Friday, December 11, 2015

Today by Sean Kelly

2015 grinds to a halt
And what will 2016 look like?


Today had that grim feeling of we’re-all-just-holding-on-until-Christmas, didn’t it?

First up we had a sheepish Bill Shorten having to report himself to the police after somebody, with either a strong or nonexistent sense of irony, used their phone while driving to create a video of Shorten, using his mobile phone while driving.

This comes after Shorten, just a few weeks ago, spilled a coffee in his lap and crashed into parked cars.

None of this is hugely politically significant but Shorten is a bit lucky that it’s happening in a period when people are switching off for the summer. Criticism is dangerous for a politician, but ridicule can be far worse. In an environment where it’s hard, so far, for Shorten to get much attention next to a new PM, he can’t afford silly incidents like this to become the one thing indifferent voters remember. 

Then we had Malcolm Turnbull and COAG. COAG is the most common anti-climax in Australian politics, and that was the case again today, with all the talk about the GST failing to get very far (though the treasurers’ meeting yesterday did appear to make some progress). There was a resolution on developing new laws on the detention of terrorism suspects, which meant the PM came out of the meeting with something to say, which is all he really needed. He too knows it’s the end of the year, and beginning a big debate on tax in earnest only to trail off into the slumber of holidays would be a mistake. 

Oh, and we had good ol’ boy Tony Abbott talking to good ol’ boy Alan Jones about Alan Jones’ concerns about the fear and hatred being directed at (not by) Tony Abbott. One could have hoped a back-slapping session like that could have been saved for a private Christmas lunch, rather than weary voters being forced to suffer.

The truth is that politically this year is over. We are now in a period of limbo, in which everyone, the politicians included, is waiting, or perhaps preparing strategies for the new year.

The big question for Malcolm Turnbull will be election timing. David Crowe today makes a persuasive case for why the PM should not go to an early election. We will have a much better sense of the government’s plans in the first weeks of the new year, from just how frenzied is the flurry of government activity.

The other issue is what precisely Turnbull chooses to make his centerpiece for that election year. We have optimism, yes, and agility, but what will be the sharp edge of his case to voters? Tax reform? Technology? Climate change? What, exactly, does he want to do with the next three years?  

Bill Shorten, too, will be readying himself for a new year’s attempt to rouse the passion of voters, either with a new strain of attack on Turnbull or a new set of initiatives. Crucially, he will have to make a decision about whether to stick with his future-themed agenda – a theme Turnbull has done his best to take – or to switch to a new song, one that emphasises some other element of Labor’s strengths while reminding voters of Turnbull’s vulnerabilities.

The single important question about Tony Abbott is whether he calms down over the summer. All recently vanquished leaders have wounds to nurse, and Abbott has clearly been relishing the grievance spotlight. The slowing of the political cycle might give him a chance to cool off and rethink things, including what place he wants to hold in history, and in Liberal affections. He is doing himself no good right now.

My advice to all in politics would be to use the coming weeks as a genuine break. Whatever the work seemingly required now to prepare for the election, there will be still more of it in 2016, and after a year (or five) in which the pace has barely slowed, a rest will be invaluable. Both Turnbull and Shorten have showed signs of tiredness in recent weeks, and I can’t imagine their frontbenchers or their staff are any different.

Today goes on hiatus from tomorrow. This has been my first year writing this column, and I’ve loved it. Thanks to all of you for sticking with it. I hope you all get holidays, and that if you do they’re great. I’ll see you in 2016.


Today’s links

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for Fairfax and a former adviser to Labor prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.



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