The summer break has various political consequences. Political leaders have a chance to recharge their batteries. The momentum gathered by political parties is temporarily halted. Political operatives reflect on the past year and plan for the new one. The public opinion polls cease to dictate the news. And most importantly voters get a chance to put politics out of their mind and put political arguments in perspective.
In that sense the new year is a new start with fresh possibilities. My own view is that for that reason 2018 has a sense of mystery about it with political outcomes uncertain.
But as we all emerge from our summer daze we remember that one of the defining characteristics of 2017 was that many issues were left unfinished.
Controversy continues to swirl around the future of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island and Nauru. The reputation of the New Zealand Prime Minister has now been besmirched. The religious freedom elements of the same-sex marriage decision will reignite when the Ruddock committee reports in March. Conservative elements in cabinet and Coalition party rooms will be watching closely. The redistributive aspects of the Gonski 2.0 federal school funding decisions refuse to settle down. Public school advocates are particularly unhappy. Energy policy has not been put to bed either in terms of short-term power reliability and pricing or in terms of the bigger conflict between coal and alternative energy sources. The forthcoming South Australian election will inevitably draw federal comment in this regard. The long-running distraction of the dual citizenship quandary among federal MPs should have been resolved but has not been. The High Court will report again as a Court of Disputed Returns on the David Feeney and Katy Gallagher cases. Social issues like euthanasia were put firmly on the national agenda by the Victorian State Parliament decision to legalise assisted dying.
Last year did set some things in train, though. The banking and financial services royal commission, anathema for so long to the government, gets under way. The Trans Pacific Partnership multilateral free trade deal survived Donald Trump's veto on American participation. Indigenous constitutional recognition came to a grinding halt when the government rejected out of hand the proposal for a new Indigenous voice contained in the Uluru Declaration, but that just ensured that the issue will be reconsidered this year.
The next election remains the opposition's to lose, but the government can probably look forward with some optimism.
There are three potential elements to success for Malcolm Turnbull. The first is the economy. A recent Ipsos international survey reported that there was global optimism that "2018 will be a better year". Australians agree. The government can only bask in such community sentiment if it translates into higher approval ratings. But it will help anyway. Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison must turn favourable economic statistics such as strong employment figures into a convincing story about better times ahead.
They will attempt to bolster their standing by the promotion of the government's credentials as a champion of increased exports and free trade. Turnbull will take the credit for the survival of the Trans Pacific Partnership and for widely trumpeted plans to increase arms exports. But not only do both increased arms sales and free trade incorporate contestable values, but they are longer-term ventures without any immediate payoff.
The second element of a revival is party and Coalition unity. Liberal and Coalition conservatives must take the internal pressure off their leader to enable him to perform better as a relaxed and confident PM.
Here the ABC 7.30 interview with Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz on Monday evening was informative. He left Turnbull on tenterhooks. While some credit was given to the government for strong employment growth Abetz was clear that public opinion polls would ultimately determine whether credit is due to the prime minister. Bad polls mean no credit.
He also strongly defended the right of any backbencher, such as Tony Abbott, to speak their mind and defended this practice by resort to individualism as the driving ethos of the party. That mindset glosses over the necessity of virtues such as teamwork and pragmatism in any governing party.
The third necessary element to the re-election of the government lies in the performance of Bill Shorten and the Labor opposition. The Opposition Leader will have his mettle truly tested this year. First, he will have to survive the turbulence of dual citizenship bad news, which will test both his credibility and his campaigning skills.
It is expected that David Feeney in Batman will be ruled out. That will be bad enough because in the ensuing byelection Labor will have to fight the Greens and may lose the seat, with the government sitting back laughing.
If ACT senator Katy Gallagher is also ruled ineligible that will add to Shorten's discomfort and destroy altogether any claim Labor had to superior management of candidate preselection.
Shorten also must brace himself in March for possible bad news in the March 3 and March 17 Tasmanian and South Australian elections. The return of the Tasmanian Liberal government will be expected, but the loss of the South Australian Labor government would have federal implications, like the return of the Queensland Labor government hurt Turnbull. Momentum is a precious commodity.
But most of all Shorten must adapt his posture to cope with better economic and political news for the government. In such circumstances no opposition can afford to look nagging or hypocritical. It must be a model of optimism, decency and egalitarian values.
John Warhurst is an emeritus professor of political science at the Australian National University and a former chairman of the Australian Republican Movement.