FEDERAL politics will be dominated by the focus on this year’s election, which promises to provide an uncompromising contest and answer some lingering and intriguing questions about the nation’s future.
The biggest question on everybody’s lips at the moment is: what date will the actual ballot be held?
Will the ALP call an early election if their polling continues to improve, or will the vote take place later in the year, allowing the government to manage a full three-year term and therefore achieve something that once seemed impossible?
Perhaps other factors will trigger an early election, like former speaker Peter Slipper’s potential resignation to protect his lucrative retirement benefits accumulated over 23 years as an MP, in the face of a potential court conviction for alleged misuse of taxpayer funds in Cabcharge payments.
There’s no question about when the election campaigning actually starts because most analysts believe this hung parliament has produced, above all else - including shock, horror and surprise - endless electioneering.
The battle lines were drawn immediately after rural independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott decided after 17 days of deliberations and negotiations to go with the ALP, over the Coalition, to form the delicate power-sharing arrangement that underpins this current government, which includes appeasing the Greens in the Senate.
The election will also unravel a few other curious dilemmas engaging political observers.
Can the ALP retain government and recover from the record low opinion polling and unprecedented unpopularity experienced during this term of office?
Can the Coalition win voter confidence and prove they’re a competent, alternative government?
Will Tony Abbott replace Julia Gillard and become prime minister and what type of leader will he actually be?
Will any inspiring new policies and programs be launched by any party, to entice, inspire and sway voters?
What kind of influence will the independents have on this election result, if any?
Can the Greens gain any more ground with voters or have they peaked?
How hard will the PM’s now infamous pre-election carbon tax broken promise come back to haunt her party and can Mr Abbott get through to the election without suffering a monumental public gaffe?
And finally, how much more vitriol, scandal and controversy will the election campaign produce for the voting public to digest, compared to the raft of cringe-worthy moments we’ve already seen since the 2010 election?
For me, I’m especially looking forward to seeing how the Coalition utilises and converts into campaign advertising, the large volume of material generated by the ALP when its senior party leaders publicly savaged former PM Kevin Rudd with reckless abandon during the ugly, heated leadership challenge about 12 months ago.
I suspect those commercials will make Kevin Rudd’s infamous temper tantrums and bad language on the YouTube video that went viral ahead of his resignation as Foreign Minister, which helped prompt the leadership vote, look and sound like a Mariah Carey film-clip.
I’m also looking forward to seeing how agriculture and rural Australians are treated in the various election promises.
Canberra has been unusually quiet in recent weeks but that’s only just the calm before the storm.
Most politicians and their entourages have been camped on the sidelines gathering their breath after another intense political year in 2012, before launching every ounce of energy into this year’s campaign.
The lights went on in some parliamentary offices this week as the PM served up a taste of the political battle ahead, with her move to parachute high profile candidate Nova Peris into a NT Senate seat.
In laying out her reasons, Ms Gillard said an indigenous Australian has never served as a federal Labor representative and she’s determined to change that at the 2013 election.
“I have asked the Federal National Executive of the Labor Party to work with me on achieving this,” she said.
“Nova was the first Aboriginal Australian to win an Olympic gold medal.
“With the support of the people of the Northern Territory, I want her to be the first Aboriginal woman to sit in the federal parliament.”
The “captain’s pick”, to elevate Ms Peris as the preferred candidate, and bypass the party’s normal pre-selection processes, looks good on the surface but has invoked more uncomfortable internals division for the ALP.
It rudely sidelined the ALP’s current NT Senator Trish Crossin who has been a federal politician since 1998 with a track record of fighting hard for social justice, including women’s rights and indigenous issues.
Grassroots party members were also disgruntled at having their democratic rights, to choose a candidate from within their own ranks, trampled on by the party leader’s own agenda.
By her own admission, Ms Peris is not an ALP member yet, but claims she and her family have always voted for the party.
Political analysts say the move responds to last year's poor NT election result which saw a clear move against Labor by indigenous Australians, as the Country Liberal Party won office, ending the ALP’s 11-year reign.
But when Ms Peris starts doorknocking on the campaign trail, she’ll soon discover that she’s not the solution to Labor’s dilemma in the NT that the PM seems to be promising, and is part of the actual problem.
She’ll also find out that scoring goals in politics is a lot different to scoring goals on the hockey field but some things are similar.
Voters, like sports fans, like to see their team representatives score goals and perform in the minor leagues before earning promotion, especially if they’re going to depose a veteran performer who’s scored a few goals for them over the years.
Ms Peris will be perceived as a new candidate with a big reputation but one that’s been shoved down voters’ necks by the PM’s “determination” to govern how she sees fit.
“I believe Nova's selection is a matter of national significance, as well as a matter of significance for the Northern Territory,” Ms Gillard said in her announcement.
Those reasons also sound eerily similar to the justifications used for closing down the live cattle trade overnight - accompanied by scant regard for existing processes, while ignoring practical realities and the true feelings and opinions of people who actually live and work in the NT.
Like the live cattle trade’s snap closure, Ms Peris’ sudden Senate elevation can also be viewed as another own-goal by the ALP.
As an experienced elite athlete, she would fully understand the importance of making a good start and playing well at home - but as an inexperienced politician she may not comprehend how far behind she’s fallen on the score-board, while approaching the starting gate.
No doubt NT voters will feel the same as many others around the country who say they’ve already made up their minds how they’re going to vote at this upcoming election.
They would have most probably determined that vote shortly after June 6, 2011, when the ALP suspended the live cattle trade to Indonesia and ignored their needs in the name of “national interest”, in making a hasty and politically expedient response to a television program of questionable credibility.
What happens between now and the election will make little or no difference to their final vote.
And perhaps - like the Coalition - they’d prefer that time was called now so they can express that opinion, rather than suffer through potentially another six to nine months of wasted game time.