After a tumultuous beginning to the year, with the Labor party captaincy issues dominating the headlines before a ball had even been bounced, 2012 has become one of the most evenly poised political football seasons in recent times.  Through the first six months of the season, neither Gillard’s Labor Party or Tony Abbott’s Coalition have been able to sustain a match winning lead.  Now, at the mid point of the season, we take a look at how each team is faring, the big issues thus far, the movers and shakers and what lays ahead for the remainder of the year.

Parliament House, now known as Rinehart Stadium

Australian Labor Party

Captain: Julia Gillard

Vice Captain: Wayne Swan

Number 1, but for how long?

Kevin07 seems a lifetime ago, when the Labor Party were a widely popular and unstoppable juggernaut and talk of 2 or 3 elections victories in a row seemed plausible.  After seeing off Brendan Nelson, Malcolm Turnbull and then, like a recently copulated praying mantis, their own Kevin Rudd, the ALP, with Julia Gillard at the helm, ran into the budgie smuggling Tony Abbott and only narrowly scraped home to go ‘back to back’ in 2010.  With further captaincy distractions at the beginning of this season it looked to be a long year ahead for Labor, yet they have channelled Captain Julia Gillard’s Bulldog spirit and in spite of the failed recruiting decision of Peter Slipper and delisting of rogue MP Craig Thomson, they remain in contention.

Coalition (Liberal Party, National Party)

Captain: Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott: should not be criticising anybody’s fashion sense

Vice Captain: Julie Bishop

Coalition Captain Tony Abbott has given away as many free kicks to an opposition than anyone on recent years, including empathising with Germaine Greer over Julia Gillard’s fashion sense, the ‘target on their foreheads’ remark, scoring cheap political points following the death of Margaret Whitlam, joking about the sinking of the Italian cruise ship on which 32 people died, the interest rates / inflation confusion, accusing the government of truth deficit disorder and the ‘stand over’ accusation against CFMEU Assistant Secretary John  Setka, for which he is being sued.  Despite these and other hiccups along the way, the Coalition is taking the fight for the title right up to the government.  Following Craig Thomson’s speech in May, Abbott has receded somewhat and let Christopher Pyne, his Jack-Russell-esque attack dog, off his leash to do most of the opposition barking.  Whether the Coalitions match winning lead can be sustained in the second half of the season, when the public will demand more substance and alternative policies, remains to be seen.  One thing is for sure though, that to win this race, they will have to summon more energy than they were able to when trying to sprint from the chambers on May 30.

Greens

Captain: Christine Milne (Bob Brown, ret.)

Vice Captain: Adam Bandt

The Greens have gone from strength to strength in recent years.  Their rise in popularity and consolidation played a large part in long time Captain Bob Brown announcing his retirement in April this year.  A foundation member of the party, Brown has worn the number 1 Guernsey with distinction and has earned the right to do what many never have the chance to do, leave at the top of his game.  Deputy, Christine Milne has assumed the leadership following Browns departure and youngster Adam Bandt, who won the leagues the Rising Star Award in 2010, has been rewarded with the Vice Captaincy.  The Greens have performed to expectations in 2012, with Brown’s strange ‘Aliens speech’ the only blotch on an otherwise sound year.

Katter’s Australian Party

Captain: Bob Katter

The Mad Katter of Kennedy: Gay free since Federation.

In their debut season, Queensland’s latest party of xenophobes, KAP, have gone straight for the electoral jugular and have made a stand on several key issues, such as calling for a ban on sharia law in Australia, despite the absence of its existence or indeed any serious calls for its implementation; fighting for the right of all Australians to be able to boil a billy without a permit; and stirring up homophobia during the Queensland election, a move so unpopular even Andrew Bolt was offended.  The culmination of KAP’s campaigning on these and other issues resulted in their state leader, Aidan McLindon, failing to retain his seat (which he won as a Liberal National) in the 2012 Queensland election, their only serious electoral bout thus far.

Independents – Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor & Andrew Wilkie

It has been an up and down year for the independents, while looking good in patches they have failed to string the wins together.  While Rob Oakeshott finally concluded his post election speech earlier this year, he, Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie have their work cut out for them to be there when it counts at the pointy end of the season.  Wilkie walked out on Labour after Gillard scrapped their poker machine agreement, Oakeshott’s initial support for the carbon tax floor price has evaporated and he now is unable to rescind, leaving him at the peril of the electorate, which is also where Tony Windsor finds himself.  The National Party recently announced Richard Torbay to run against Windsor in his seat of New England in 2013.  All three will have a fight on their hands to remain in the parliament come next year’s election.

THE ISSUES

Asylum seekers & refugees

Asylum seekers continue to be one of the hardest kicked political footballs in 2012, proving that the spirit of bipartisanship is not dead; it needs only a healthy dose of good old fashioned Australian racism to bring it to life.  This year sees mandatory detention enter its 20th year, only one shy of the record set by St Kilda legend Robert Harvey in 2008, his final season with the club.  Many Australians are hoping and fighting for this year to be mandatory detention’s swansong, however with the government allocating $689 million towards  ‘services’ for boat arrivals in the next financial year Treasurer Wayne Swan is unlikely to be singing about the demise of the policy any time soon.

When will the government mooove to a more humane refugee policy?

Gay marriage

Gay men in Australia would usually welcome something long and hard, but with the road to marriage equality proving to be just that, it seems their tastes have become more aligned with the straight Australian male, wanting it instead to be quick, simple and easy, much like Lara Bingle.  Even with US President Barack Obama publicly declaring his support for gay marriage, Australia’s political leaders remain steadfastly against any change, keeping them in line with such progressive thinkers as Rebecca Hagelin, Jim Wallace &the Australian Christian Lobby and serial nutter Bob Katter.

Despite members of her own party wanting to be married Julia Gillard still believes gay marriage is wong

Poker machine reform

Julia Gillard was pretty chuffed with herself when she installed one P. Slipper into the speakers chair at the end of last season.  The recruitment of Slipper meant she no longer had to rely on the support of that pesky Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie.  Thus Wilkie has reluctantly supported the government’s revised plans for mandatory pre commitment.  The scheme will see the pre commitment feature installed in all poker machines by 2016, however there will be no requirement for the player to activate it, which is a bit like having seatbelts in cars but not being mandated to use them.  Clubs Australia has recently proposed that its hospitality staff do the work of legislators, by ‘…approaching patrons displaying the signs of problematic gambling and starting a respectful conversation to inquire about the patrons’ welfare and, where necessary, offering them assistance such as self-exclusions or referral to appropriate help services’.  Unsurprisingly Wilkie has since withdrawn his support for the government, leaving Gillard’s masterstroke looking a little less masterful.

Indigenous Australia

With the closure of Princes Park in 2005 bringing about the demise of all suburban football grounds, Tony Abbott mused on Australia Day / Invasion Day this year whether Australia’s oldest political football, Aboriginal Australia, should relinquish its spiritual home in Canberra.  The ensuing riot provided ample kicking of the indigenous cause, however not by Prime Minister Julia Gillard who was left shoeless after being escorted from the restaurant where she was doing what most women would find difficult, eating whilst sitting at a table with Tony Abbott.  Former Prime Minister John Howard is believed to have offered her a spare pair, having received a set of boots on the set of Q & A some months before.

Annual Australia day celebrations in Canberra

Since the ‘Australia Day Riot’ indigenous Australia has continued to be kicked.  Five years after the Howard government’s politically desperate ‘Intervention’ in the Northern Territory, the Gillard government has extended the plan, rebranding it Stronger Futures.  Indeed strong is apt, when referring to the criticism the plan has received from the UN, Amnesty International and various Aboriginal leaders and groups.

Craig Thomson

For a relative newcomer to the political football scene Craig Thomson has sure made his mark.  In 2012 he has received a kicking of the severity that is usually reserved only for dole bludging overweight immigrant single mothers running shoddy real estate businesses.  And if a story of political corruption, prostitutes, syphoning funds for electoral campaigns and a union conspiracy is not grubby enough leave it to ACA and TT to bring it to new lows.  Whether it was he who used the now infamous credit card for sexual services or the second gunman or the underpants gnomes or the one armed man or a dingo or the Jews remains to be seen, however the name Craig Thomson will not be forgotten anytime soon.

‘It wasn’t me, it was the one armed man!’

Julian Assange & Wikileaks

Julian Assange must sometimes wish he was a former beauty therapist from the Gold Coast trying to smuggle 4kgs of marijuana into Bali or an illegal arms dealer plying his trade in Baghdad or a lawyer kidnapped in Libya, anything other than the head of Wikileaks, such has been the lack of public government support for him.  While ‘Our Schappelle’ languishes in an Indonesian prison after being found guilty of drug offences, ‘Our Julian’ will soon be extradited to Sweden for questioning over rape allegations.  From Stockholm, most within Assange’s inner circle believe his next stop is the US where he could be charged with espionage.  Given the Howard government’s mute stance on David Hicks while he was in US custody Assange has every right to fear for future if he does end up in ‘the land of the free’.

Mining

If Clive Palmer was upset about the passing of the governments mining tax he certainly has not showed it.  Following the announcement, Palmer accused the Greens of treason, linked them to an alleged CIA plot to destroy Australia’s coal industry, defamed a leading CSIRO scientist and announced his intention to do something he has obviously not done in a long time – run – against Treasurer Wayne Swan in the next federal election, all calm and rational responses to having to pay a tax on digging up the nations minerals for ultimately, personal profit.

He ‘exemplifies lust, greed, and gluttony’… and then there is Jabba the Hutt

And despite the depths that the big miners have delved into Australian soil, they have still been unable to extract and deport the racist and xenophobic attitudes of many Australians.  Even with offers of full time, highly paid work east coast Australians have reserved their right to complain about foreign workers stealing Australian jobs, even though Australians do not want them, following the government’s announcement of the migrant worker scheme.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the continent, the world’s richest woman Gina Rinehart has been buying up shares in Fairfax media.  Not content with News Ltd damaging the climate change debate, the government producing a watered down mining tax, her friendly press in the Murdoch media and around $20 billion of personal wealth, Rinehart now wants to turn her only real media ‘opposition’ into her own personal megaphone.

Carbon Tax

Carbon. Tax.  The two most feared words of the Labour Party, well, after Craig Thomson, Peter Slipper, cab charge, Kevin Rudd, election date, leadership speculation, Clive Palmer, Gina Rinehart, poll results, asylum seekers, Malaysia solution, migrant labour, electorate anger and Tony Abbott.  Many religious leaders, Mayan scholars and everyday lunatics are predicting the end of the world in December this year, however if we are to believe Tony Abbott, Western Sydney talkback callers and the Murdoch Press – and who could argue against such wisdom – Armageddon will be upon us in the form of the carbon tax on July 1st, bringing an end to civilisation as we know it.  We wait with baited breath… and for our compensation packages.

AAAHHH!!! Oh wait, it’s only a nuclear explosion, I thought it was the carbon tax…