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What to expect from Australian politics in 2018

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Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten ratcheted up the rhetoric in 2017. Photo: AAP Photo: AAP
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As Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten look ahead to 2018, both are likely pleased to see this year fade into the rear view mirror.

For the Prime Minister, the usual pot holes to be expected from a political year have seemed more like craters.

For Labor, consistently good two-party preferred polling was marred by the resignation of Sam Dastyari and a disappointing result in the Bennelong byelection.

For political junkies, 2017 was full of twists and turns that have made Australian politics chaotic and frustrating, but never dull. That looks set to continue in 2018.

More High Court drama … and byelections

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David Feeney may be facing a byelection. Photo: AAP

After Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce was forced to a byelection, followed by John Alexander in the not-quite-marginal seat of Bennelong, for a moment the government appeared to be on the ropes. Labor, which spent much of the year boasting about its superior processes, now faces the prospect of citizenship byelections.

Labor’s David Feeney is headed to the High Court – and if he’s sent to face the voters, many believe he will struggle to hold on in the face of a rising Greens tide in Melbourne’s inner north. Labor’s Justine Keay and Susan Lamb may also face the High Court. Both are also in marginal seats.

Joining them could be NXT MP Rebekha Sharkie, who holds the Liberal stronghold of Mayo. As a result, the Coalition may end up increasing its one-seat majority when the Section 44 debacle finally ends.

Turnbull to hit the Newspoll ‘magic number’ … and Abbott to respond

As the government’s fortunes improved towards the end of the year, Tony Abbott was there to ensure the Prime Minister didn’t get ahead of himself. After losing his 25th consecutive Newspoll, the PM revealed that he regretted pointing out that Mr Abbott had failed in 30 of the surveys as he sought to roll him back in 2015.

If the polls remain as they are, Mr Turnbull might hit the ‘magic number’ in April. Asked about the impending ‘milestone’ earlier in the month, Mr Abbott chose to keep his powder dry. “I will reply to that down the track,” he told 2GB. “I will very much reply to that.”

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Tony Abbott says he will respond when the government loses its 30th Newspoll. Photo: AAP

A budget full of goodies, personal income tax cuts

At the height of the government’s troubles in November, the PM dangled the prospect of personal income tax cuts. The pronouncement was accompanied by no detail but Treasurer Scott Morrison says he has been tasked with making this goal a reality.

Whether that comes to fruition in the May budget or as an election promise remains to be seen. Regardless, with a normal House and half-Senate election due before May 2019, it is likely next year’s budget will be the last of this cycle and, therefore, will carry all the bells and whistles of a campaign manifesto.

Attacks on Bill Shorten

As The New Daily‘s political columnist Paul Bongiorno has pointed out, the government focused on Mr Shorten’s perceived unpopularity in the final days of the Bennelong byelection. It was a gamble, but appeared to pay off.

Mr Shorten continues to trail the PM in the preferred leader stakes, meaning the Coalition is likely to continue its attacks on the Opposition Leader, a strategy dubbed ‘Kill Bill’. It is fraught with danger, though, as the office of Michaelia Cash, who has been stripped of responsibilities for industrial relations, eventually found out.

Party infighting

The PM’s recent cabinet reshuffle confirmed that all is not well in the Coalition.

In recent months, Nationals MP George Christensen asked Andrew Bolt to publicise the fact an “anonymous MP” planned to quit the Coalition, a plot aimed at maximising pressure on the PM. As Mr Christensen was reneging on this pledge, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, a National, was demanding Mr Turnbull quit before Christmas.

This month’s reshuffle saw the Liberals’ country cousins cause more chaos. Mr Joyce orchestrated the removal of popular minister Darren Chester from cabinet and Keith Pitt from the frontbench, sparking an internal row. Mr Pitt is now said to be considering his position within the party.

Labor has remained conspicuously united under Mr Shorten’s leadership. But, as Paula Matthewson has noted, outbreaks of disloyalty in Labor ranks – in the form of critical, unattributed quotes to journalists – have also become more common in recent months.

An election, maybe

Analysts have already suggested the next budget could set the scene for an early poll. That’s certainly the expectation among the Greens, with sources saying the party is already gearing up for an early poll.

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