Could Malcolm Turnbull really be planning the “September surprise” everyone’s been talking about? Next week might be the closest to a political syzygy he’s likely to get. The Longman byelection is looking better by the day. Pauline Hanson, citing illness, has stopped campaigning — and how much more Aussie can you get than taking a sickie the last week of a campaign? — giving a clearer run. If Turnbull can win a byelection from an opposition-held seat, them’s big bragging rights.

Secondly, the ALP is in real disarray. The battle in Victoria between the Stability Pact Left and Right, and the renegade Industrial Left-Centre Unity faction is getting out of control, with the more feral elements of the latter grouping tearing up the joint – even though Shorten is a member of that grouping. Because of that undermining, the Albanese challenge is well under way. There would have to be real doubt as to whether Labor could do the usual act of fully pulling itself together for the four-five weeks of a snap campaign.

There would have to be a huge temptation for Turnbull to go now, and it would have to be September 1 or 8, before the football finals seasons kick in, going through to mid-October after that, the Victorian elections, Christmas, summer, and the New South Wales election in March. So it would have to be soon. But the problem for Turnbull is that the byelections present a paradox: if he gets a win in Longman, there’s real evidence that a win is there. But such a win lessens the need for an election. If the Coalition loses all five, then the status quo ante remains – and Turnbull could say that the instability can’t go on, and there must be an election. Maybe the sweet spot would be a near victory in Longman, suggesting success, but prompting a call that “the chaos must end”. Difficult call, and we know one thing about Malcolm: when the going gets tough … he screws up completely. Surprise!

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