IDEAS are on the way back. This is a bold call given post-truth politics is meant to have triumphed, and I've been deeply pessimistic for most of this year. But I reckon substance is creeping up on us, furtively.
Global economic uncertainty and austerity are lingering conditions defying glib sound-bite solutions. America is continuing to debate the proper role of government at this moment in history, with the presidential race, and the aftermath, proving something of a referendum on that question.
Australia is not America - but I sense our looming election season will sharpen the debate here. Yes, there'll be all the predictable vacuousness, the lobotomising naffness, the ''look-at-me'' dancing on breakfast television, the stunts, the fluoro tours and press conferences in hard hats.
I'm not forecasting a substance revolution, simply sensing a moment of transition. Our two political leaders, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, have to start connecting with voters seeking something deeper as they contemplate their vote in 2013. The last couple of published opinion polls for 2012 suggest voters are profoundly alienated from the candidates and their agendas. They feel they've been played for chumps, and they have.
Perhaps I'm naive, but I reckon politics will respond to that alienation, and contemplate modest means of rehabilitation.
Abbott has already begun his positive pivot, promising a policy story in the new year. The Opposition Leader's gear change has been greeted with almost surround-sound cynicism, but I'm inclined to take him at his word.
Abbott is a narrative politician, a storyteller. He intuits and practises political communication as a coherent structure of reveal: at this point, you talk about values; at this point, mount the case against your opponent; at this point, bring forward your own story. Beginnings, middles and ends.
Next year has got to be the story of putative prime minister Tony Abbott and his Coalition government - otherwise he has only told half the tale. He said this himself in the final week of Parliament: the Coalition is obliged to make a clear case for government as well as the negative case against Gillard.
I don't think this is spin, although I understand why some voters would be cynical. I think Abbott knows this transition is part of the task of proving worthiness. Quests aren't all about fighting dragons. They are about building forts and castles, about finding ways across the river.
The reflexive analysis would say, why leaven a strategy that has put the Coalition in an election-winning position, particularly when Labor faces such a Herculean task convincing the voters to give them a third term. Why not just stick with demolition, particularly given Labor always assists the cause of fraying and rending with its intermittent bouts of over-thinking and under-thinking, and operatic self-sabotage.
A couple of points. Unrelenting demolition, perversely, has helped Gillard recover some of her personal standing with the voters. It has damaged Abbott, whose disapproval ratings are very high. And it doesn't answer the question voters need answered: what sort of prime minister would Tony Abbott be?
Strange as it might sound - given the Coalition's clear lead - Abbott could take some cues from Labor. The government isn't relying on a ''leader first'' campaign with Gillard. Given she's unpopular, that's not a strong card to play. Labor has sought policy ballast. It's working up its progressive ''future'' agenda to make its case to voters in an election year: the party of education reform, of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, trying to better sell its economic record, flogging the national broadband network, rooting this notion that the carbon tax isn't as bad as you think.
Labor has occupied that territory early. That way, the contest is about more than the leader. It's about the government, which sounds obvious - but in this era of presidential politics, it's a teensy bit revolutionary. It's a gamble, of course. Perhaps folks don't like what Labor's got to say. But it sets up a transition from toxic personality politics to a conversation about what sort of government is best for this Australian moment.
Labor occupying the ''reforming centre'' territory is also part of the effort to lock Abbott out of the political middle ground. It's a policy land grab that challenges the opposition to respond in precisely the same way that the Coalition's character attack on Gillard implicitly invited her to respond with her own set of definitions about her opponent. (If she was to be a liar, then Abbott would be a sexist.)
Politics balances itself in this way: it finds its own counterpoint. The bottom line is this: Abbott has some choices. They are genuinely interesting, and I think he's sincere enough to contemplate them. He's no Mitt Romney. He's no David Cameron. So who is he in this moment of global uncertainty? The centre-right has definitional opportunity in Australia. Where to position, where to pitch?
Don't despair about politics in 2013. Relax, enjoy your break, and dare to hope. It might be quite something.
Katharine Murphy is national affairs correspondent of The Age.