Federal political coverage has been sounding a lot like a weather report lately, with all the talk of a change in atmosphere. Perhaps it’s the arrival of spring here in the nation’s capital, when blooming gardens, longer evenings and the proliferation of bugs heralds the approach of year’s end.
For parliament, that comes earlier than for the rest of us, with one more scheduled sitting this month. The last week’s a part-week anyway, subject to whatever Parliamentary business remains unfinished. The end-of-year speeches, when MPs declare how much they respect and enjoy the company of even their most bitter opponents, will soon be upon us.
Before then, though, there’s the Obama visit, the emperor touring one of his less troublesome vassal states. Generously, we’re presenting our visitor with a gift, a Marine base. That’ll be a handy stimulus to the NT economy, even though the US dollar no longer goes as far as it used to round these parts. But isn’t it your economy that needs stimulating, POTUS, and not the Australian one?
The recent foreign policy focus of course won’t harm Gillard, if only because it provides a circuit breaker from politics-as-usual, a game Labor as hopeless at and, hitherto, Tony Abbott has excelled at. The prime minister even managed to extract herself from the shambles of a G20 meeting in Cannes without any damage. Courtesy of her clear commitment to bolster IMF funding, she in fact looked one of the more statespersonlike leaders present — although given the shabby performance of the European attendees, that’s no great boast.
In any event, the presidential visit will be another few days without oxygen for Tony Abbott, whom we can only hope abandons his practice of using addresses in reply to visiting heads of state for partisan commentary. Gillard now has some momentum, and the now-traditional end-of-year political killing season seems likely to go without bloodshed this year, a prospect that greatly disappoints all of us here in the Gallery.
The mining tax and MYEFO are the outstanding issues for the government. The mining tax remains undecided and undelivered, contrary to the prime minister’s commitment to “a year of decision and delivery”. And MYEFO will be the occasion for a suite of spending cuts, presenting a political problem for the government vis-à-vis affected sectors.
Labor’s momentum, it should be noted, is by no means all of its own making. The passage of the carbon pricing package, assured as it was, provides a process-related end to one stage of an issue that has wrecked Labor’s year. It handled the Qantas grounding competently. But it’s been a series of errors from Tony Abbott that have made life considerably easier for Labor — Abbott, off-script, “predicting” pokies reform would be repealed; the superannuation decision (which Barnaby Joyce participated in, but Andrew Robb didn’t); Abbott, having urged a popular revolt against the carbon price, leaving the country the day the carbon package passed; the remarkably obtuse attack on the prime minister by Abbott and Hockey for committing to provide more IMF loans.
Indeed, the international economic situation is fraught for the Coalition. A full-blown European financial crisis will wreck Labor’s budget but should enhance its standing with voters. It was the GFC and his authoritative response to it that gave Kevin Rudd a second electoral honeymoon in 2009. And Abbott and Hockey have done much to damage the Coalition’s economic credentials.
It played a substantial role in why they couldn’t convince the independents to back them after the election, and they’ve only got worse since then, as if Abbott set out to prove Peter Costello was right about his lack of economic substance. And then there’s IR reform, which is going to continue to dog the Coalition until the next election. Abbott might need the looming break to refresh his tactics and get back to his greatest political asset, his capacity to frame a simple, clear narrative for political debate.