader Christine Milne bolted firmly to her side.
The failure of Parliament to come to terms in late June was so infuriating it overshadowed the good faith effort to achieve a different result. A ''moment'' had passed somehow, withering before our eyes, with no one to champion its intrinsic virtues.
I'm not suggesting that democracy is best served by MPs wandering around like Brown's cows during major legislative debates. Party discipline with a purpose allows Australia to achieve significant reforms. We need only look to America to see how a lack of party discipline can equal gridlock and inaction, with special interests gaming the system to their own ends.
Values also define parties, and compromise is not always possible. I'm not having a Rob Oakeshott moment, wishing we could all just be friends. I'm making a couple of mild points.
Politics needs periodically to have the courage of a different kind of conversation, with some fresh voices and ideas. Speaking up, having a view, looking for a different way forward isn't always mischief, game-playing, or proxy war. It's actually doing your job, looking to the best interests of your constituents.
There are a lot of bright politicians of varying ages and life experiences wandering around the corridors of Parliament in any given sitting week. The best of them are generally connected with their communities, and might be hearing some feedback that voters think politics is broken.
The way politics is played (and of course reported) right now seems almost entirely unforgiving of ''dissent'': there are Liberals so locked into the idea of winning that speaking up against the prevailing leadership maxims equals not a thoughtful, good-faith contribution, but bad soldiering.
Labor has its own drivers of dissent intolerance. The government needs to speak with a united voice to aid political recovery. Freelance contributions could be interpreted as ''Rudd forces on a frolic''. And there is that intrinsic culture they can't quite shrug off: the culture of ''talking points'', where you stick to the script, whether it's poetry or rubbish.
There were great human moments in the parliamentary debate about asylum six weeks ago that were negated by the failure of Parliament to come to terms. Sincere contributions and human motivations shone - shining the light of contrast on institutionalised game playing.
Modern politics should be able to accommodate authentic expression, and champion a culture of ideas and more iterative ways of searching collaboratively for the centre.
Otherwise, national affairs is all polarity and conflict - death by 1000 sound bites. And then, spring will never come.
<b>Katharine Murphy is national affairs correspondent.</b>