After a break of almost three months, federal Parliament will resume next week, presenting political watchers with some surprising new elements mixed with a number of depressingly familiar ones.
When the leaders of the major parties rise from their seats to spar during question time, the two faces at the despatch boxes will not be the ones we expected to see a few months ago.
Scott Morrison will still be there, no longer the accidental prime minister, having been given a miraculous second term by the Australian people. And the ‘peoples’ choice’ for Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, will be standing on the other side.
Both men have been given a second chance to lead their respective parties, and potentially improve the way politics is conducted in our country. They are both leaders on their own terms, owing little to the factional cabals that covet and trade power within their party enclaves.
Mr Albanese has already exerted his independence by casting aside the entire policy package developed by the previous Labor leadership group. He’s also rejected the previous regime’s class war rhetoric and Tony Abbott-style of negative campaigning, telling the media he is “not Tony Abbott” and that voters suffering from “conflict fatigue” simply want “solutions, not arguments”.
In so doing, the Labor leader has set himself an interesting challenge, given that the cut-through and power of negative politics has regularly been demonstrated.
The first test of his ability to hold the government to account, while bearing these self-imposed shackles, will be when the Parliament debates the Coalition’s promised tax cuts, which will benefit Australian taxpayers earning up to $200,000.
Will Labor be able to effectively communicate its opposition to the cuts for high-income earners without resorting to the politics of envy?
The PM’s challenge is no less tricky. Since unexpectedly becoming Liberal leader less than a year ago, Mr Morrison has campaigned relentlessly on the evils of an impending Labor government. Now this danger has receded, at least for the next year or two, the PM must shift to less familiar ground.
Firstly he must explain what is it exactly that he intends to do with the next three years of government bestowed upon him by the Australian people. Secondly, having won an election almost by sheer force of will along with assurances of a strong economy, Mr Morrison must prepare himself, his government and the Australian people for the possibility the same economy may stumble under his watch.
And finally, the PM will have to decide whether to join Mr Albanese’s putative effort to create a kinder, gentle polity.
Depressingly, among all this newness, are elements of the 46th Parliament that will remain defiantly the same.
Politicians with small souls who can’t or won’t decouple asylum seekers, refugees or immigrants from questions of national security. Politicians with closed minds who won’t accept the need for climate action or see the economic opportunities that such action can present. And politicians with shrivelled hearts who continue to rage for the right to vilify in the name of freedom.
Even if the two leaders agree to usher in a new age of political civility, no amount of gentlemanly good will negate the damage to our nation that will continue to be wrought by these intransigents and extremists.
To truly make a fresh start, Mr Morrison’s new mandate and Mr Albanese’s new approach should be used in another concerted leadership effort – to banish those old, poisonous ways of thinking and behaving from the Parliament.