EDITORIAL

Julia Gillard enjoys it when advisers and colleagues give her a break from the heated atmosphere that has engulfed her since she was elected in August 2010. A bit of quiet time to think. Far from the madding crowd.

She calls it her bubble. Australians could do with a bubble away from the disrespectful, cynical and embarrassing ruckus of politics, too.

It has been a year dominated by 24/7 scandal, sleaze and sledging, instead of policy and positivity. It's the year we had to have, to clear the decks for the election year we have to have.

The Gillard government has passed a significant number of bills in spite of parliamentary rancour. That has required negotiation which, against all odds, has been done efficiently without fanfare. However, important reforms - meaningful reduction of poker machine pain among others - have gone begging. And too many good ideas have been drowned out.

The defining memory of 2012 is the fixation of the opposition and the media on testing the legitimacy of the government and the nation's first female prime minister.

It's been grubby, disrespectful and unedifying at times. The personal cost has been heavy, especially when it veered into the Prime Minister's grief over the loss of her father. The national discourse has rarely been so divided, either: between traditional and social media, the professional commentariat and the people.

Most of all, this year has been a wasted opportunity. The negativity has been an inevitable flow-on from the Prime Minister's dumping of her pledge not to have a carbon tax. Many will never forgive her for that.

The good news is that her misogyny speech has been a turning point. As Anne Summers wrote in Fairfax titles recently: ''It is probably impossible to overestimate the admiration and affection for Gillard among women, especially young women, after her 'sexism and misogyny' speech on October 9.''

That speech defined the real Julia Gillard. She is what she is, take it or leave it. It is up to her to leverage her new-found stature, especially among women and the young, into asserting her right to make tough, long-term decisions for the nation.

A new year brings the opportunity for both sides to clean the slate and start over. A bipartisan agreement that a budget deficit is needed for some time to bring fiscal and interest rate policy into line will be a good start.

The crucial Gonski education reforms, sadly, remain mired in division. To his credit, Tony Abbott has at least flagged a return to policy-based debate in 2013.

Given the Ashby-Brough plot has blown away any moral high ground the opposition may have had in attacking Gillard on the Australian Workers Union affair of two decades past, it would be in Abbott's interests to start playing the ball not the woman.

Perhaps the Opposition Leader needs his own bubble. And if he occasionally shared it with the Prime Minister, we'd all be better off.