Blue skies ahead? How Julia Gillard has enjoyed the change of political seasons

Opposition leader Tony Abbott has had a good political year but is the political wind shifting against him? AAP/Lukas Koch

At the start of the year Prime Minister Julia Gillard promised that 2011 would be a year of “decision and delivery”. Despite such a grand vision, the majority of the year was a shocker for the government. But it appears that the Gillard Government is in a far better position as the summer holidays get closer.

The carbon tax clearly dominated much of the political debate. Gillard embarked on a politically risky move to propose the new tax at the start of the year. Since her announcement, opinion poll after opinion poll showed that voters were far from enthusiastic and the government suffered in the polls as a result.

With the government slipping in popularity, leadership speculation became another problem for Labor. While Gillard sought to present herself as a strong leader, constant murmurings about Kevin Rudd making a comeback seemed to weaken the government.

United we stand …

As John Howard noted during his time in opposition in the 1980s, “disunity is death”. Voters are hesitant to support a party that looks like it has internal instability and at some periods this year it looked as though Labor had a full-blown leadership crisis.

But instead of finishing the year off with feelings of utter frustration, Gillard should feel pleased by the last couple of months as her government dealt with a number of burning issues. One of the major achievements was the passage of the carbon tax. In passing the bills through parliament, the government hopes that it has ended the carbon tax debate.

Other important achievements included the rolling out the National Broadband Network while implementing paid parental leave was also an important goal. The reworked mining tax also appears to be on the way to getting the support of the parliament.

The Obama effect

International engagements over the last few weeks have also given Gillard an opportunity to be seen in a more positive way. CHOGM, the visit of the Queen and the visit of US President Obama allowed Gillard to demonstrate to voters that she can be part of global politics.

A slight rise in her popularity after President Obama’s visit suggests some voters have become more sympathetic to the prime minister after seeing her in this light. Indeed, the passage of contentious bills and Gillard’s interaction with global politics has allowed her to position herself as more of a prime ministerial figure.

Julia Gillard has good reason to smile during the summer parliamentary recess. AAP/Alan Porrit

Replacing the House of Representatives Labor Speaker with a Liberal MP was also a coup for the government as it now has an extra number in the lower house. Indeed, the situation of a minority government often leads to compromises between parties, a situation that has been rare in Australian politics where the norm has been to have either major party govern without the need for independents or third parties.

A long road home

While the government has achieved some of its goals, many other issues continue to give it grief. The decision to sell uranium to India and the inability to implement a robust asylum seeker policy are among the issues Labor will have to grapple with in the coming weeks.

Gillard is also clearly concerned about the issue of same-sex marriage which may come up at the ALP federal conference in December. To stamp her authority, Gillard must “win” each of these policy debates within her party.

The summer holidays will also be a good opportunity for the opposition to reload. After running strong in his opposition to the carbon tax, Tony Abbott still leads the Coalition with a strong two-party lead over Labor. While Malcolm Turnbull is sometimes rumoured to be positioning himself to return to the Liberal Party leadership, it would be a brave Party Room to depose Abbott if the opinion polls continue with this year’s trend.

After a long, hard and politically bruising year, all sides of politics will clearly welcome the warmer weather and festive spirit of the season.