It's game on for the next election and the frame has been set.
The federal government is going to splash the cash in a bid to keep growing the economy and it is starting to play the national security card.
A targeted spending "pandemic budget" has been all but confirmed this week by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg who won't be undertaking, "any sharp pivots towards austerity" as Australia seeks to secure its economic recovery, while risking its trade relationship and pushing back against an increasingly irritated China.
COVID-19 has changed the game, but politicians are still playing politics. Scott Morrison, the marketing man Prime Minister, is attempting a two step maneuver with the looming budget present an atypical Liberal budget that pulls the political rug out from under Labor while also playing to traditional Coalition strengths such as national security.
"This is the Liberal government playing the most conservative, risk-averse political strategy that we could imagine," according ANU political scientist Dr Jill Shepherd.
So what's an opposition leader to do?
The next election is likely a year away, but the alternative prime minister Anthony Albanese is at a critical juncture.
How he acts next and responds to the May budget will reveal Labor's election strategy and test his mettle.
Albanese has been setting his own agenda, while the Morrison government deals with embarrassing problems with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and - in the wake of the Brittany Higgins rape allegations - multiple sex and bullying scandals. Now, Morrison will try to draw Albanese out from his small target strategy. This is the test for Albanese. Will he veer from his strategy, "never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake"?
"Australian politics is by its nature very risk averse," Dr Shepherd said. "I think the Australian parties more than anything just try to avoid very public mistakes."
"And so to that end Labor is doing great. They haven't upset anyone. They haven't turned off voters. They haven't really been able to set the political agenda, but that (problem) is not of their making at the moment."
One Labor MP, who spoke to The Canberra Times under condition of anonymity to frankly discuss Labor's electoral prospects, said constituents are starting to say "when you win", and they were not saying that a month ago.
It is confidence building, but the MP said "by no means is anyone on our side measuring curtains in ministerial offices".
The MP also sounded a note of warning for Labor and said that voters appeared to be forgiving of the Prime Minister for his failings. "They will agree he stuffed up, but not write him off. If you proposed that the PM was out of touch, that is going too far."
As for Albanese, the MP said "he is not on their radar," nor inspiring enough. Another MP, while an Albanese supporter, said the leader was "erratic," not prone to taking advice and was not sharp enough with his messaging.
Not being "known" or "understood" despite being a major political figure is accepted as a problem by Albanese's closest supporters in the party. It is a result of exceptional "circumstances" with the virus and media coverage and party strategists expect a fully fledged election campaign should fix the Labor leader's recognition factor.
Those close Albanese supporters feel the party is in "good nick" and Labor's electoral chances were 50-50 or as an MP explained: "we are close enough if good enough."
The MP said Albanese was "lean and hungry" and sharpening up after his startling, near-fatal car accident in January. He is notably leaner and he has cut back on alcohol.
Rejecting the notion that Australian voters had largely made up their minds, the MP said the task at hand was to "convince people that Labor was worth the change."
The MP said people just "don't like Morrison." Indeed here is the great opportunity for Labor. Polls are showing that female voters are abandoning the Coalition in the wake of the parliamentary sex scandals.
One senior Labor source said, "They have lost women. We have won them."
Even after the past two difficult months for Morison, there are still questions within Labor circulating over whether Albanese is "up to it".
After a rough 2020, the Sydney-sider has been free to travel, criss-crossing the country talking "bread and butter" issues. He's travelled to Uluru to talk reconciliation, been to the electorally all-important state of Queensland to stand with new local Labor candidates and toured Western Australia - the state that two months ago virtually annihilated the Liberal state opposition.
WA and Queensland have been stronghold states for the Coalition and Labor need eight seats. Its hopes of forming majority government could be decided in those states.
The strategy, according to senior Labor sources, is to return to communities that turned their backs on Labor at the last election.
It is to learn and implement the lessons of the last election lost by then opposition leader Bill Shorten; to not have too many big abstract ideas, be clear and remind people how government can help and improve their lives.
Shorten raked over the coals of Labor's election loss again during an address to the National Press Club this week.
"We probably had too many ideas, I get that," he lamented. "I also recognise it is not enough to be the opposition. You have got to be the alternative government in terms of policies and that is exactly what has been happening."
Labor points to its signature policy to make childcare cheaper that the Morrison government appears set to emulate. Some Labor MPs are frustrated that the "government has been dragged kicking and screaming" to follow and ALP policy appears forgotten.
There are also announced policies in clean energy and industrial relations , as well as a $15 billion loan scheme to manufacture products domestically.
Labor has shifted on climate change since this year's reshuffle brought Chris Bowen into the portfolio. In an apparent bid to woo Queensland and NSW votes, opposition climate policy will not be made to the detriment of jobs. Labor wants a jobs and emissions "compact".
Albanese, internally, is said to be travelling very well and is generally well-liked, but it is acknowledged that in the middle of a pandemic, while Australians are looking for the government to protect them - and are willing it to succeed - it is a very challenging environment for an opposition leader.
It is hard to get a share of the conversation.
But it has been worse.
At the start of the year, prior to the start of the stumbling vaccine rollout and the deeply troubling sexual assault allegations from former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, Scott Morrison was riding high and Albanese appeared in deep trouble.
As Albanese recovered from the car accident the month before, malcontents in the caucus were causing trouble and it was an open question whether he would make it to the election, let alone win. Names being bandied around included Tanya Plibersek, Bowen, Jim Chalmers and even a return for Bill Shorten.
Insiders say the internal rumblings were "not reflective of where Labor was travelling" at the time, nor were they views that were "held by a broad cross-section of the caucus."
He "held his nerve" and now, his supporters say, he is in an "incredibly secure position."
Albanese, or Albo as he is known, is being framed as in the mold of most successful leaders, like Bob Hawke. He is put forward as an authentic, self-starter who wants to make Australia a fairer place and stands up for the most vulnerable in society.
Morrison, meanwhile, is desperately needing a political reset and he's hoping the May budget will shift the conversation on from vaccination rollout failures and the so-called women problem.
But Labor malcontents are questioning strategy.
One told The Canberra Times that while Indigenous reconciliation is "important", just why did Albanese go through with the plan to go to Uluru last week, less than two weeks before the federal budget?
"We should be fighting on the homefront," the MP said. "I can't believe how hard the government is pushing national security."
"They are going to get a big tick for spending big (in the budget). The government is going to get away with it."
But others in the party say the Uluru trip was "meaningful" and "very important" and "better to do it now, than later."
While no one blames the Coalition for the once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, the government's other problems are of its own making.
After nearly ten years in power, it is getting harder and harder to blame Labor in power for decisions.
Indeed, apart from the theatre of parliament in which he targets Albanese, Morrison appears more incensed with the media and his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull than with anyone in the Labor party.
Albanese is so well-regarded - and is flying under the radar so much - he has been largely spared the toxic treatment from the Murdoch media that has been dished out to other Labor leaders such as Julia Gillard, Bill Shorten and Kevin Rudd.
This is in some part due to Albanese's long term all-round media availability even when Labor has been under attack. At times, he's been one of the few ALP figures to engage with some of the more right-wing commentators.
If not Anthony Albanese, who?
The potential leadership rivals - Bowen, Plibersek and Chalmers - are all smart, talented and hit their marks when given space, plus Chalmers is from must-gain Queensland which is a bonus.
Plibersek is popular with the rank and file, but she is in Labor's left faction where Albanese holds a commanding majority. Furthermore, Labor's right faction has serious reservations about whether she could connect with the party's suburban base.
Bowen is a policy wonk who has influence in the king making NSW right faction and has ambition, but it is seen that he suffers from two terms as Shorten's shadow treasurer.
Chalmers, the youngest of the three, has pedigree, extensive experience in the corridors of power and a good policy brain, but he is viewed as not quite ready yet.
But it's Scott Morrison's election to lose.
The Coalition has a one-seat working majority and in Australia, typically, governments lose elections, rather than oppositions winning them.
In this case, Scott Morrison's most difficult opponent could be himself and his government's record. It is Mr Morrison's judgement that will be in question.
But the impact of COVID-19 may change the calculus too.
"I think post-Covid economic recovery is going to be so dominant that it's going to be tough for Labor to really get a word in edgeways," Dr Shepherd said.
"As long as we're worried about jobs and we're worried about economic growth, then the swinging voters among us will probably tend towards Liberals."
"If in a year's time the vaccination rollout is still a massive problem and if Labor can create a clean narrative that links the federal government's mismanagement to the fact that a lot of us aren't vaccinated in the middle of 2022, then they may be able to win a healthcare-based election."
That's a big if. Thirteen months ago, COVID-19 was only just appearing on people's radar.
Thirteen months from now, for whom voters will vote remains to be seen.
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