The good, the bad and the expensive: Aussie politics in 2015

THE political year began with a barbecue-stopper.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott's Australia Day announcement that Prince Philip - Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, Baron Greenwich and Extra Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle - would be graced with a Knighthood of the Order of Australia.

On the back of failing to deliver his threats to "shirt-front" Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014, the Knighthood was perhaps the death knell for Abbott's leadership.

It triggered his self-described "near-death experience" weeks later - a vote on whether to "spill" the Liberal party leadership, in which 39 of his own colleagues voted for an empty chair over their first-term leader.

Former PM Tony Abbott raised a few eyebrows when he named Prince Philip a Knight.
Former PM Tony Abbott raised a few eyebrows when he named Prince Philip a Knight. Peter Holt

Good government:

Mr Abbott's post-not-quite-a-spill promise that "good government starts today" never seemed to eventuate. His setting that day of a six-month deadline to deliver the promise only created a metric by which agitators for change and nervous marginal MPs could measure his success, or lack thereof, as leader.

The February vote emboldened challenge front-runner Malcolm Turnbull who - after a string of Cabinet leaks, quiet political deals and growing internal divisions - would occupy Mr Abbott's office by year's end.

Mr Abbott's move to force party debate on gay marriage to include the more socially-conservative National party was a major turning point in the internal leadership talks, setting many Liberals off-side with their leader.

The growing proliferation of Australian flags flanking Mr Abbott and his senior colleagues at press conferences was perhaps the best indicator of a leader in turmoil, a Prime Minister cloaking himself in the national colours with little regard for the public's appetite for his government's tribalism.

Top performers:

Arguably, the top performers in and outside Mr Abbott's Cabinet were promoted when Mr Turnbull reached the highest office in the land.

Former Immigration minister Scott Morrison, via a stint in Social Services, transformed himself into Mr Turnbull's right-hand economic man as Treasurer.

Deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop, courtesy of reported prior arrangements with Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison, maintained her spot as Foreign Minister - an appointment widely considered one of the best under the Coalition.

And younger and more female performers, overlooked by Mr Abbott, who got a shot at the big game included Kelly O'Dwyer as Assistant Treasurer, Marise Payne as Australia first female Defence Minister and former West Australian Treasurer Christian Porter, moved up to Social Services.

Possibly Mr Turnbull's two most important internal appointments were new Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos, the celebrated former Chief of Staff to John Howard, and the return of former Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson from the political wilderness - now the public service's top dog, Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Needless conflict:

Questions dominating this year's agenda covered Mr Abbott's ever-controlling Chief of Staff, a 2015 budget which only temporarily eased concerns in the wake of the 2014 budget and a series of distracting political fights with the ABC, Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs, environmental groups and his own party room over gay marriage.

After proclaiming himself to be the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mr Abbott did little to return funds to indigenous organisations. He equivocated on Constitutional recognition and spent one week espousing his apparent "credentials" on Cape York, at the same time turning a tin ear to the real concerns of Aboriginal Australia.

The government's ear was, however, receptive to the intelligence community, pushing through - with Labor's help - even more powers in the interests of national security. Those powers came in the wake of yet more Islamic State-inspired terror attacks abroad, as well as the shooting death of Parramatta police accountant Curtis Cheng.

 

Money, money money:

National security was not the only issue that got bipartisan support, with both Labor and the Coalition all but ignoring revelations sitting MPs and senators had exploited $19 million of parliamentary entitlements to boost their re-election campaigns in 2010 and 2013.

But it was Mr Abbott's loyalty to Liberal blue-blood Bronwyn Bishop, and his defence of her $5000-odd "Chopper-gate" flight from Melbourne to Geelong, that epitomised the public's view of an out-of-touch government.

Weeks after the initial tabloid scandal, Mr Abbott reluctantly succumbed to public pressure to remove her from the Speaker's chair. But it was not enough to prevent Mr Turnbull's ascension.

Despite Treasurer Joe Hockey's attempts at rectifying his reputation after the 2014 budget, the government's revenue woes continued to increase.

Even the signature budget policy of $20,000 tax write-offs for small business seemed not to take effect until both Mr Hockey and Mr Abbott were cast aside late in the year.

Bill's Big ideas:

Through it all, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's promise of the "Year of Big Ideas", was thwarted by his failure to get traction with the wider public.

Despite the promises, the Labor kept to a small target campaign, making key tax proposals targeting multi-national corporations, smokers and wealthy Australians super tax breaks, but largely ignoring the need for wider, structural economic reform.

His appeal as an alternative to Mr Abbott evaporated as Mr Turnbull took the reins, leaving the former "faceless man" as parliament's "Mr 15%" by the end of the political year.

Clive Palmer, Glenn Lazarus and his wife Tess at Buderim Mountain State School on voting day.
Clive Palmer, Glenn Lazarus and his wife Tess at Buderim Mountain State School on voting day.

Defections:

On the crossbenches, Clive Palmer's personal power disintegrated as Palmer United Party senator Glenn Lazarus in March joined Jacqui Lambie as a defector, while the Greens sought out the political middle ground in replacing Christine Milne with former GP Richard Di Natale as leader.

But as the year came to close, Mr Turnbull's judgment was brought into question after he appointed Mal Brough as Special Minister of State, due to a lingering police investigation into the Peter Slipper scandal.

The final days of parliament also saw the end of former minister Ian MacFarlane's hopes to returning to Cabinet after Mr Turnbull demoted him to for rising Turks.

Despite getting his local branch's endorsement for a defection from the Liberal Party to the Nationals, Mr Macfarlane's move was thwarted by the LNP state executive, who said federal solidarity was more important.
 

Malcolm Turnbull is sworn in as PM.
Malcolm Turnbull is sworn in as PM.

Political Agility:

Mr Turnbull looked to re-set the government's agenda with a focus on "innovation", an "agile economy" and his repeatedly stated belief that "this is a time when the opportunities for Australia have never been greater".

Leading these initiatives were Christopher Pyne, parliament's "Fixer", and the thus far exuberant Turnbull ally and oft-touted "future Prime Minister" Wyatt Roy.

Whether Mr Turnbull provides the circuit breaker needed to end several years of divisive politics in Canberra, and brings the Coalition back from the potential oblivion it was facing earlier in the year, remains to be seen.

Political Quotes:

"Good government starts today" - PM Tony Abbott, after the failed Liberal leadership spill.

"The starting point for a first home-buyer is to get a good job that pays good money," Treasurer Joe Hockey.

"I'm a Fixer - I've fixed it," Christopher Pyne on reinstating millions in science funding, but refusing to say how.

"One doesn't resign for an error of judgment when it is within the guidelines, and indeed it is," Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, before losing her position over the Chopper-gate scandal.

"There has never been a more exciting time to be alive than today and there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian," Malcolm Turnbull, on winning Liberal leadership.

"There will be no wrecking, no undermining and no sniping ... this is a tough day, but when you join the game, you accept the rules," Tony Abbott on losing the Liberal leadership.

"I'm prepared to go and squirrel grip, squirrel grip the Prime Minister ... if that doesn't work, I'm prepared to use Hopoate tactics," Senator Glenn Lazarus, about coal seam gas regulation.



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