2010 promises to be a very important year in Australian politics, not least because of the number of elections that are due to be held over the next twelve months.

Three states will have to conduct elections this year. These include Tasmania (which must hold its election by 22 May at the latest), and the two fixed-term states, South Australia (due 20 March) and, of course, Victoria (due 27 November).

Of these three states, Labor looks most likely to be returned in Victoria and South Australia, while the Labor government in Tasmania appears to be in some trouble.

Tasmania could be the second jurisdiction to return a Liberal government after Western Australia, although the Tasmanian electoral system also gives the Greens the chance to end up holding the balance of power.

In amongst these elections that must be held floats the prospect of a federal election that could be called on by the Rudd government.
While the rules allow for an election as late as April 2011, most commentators expect the contest to happen this year.

Indeed, given a series of tricky constitutional constraints on the type and timing of the election for the next Senate, and, indeed, when newly elected senators would be able to take up their seats, there is a broad consensus that prime minister Kevin Rudd will seek a double dissolution election.

If this is to be the case, then a window of opportunity opens between 7 August (the earliest day a double dissolution election could be held) and 16 October (the latest day).

In all likelihood, 2010 is going to a federal election year. The Kevin Rudd-led Labor government will seek a second term and, if history is any guide, will probably get it given that one has to go back to 1929-1931 to find the last one-term Australian government.

One would also expect the Liberal and National party to be facing a very difficult task in convincing the electorate that the coalition has the cohesion and unity necessary to be the alternative government given the way they behaved when they dumped Malcolom Turnbull as leader at the end of last year.

This, indeed, is the main task that confronts Tony Abbott, whose leadership of the Liberal party occurred just before the Christmas holiday break. Abbott has been very active over the break trying to re-assert the coalition’s opposition to Rudd Labor particularly after the hint of major party consensus over the contentious Emissions Trading Scheme when the government nearly got its Carbon Pollution Reduction bills through the Senate.

Abbott intuits (and Liberal polling probably backs this up) that, while Australian voters want to see something done about climate change, they are less enthusiastic about public policy that results in an increase in their cost of living. Abbott ought to understand this.
He was, after all, part of the Howard government that nearly lost the 1998 election with its proposal to bring in a Goods and Services Tax!

It will be interesting to see what tack the Labor party takes if Rudd does call a double dissolution election on the back of the defeat of his government’s ETS in the Senate. Rudd could, of course, ignore the whole ETS thing once the election is called. Plenty of Australian prime ministers have abandoned policies whose defeat in the Senate precipitated an early election. By so doing, Rudd would instead seek to campaign on the instability of his Liberal opponents rather than on a matter of policy substance.

This would be the much safer tactic for the government, although one can’t help but feel that Mr Rudd might be attracted to the idea of arguing the case for his ETS at the next election.

If Labor was to do this, Mr Abbott would be given a double advantage. First, he could attack a policy nobody really understands and about which the polls are indicating voters are becoming increasingly critical of. Secondly, a debate about the ETS would deflect attention from the instability in Liberal ranks, and the dead weight of the National party on coalition politics.

Some indications of what might happen will undoubtedly be given when the parliament resumes in February. The extent to which Labor is committed to its ETS will be revealed if and when the defeated CPR bills come back for a third time.

The convening of the parliament will also put Mr Abbott and his new front bench under pressure to perform especially in the face of an onslaught from the government. The holiday period has provided a degree of calm to the Australian political debate. It is the lull before a storm, however.

Dr Economou is a senior lecturer in Politics at Monash University.