With just days to go until the end of the pre-Christmas session of the Australian parliament, the then federal parliamentary leader Malcolm Turnbull, was desperately trying to hang on to his leadership.

With the Rudd government bringing the Carbon Pollution Reduction bill (the CPR) – the bill containing the dreaded Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) – back to the upper house for a second time, Mr Turnbull was faced with the problem of deciding what his side of politics would do in the Senate.

Arguing that, first, the Liberals had to avoid giving Mr Rudd and the Labor party the opportunity to go to an early election; and, second, that an ETS was going to be inevitable given that the Liberals had promised its own version of this scheme when John Howard had been prime minister, Turnbull decided to negotiate a bipartisan position and then let the thing through the upper house.

Mr Rudd would get his ETS ahead of the Copenhagen summit on climate change, and Mr Turnbull would get to fight the next election on the economy rather than climate change.

All this was fine, until, just days before parliament was due to rise for the year, slightly more than half of Mr Turnbull’s Liberal colleagues decided to put his leadership to the sword, and put in his place Tony Abbott – a former Howard minister famous for his political gaffes, his overt displays of his Catholic conservatism, and for his liking for a bit of a political stoush.

That this all happened so quickly right at the end of the year indicated the extent to which pressure had been building in the Australian national political debate.
For much of 2009, climate change dominated Australian politics.

It began early in the year as the first version of the CPR bills went to the Senate and was defeated, and then loomed over the debate for the whole year until its re-introduction in November.

The collapse of the agreement between the opposition and the government over the ETS, the collapse of Turnbull’s leadership, and the defeat of the CPR bills for a second time were the spectacular conclusion to a year of slowly building tensions.

Along the way, the Australian Senate – dominated by the Liberals, the Nationals with their colourful upper house leader Barnaby Joyce prominent, and the two cross-benchers Steve Fielding and Nick Xenophon – was becoming more and more obstructionist.

As Labor found it increasingly difficult to legislate, the government sought instead to impact on the national debate with rhetoric especially about the areas of policy it would like to change but cannot.

As such, 2009 has had the feel of being a year of political limbo as the government awaited the shift from recession to growth with the resolution of the Global Financial Crisis (a change whose progress is being marked by one interest rate increase after another), trumpeted the benefits of its ‘stimulus package’ and tried to finalise a deal with the Liberals so that the globe-trotting foreign affairs-obsessed prime minister could have a legislative outcome to take to Copenhagen.

Unable to legislate thanks to the Coalition and the increasingly erratic Fielding and Xenophon, the government appeared to be happy to sit it out and muse on when would be the best time to call an election.

Notwithstanding all this, 2009 has been a good year for the Rudd government. Rudd did not appear to have been too phased by the scuppering of the CPR bills by the hard-line conservatives in the Liberal party, and, indeed, it may be the case that the opposition has done the government a favour by deferring this matter until after the next election.

Rudd has gone to Copenhagen where his political problems have been dwarfed by the antagonisms that exists between rich and poor nations over the way to address climate change.

In the meantime, Mr Rudd’s opponents have managed to cast themselves as a somewhat disorganised rabble at best, or a nest of treacherous vipers at worst complete with a foaming populist in the form of Barnaby Joyce – who, by getting on to the coalition front bench, was one of the big winners of the campaign to topple Turnbull.

The opinion polls seem to confirm the view of a number of commentators that Tony Abbott is unlikely to be prime minister any time soon, notwithstanding his apparent boyish enthusiasm to take the fight up to Rudd.

The question for Mr Rudd and his colleagues now is decide when to go to the polls. A double dissolution election sometime in September 2010 appears to be very likely.

This means that there is still plenty of time to see how the Abbott-led opposition, complete with the combustible Barnaby Joyce, take up the challenge in an election year.

If nothing else, 2010 promises to be a lot more exciting than 2009.

Dr Nick Economou is a senior lecture in politics at Monash University’ Social Enquiry.