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(Australian Associated Press)
If there is one MP who personifies the year in politics it would probably be Zali Steggall.
The Winter Olympian slalomed out of the blue to soundly defeat former prime minister Tony Abbott in his long-held seat of Warringah at the May 18 election.
Her campaign was fought largely on two issues, which have dominated the political year – climate change and an issue that could be summed up as: “What the bloody hell is the government doing for me?”
While many conservative coalition members were saddened, Abbott’s loss meant for the first time in many years there were no former prime ministers haunting the House of Representatives chamber and giving a sitting PM nightmares.
The leadership revolving door had finally jammed.
Steggall’s victory also gave rise to the view that there is no such thing as a “safe seat” and that a campaign with a simple message, a bit of money, a strong grassroots movement and a decent candidate can be successful.
The Warringah election also showed the power of climate as a poll issue.
Labor’s inability to say how much its climate and energy policy would cost, coupled with the coalition’s reluctance to show any reasonable ambition to cut emissions, led to a mixed election result across the country – ending in a surprise win for Scott Morrison.
Labor’s policy agenda was described as “cluttered” – in an election campaign review – with Bill Shorten’s unpopularity and a failure to adapt to the ascension of Morrison as prime minister also given as reasons for the defeat.
One of the reviewers, former SA premier Jay Weatherill, talked about Labor desperately seeking to avoid a “Tony Abbott” effect – of taking one set of policies to an election then doing something else.
“The great irony is the attempt to actually build trust was actually the thing which created great fear. There’s something quite tragic about that,” Weatherill said.
Anthony Albanese took the Labor reins in May and has sought to rebuild trust without putting any flesh to the bones of policy – yet.
He’s given a serious of speeches setting out his vision for the country and taken a listening ear to places where Labor was trounced.
The Labor faithful are due to meet in Canberra in December 2020 for a national conference that will set the party’s platform.
Then the hard work begins on policy ahead of the 2022 election.
As for the government, Scott Morrison has solidified the Liberal-National coalition’s lead over Labor since the May election, with the final Newspoll of the year putting the two-party preferred figure at 52-48.
Morrison is confident he can build on this position, comparing it to that of John Howard in the second half of his time in office.
Having had a few rocky years from 1996 to 2001, Howard made the most of issues such as national security, immigration and economic management to take his team through to 2007’s Ruddslide.
Morrison claims many wins since May: 70,000 new jobs, a track towards budget surplus, income tax cuts, red tape cuts for small business, a strong focus on national security and the boats remaining stopped.
As well, the government has been able to tip extra money into schools, hospitals and disability services.
However, Morrison has many challenges ahead, not least being the ongoing drought, rumblings in the party room over water management, division over religious discrimination laws, and how to reform industrial relations without it being seen as using a Hellfire missile to crack a walnut.
Finding a credible story to tell on climate action will also be crucial.
Somewhat reassuringly for voters, like good skiers both leaders have a firm focus on the path ahead.