Joe Hockey's extraordinary, grovelling apology is a measure of just how seriously his Wednesday gaffe suggesting the ''poorest people either don't have cars or actually don't drive very far'' was viewed in the highest reaches of the Abbott government.
Hockey deserves credit for admitting his stuff-up and apologising. But coming more than 48 hours after the misstep, it was hard not to wonder why it had taken so long.
Hockey's spectacular mid-week own-goal on the proposed rise in fuel excise will make his job of passing key budget measures that much harder when Parliament resumes in 10 days. After criss-crossing the country for two weeks to meet the balance of power MPs - and eating several large helpings of humble pie - Hockey's disastrous comments were a significant setback.
As Fairfax Media revealed on Friday, the gaffe had caused colleagues, advisers and allies to round on him and question his judgment and the quality of advice he has been receiving, as key staff have left in the wake of the budget.
His comment was lethal because it confirmed the suspicions of those voters already prepared to believe the worst of the Coalition government.
There is a straightforward argument for restarting the indexation of fuel excise - it is economically virtuous and will cost households on average about 40 cents a week. But coming after a budget that delivered cuts to health, education, family benefits, pensions changes, while trying to push up Medicare costs, university fees and an (albeit small) rise in petrol prices, Hockey confirmed suspicions that the government did not understand the ''lived experience'' of families.
It's hard not to feel a little sorry for Abbott who has seen his ministers make a series of gaffes while he has dealt ably with the MH17 crisis and looked assured on the world stage while delivering a key election promise to repeal the carbon tax.
It's a bit harder to feel sorry for Hockey.