With what is likely to be one of the tightest elections in Australian history now just months away Anthony Albanese may be the best friend the Coalition has.
Despite all of the bungles on the vaccination rollout and preparations for Delta and Omicron, women's issues, the Porter allegations, and pork barrelling revelations that made 2021 an "annus horribilis" for the LNP, Mr Albanese did not top Mr Morrison as preferred prime minister once.
Labor's climate policy has disappeared without a trace after being roundly condemned as not going significantly further than the government's and essentially recycling previous announcements. It didn't help that it was released on the eve of the first great summer diaspora in two years, and was then overwhelmed by a surge in case numbers fuelled by ill-considered state and territory decisions to ease COVID restrictions at the worst possible time.
It is understandable therefore that Mr Albanese, whose leadership must be under scrutiny, was determined to hit the ground running with a campaign re-boot in the Hunter Valley on New Year's Day.
The selection of a traditionally blue-collar ALP stronghold for announcements on infrastructure, working conditions and wages, and coal workers' jobs reflected Labor's fears once safe seats such as Joel Fitzgibbon's Hunter are at risk.
Mr Albanese's statement that "coal and coal workers continue to be an important part of your economy and community" is likely to go down well in the key mining electorates that cost the ALP government in 2019.
But it also raises the possibility he is about to repeat Bill Shorten's mistake of saying one thing in the regions and another in inner-city electorates where Labor is under challenge from left-leaning independents and the Greens.
It didn't help that the cornerstone of Mr Albanese's speech was another recycled announcement; the commitment to a fast rail link between Newcastle and Sydney as the first step in high-speed rail from Sydney to Brisbane.
Mr Albanese acknowledged this by harking back to his days as infrastructure minister in the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government at least a decade ago when he commissioned a study into the proposal.
It remains to be seen if his promise Novacastrians would be "able to jump on the train at 6.30pm and be at Sydney Olympic Park for the start of the Knights game" will resonate nationally in the time of COVID.
And, on the subject of COVID-19, the alternative Prime Minister is blaming every coronavirus setback on the incumbent government and setting himself up for a massive Joe Biden-like fail in the event Labor does get across the line. It's timely to recall that as of December 19 almost as many Americans had died of coronavirus under Biden as under Trump.
Voters aren't stupid. They know if there had been a quick and easy way to fix this any government would have done it by now.
These are all reasons why it would be wrong to presume, on the basis of a string of negative opinion polls, the ALP is on a winner.
The Coalition, which must have ruled out any plans for a March election by now, is betting hospitalisations and deaths from Omicron will stay relatively low, that the short term RAT kit supply problem will soon be resolved, and that by the time of the pre-election budget unemployment will be at record lows and the economy will be booming.
If those punts do pay off the ALP may well be facing another three years in opposition due to a failure to provide a strong vision for the future and clear points of difference from the government.
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