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Turnbull's unfinished business for 2018



The best starting point to predict the agenda for politics in 2018 is to look at what was left unfinished at the end of last year. The legacy of 2017 was that most of the key issues from last year have spilled over.

Chris Johnston cartoonThe legalisation of same sex marriage has been decided but a testy debate about religious freedom remains. The Ruddock committee will report in March and then the battles will resume.

Dual citizenship of MPs remains on the radar with several more cases to be decided in March once the High Court has reported as a Court of Disputed Returns.

The outright rejection of the type of Indigenous Constitutional recognition as proposed by the Uluru Declaration will surely have to be revisited.

The Banking royal commission which the government was dragged into unwillingly will get under way. Discomfort for the government and the wider business community will ensue.

The future and wellbeing of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru will not go away, nor will the disputes over federal funding of schools.

Energy policy remains unclear and summer will test the power generation system. If failures occur there will be recrimination, flowing into debates about the future of both coal and alternative energy sources.


"Turnbull has some favourable economic statistics, such as unemployment figures, working for him, but he still has to weave them into a convincing story of better times ahead."


There are opportunities for both sides of politics, government and opposition, in the leftovers from 2017. The balance looked to have shifted somewhat back towards the government in the final weeks of last year. The task of Malcolm Turnbull will be to begin the new year as he ended the last. On the other hand Bill Shorten has to prove that December was just a blip and not a permanent change of his fortunes for the worse.

Halfway through the government's term the next election is still the opposition's to lose, but Turnbull can look forward to a better year. There is a reasonable chance that the government will be blessed with greater political stability and more favourable economic circumstances.

Political stability is largely in the government's own hands. Turnbull may be moving into clearer air and a stronger position within conservative circles. But his party and Coalition opponents will not vacate the field and issues like religious freedom, banking, and energy policy may provide ammunition for them with Tony Abbott remaining unpredictable.

Economic circumstances may tip towards the government, beginning with community sentiment. A recent international Ipsos survey reported by Fairfax concluded that there was global optimism that '2018 will be a better year'. Australians were not among the most optimistic, but 76 per cent of us apparently think 2018 will be an improvement on last year.

Turnbull has some favourable economic statistics, such as unemployment figures, working for him, but he still has to weave them into a convincing story of better times ahead, including personal tax cuts, guided by a government more attuned to growth than the opposition.

An important element of this story will be the government's credentials as a champion of free trade, especially through Turnbull's determination to hold the Trans Pacific Partnership together in the face of rejection by Donald Trump.

Trump's own performance and standing may be important to the Australian government too. If it is justifying company tax cuts for the biggest corporations by pointing to what the USA has done, then what Australians think of the US president matters. Turnbull needs Trump to have a good year.

How Shorten reacts will be crucial. He may be hurt by some of the leftover issues like dual citizenship, which make him look hypocritical and shifty. But the greatest danger to his standing, if the government is buoyed by better economic and political news, will come if his posture seems nagging and negative. He needs to be fresh and positive.

There may even be a federal election in the second half of this year, though this option poses the danger for Turnbull of adverse public reaction to another early election.

March will be crucial to early momentum. First will come the Tasmanian and South Australian state elections. They will probably be followed shortly afterwards by several more federal by-elections which will again test Labor, the Greens and the Coalition.



John WarhurstJohn Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University and chairs Concerned Catholics Canberra-Goulburn.

Topic tags: John Warhurst, Malcolm Turnbull, Bill Shorten, unemployment, banking, Aboriginal Australians, Donald Trump



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Existing comments

Sounds like the list of to dos is prioritized by the degree of anxiety as opposed to civil courage. The more a matter is about serious leadership or national importance the more it is put down the list topped by politicking within the party. However, John, he did come up with that pugilistic, bombastic announcement about becoming an arms dealer. How sick. And Turnbull does need Trump as much as Howard needed Hanson, or Duterte needs Ghengis Khan. The pundits can say "He's not as bad as..." Not sure who makes Dutton look good, Though.

Michael D. Breen | 03 February 2018  

I just wish Mr Turnbull was a better politician. He has a pretty good story of achievement in face of adversity to tell, and in Mr Shorten a really vulnerable political target ; but on neither count does he seem able to communicate to the wider community. Fortunately, the electorate is remarkably sophisticated overall, and is likely to be able to see the underlying realities for themselves. Shorten has by far the biggest set of dilemas; he wants to compete with the Greens and their neo-Marxist anti everything establishment while exploiting every potential grievance, but at the same time is increasingly being captured by the old-style socialist trade union wealth- and jobs-destroying agendas. These are essentially incompatible urges, as well as being highly damaging to Australia`s interests. I believe that voters will see through all this, and even if Turnbull cannot vocalise it, Shorten and his destructive policies are the Coalitions major weapons.

Eugene | 05 February 2018  

In 5 weeks time Philip Ruddock will turn 75 and if he were a high court judge he would have to stand aside and retire. As hwas of Turnbull’s Marriage Equality Inquirey he should stand aside on his birthday 5 March and have no further input !

David Field | 05 February 2018  

It is obvious that the LNP Coalition decided sometime ago to hitch its caravan to the Trump Cadillac. I personally don't think that Trump is faring very well either at home or internationally, so Turnbull is taking a great risk. One big test will be the economic strategy that the LNP chooses. Will it continue to make further drastic cuts to programs for the poor and under-privileged while giving huge tax cuts and handouts to the wealthiest in society - some of whom pay little or no tax? This is what Trump has done in the US and it is causing great concern to those who work to improve the lot of poorer Americans and Americans who believe in social justice. Scott Morrison has already signalled that he wants to adopt a similar approach to Trump. If the LNP Coalition does adopt such a policy, it is to be hoped that Australians who give priority to the values of social justice, compassion and human rights make their voices heard. We are continually reminded by conservative politicians that we live in a Christian society, but many of them seem to think that Christian teaching is to rake from the poor to give to the rich!

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 05 February 2018  

John you left out the deep frustration of pensioners, disabled, seniors and students with Centrelink and Human Services needing a rebrand like CLawback and INhumane Disservices.

Reinder Zeilstra | 05 February 2018  

Turnbull still has to deal with the Senate through until the next election. The citizenship fiasco has shaken up the composition and some realignments are taking place. The government has captured one of the One Nation senators and another has joined Bernardi and Leyonhjelm in a 'voting alliance'. This might make it easier for the government to negotiate passage of legislation through the Senate. Whether that will be good for the government or not is yet to be seen.

Ginge Meggs | 09 February 2018  

“The best starting point to predict the agenda for politics in 2018 is to look at what was left unfinished at the end of last year.” What is left unfinished every year is accounting for the many men (and quite a few women, I expect) who need to work with their hands making things in order to be fulfilled. Because fulfillment does not grow on trees as low fruit easily plucked, this making of things has to be monetised, in which things are made to be exchanged ultimately for money, even if there is some creative and entrepreneurial bartering going on in the intervening process. As even the left would agree, although perhaps not in the same terms, the economy, like the Sabbath, is made for man. A country which never acquires a manufacturing prowess is in childhood. A country which is losing it is in dotage. Agency, in nations as well as humans, resides in the state between.

Roy Chen Yee | 10 February 2018  

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