Illustration: Peter Lewis
In most marriages, the honeymoon is just a tiny speck of post-wedding life. Nevertheless, things can still get off on the wrong foot. The same is true of the early stages of a football match. In football terms, Tony Abbott's government has played about the first 10 minutes of the game. In cricket terms, he has played about the first morning of a five-day Test match.
Nevertheless, in all these situations the pressure is on and early judgments are made. The same is true of government and politics. There are even opinion polls to tell you how you are going. In this case there has been a swing against the government and both the major polls now put the new government behind. What has happened?
Although the early scorecard doesn't really matter, what it is showing is surprising. The same thing hasn't happened at state level after the similar Coalition wins in the past few years. The government has started off with a big margin in the House of Representatives and brought with it a notably experienced shadow front bench. This was not a government of newbies who clearly were going to need time to settle in. At least that was the Coalition's boast. The new ministers were largely drawn from the last years of the Howard government.
What has happened has been the mix of the predictable, the unpredictable and, to continue the sporting analogy, the own goals. Not much can be put down to the good work of the Labor opposition under Bill Shorten. They are relative newbies who are still settling in.
What was predictable was that the new government would introduce legislation to abolish the carbon tax and the mining tax, knowing that they would face a hostile Labor-Green Opposition in the Senate. They would insist on their popular mandate to do so and thought they would surf on popular outrage that Labor and the Greens were standing in the way of mandated change. If Labor and the Greens refused to buckle, the government would, in due course, put them to the test by calling a double dissolution to rout them.
Yet this series of steps hasn't really come to pass. The public supports the abolition of the carbon tax, but no longer with much passion. If anything, the public is confused. It certainly doesn't support, with any enthusiasm, the new government's alternative, direct-action plans.
In addition, there has been a lot of static since the election that has distracted from the usual clear communication of a new government's message. There was the surprise defeat of Sophie Mirabella and the consequent fact that the new cabinet included only one woman among 20 ministers. This was a very bad look and revitalised criticism of Abbott along gender lines.
Labor also took away some of the limelight with its new membership-based process to help elect the Opposition Leader, Shorten. This theatre attracted some attention, as has Clive Palmer. Then there were the entitlements scandals that engulfed not just Coalition backbenchers but cabinet ministers, including George Brandis and Barnaby Joyce.
There has been scuttlebutt about the role of the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Peta Credlin. Attention has been diverted to the Senate in Western Australia where a rerun seems likely because the result was so close and the previously reliable Australian Electoral Commission lost some votes. Now there are the problems faced by Qantas and Holden.
But the really unpredictable events have been the foreign policy issues, generated by the Indonesian and East Timor spying scandals. These didn't happen on Abbott's watch but they certainly put his diplomatic abilities to the test. He was found to be somewhat leaden-footed in his dealings with foreign leaders such as the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The spy scandals also reinforced an early conclusion that the new government was far from transparent. This lack of transparency was centred on the government's arrangements for communicating with the media and the public about the latest developments in the arrival of asylum seekers and refugees by boat. Not only has the process been militarised but the once-a-week drip feed of information has been deeply unsatisfying. Democracy, spy agencies and reticent ministers are not a good mix.
To cap off the predictable and the unpredictable have been the own goals, which is shooting past your goalkeeper into your own net. Undoubtedly the Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, has scored the clearest own goal, but his Prime Minister should probably be credited with an assist. Abbott prevaricated when he should have shut down Pyne's bumbling efforts on school funding arrangements.
Labor was hurt greatly by Abbott's attacks on the broken promise over its carbon tax. Who would have thought that the Coalition would have so swiftly surrendered the high moral ground? It attempted to squirm out of a broken promise when it should have fessed up immediately. Eventually Abbott did so, but not until, in the words of former Howard adviser Grahame Morris, November had been turned into a disaster for the Coalition.
The honeymoon period has not been all bad for the new government. It has had one victory in alliance with the Greens in abolishing the debt ceiling. This temporary alliance was unpredictable, too, but the long-term implications are still to be played out.
The government has the Christmas holidays to regroup. It won't want to surrender momentum too easily. Labor shouldn't get too excited. It still has lots of hard work to do and dark days to suffer in opposition. But neither it nor the government could have predicted the turn of events so far.
John Warhurst is an emeritus professor of political science at the Australian National University.