After a year of chaos, Malcolm Turnbull is chalking up some wins to finish 2017

Supporters of Liberal MP John Alexander pack away banners outside a polling station at the close of voting in the suburban Sydney seat of Bennelong. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images.

  • Malcolm Turnbull remains in deep political trouble but has chalked up some important wins to finish the year.
  • The budget review today will show government finances in better shape.
  • Turnbull now looks set to survive and at least can argue he has a fighting chance.

Politics may be the art of the possible, but a few months ago few would have thought it likely that Malcolm Turnbull had a fighting chance of holding power in the next federal election.

It’s still an unlikely outcome based on the polls, but events of recent weeks have at least given Turnbull some facts to point to that he can use to argue he’s not entirely out of the race.

John Alexander’s win in Bennelong showed a swing of around 5 per cent against the Liberals. If replicated nationally in a federal election Labor would romp into power, but swings are never uniform and the next election could be more than a year away.

The stakes in Bennelong were enormous; had the seat fallen, the Coalition would have been reduced to minority control of the House of Representatives, and the necessary 10 per cent swing would have heralded a shift in electoral mood pointing to the Coalition’s doom.

Kristina Keneally campaigned on a perceived electoral desire to give Turnbull and the Coalition a kicking. “This is an opportunity for the community in which I live to stand up and say to Malcolm Turnbull, ‘Your government is awful’,” she said. “Enough is enough. We have had enough of your poor services. We have had enough of your poor policies and we have had enough of your poor leadership.”

As it happened, not quite enough people in Bennelong were there yet.

Alexander’s win followed the crushing victory for Barnaby Joyce in his by-election in New England, which saw a swing of more than 12 per cent in his favour.

At both the New England count and in Bennelong, Turnbull stood triumphantly with his candidates, wearing no tie or jacket, talking about how voters wanted his government to “get on with the job”. He has hitched himself closely to both wins.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (Photo by Stefan Postles/Getty Images)

In recent weeks Turnbull has also managed to get marriage equality through the parliament. Labor front bencher Sam Dastyari, one of the opposition’s most visible campaigners, has had to resign from parliament over his connections to China and the appearance that he was pushing official Beijing policy lines. Two Labor MPs have been referred to the High Court — one being David Feeney, who came perilously close to losing his seat to the Greens in the last federal election. And Turnbull has capitulated to the inevitability of a major public inquiry into the banks.

National polls have consistently shown an appetite for change in the electorate this year and such has been the depth of the disillusionment that it’s hard to see any of this turning Turnbull’s fortunes. Indeed, the Newspoll published today shows the national two-party preferred vote stuck at 53-47 in Labor’s favour.

Today, Treasurer Scott Morrison will reveal the mid-year budget review, likely to show significant improvement in the budget performance and potentially give the government a platform to start talking about tax cuts for middle income earners over the coming years.

And in developments just this morning it looks like there will be a cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, with Senator George Brandis set to quit the Senate to be appointed High Commissioner to Britain.

This will involve some critical decisions for Turnbull, where he will need to balance the urge to push his detractors away or give them powerful roles in cabinet, keeping his enemies close.

Coming after a chaotic year for the Turnbull government, characterised by party instability, poor polling, and an uninspiring policy agenda, at least Turnbull has a series of wins to point to. The reshuffle will be crucial to determining this but at least there is the possibility that Turnbull may have a more stable platform to prosecute his agenda next year.

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