Leaders clear way for fresh agenda in 2020

Katina Curtis, AAP Senior Political Writer
The major parties appear to have adopted the decluttering principles made famous by Marie Kondo

New year, new you is the promise that sells so many gym memberships and fills charity shops with unwanted clothes each summer.

But we all know real change can't just happen with the turn of a calendar page; you need a bit of preparation.

The nation's leaders are doing that work to head into the politically quiet summer period and onto the new year with a clean slate and the kind of bounce in one's step that comes from knowing you're on top of things.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has spent the week making long-awaited announcements about getting money to infrastructure projects faster.

Every state is getting a piece of the pie - some more than others; Queensland will gobble up a whole third - so there are plenty of hi-vis photo opportunities to show people how well the government is getting on with its job.

Morrison is banking on new jobs created by these road and rail projects starting two and three years earlier than planned, plus his tax cuts and spending in drought-stricken communities, to provide a fillip to the still-sluggish economy.

The details of all this won't be clear until just before Christmas in the mid-year budget update, when most minds will have turned to shopping lists and ham legs.

Morrison's language, and that of his ministers, has been all about being calm and sober in approaching economic matters - in contrast to that Labor mob who would have him "rush around with our arms flapping in the air in some sort of panic crisis".

The point he hasn't conceded in all this, though, is that bringing forward some of the planned $100 billion infrastructure spend is exactly what Labor - and the Reserve Bank, the big banks, economists and business - has been asking for.

Morrison and his Attorney-General Christian Porter also used major speeches to set out the agenda the government will take into 2020.

One criticism that has been levelled at the coalition since the election - and even before it - is they don't seem to understand the point of why they are in government.

Well, now they have a laundry list of things to be getting on with.

Industrial relations changes to simplify awards, tackling the skills and training crisis, using digital technology to streamline regulatory processes, speeding up approvals for major projects, protecting religious freedoms, overhauling defamation and freedom of information laws, rooting out dodgy unions, and making it easier for one-person businesses to hire staff.

It might not be a sexy agenda to most, but it is an agenda.

At the same time, the government has been engaging in what Tony Abbott once described as cleaning off the barnacles.

Notably, it jettisoned a controversial aspect of its robo-debt program, just before the scheme was set to face a court challenge.

More subtly, the prime minister seems to be trying to find a way around the anger at his approach to climate change, explicitly naming the issue among the oft-cited "global headwinds" in his big speech to the Business Council of Australia.

Meanwhile, Labor has been doing a spot of policy KonMariing.

That's the popular decluttering method expounded by Japanese cleaning guru Marie Kondo.

Franking credits, hefty climate action, negative gearing: do they spark joy?

Labor hasn't quite emerged yet from the point of dumping everything in a pile and sorting through it, but leader Anthony Albanese's second "vision statement" on Friday is expected to shed some more light on its direction.

He's said he wants to change the party's core focus to one of aspiration, growth and jobs (but not "jobs and growth", that's a Liberal slogan).

Albanese is expected to use Friday's speech to expand on this with a discussion of the state of the economy.

He'll likely remind the prime minister of the global financial crisis' existence - after Morrison dismissed it this week as a lesser threat than the end of the mining boom - and rebut the accusation Labor acted like headless chooks.

While he doesn't want to be rushed into outlining a full agenda with at least two years still left until the election, it's an important step to defining the new-look Labor in voters' minds heading into the new year.