Same-sex marriage and a niggling energy problem: How Malcolm Turnbull made it through 2017

Same-sex marriage and a niggling energy problem: How Malcolm Turnbull made it through 2017

Same-sex marriage and a niggling energy problem: How Malcolm Turnbull made it through 2017

Updated 8 December 2017, 0:15 AEDT

If the Government was going to fall as a result of a vote in the house, it would have been this week.

Some months back, Malcolm Turnbull struck back at his doubters.

"Just because you don't know the plan, doesn't mean there isn't one," he told a gathering in Canberra defiantly.

Well, for much of this year, that plan's been very hard to see for the dust stirred up by political barn fights, messy process and internal disquiet.

But throughout, the Prime Minister's two biggest priorities have been to settle on an energy policy and resolve the same-sex marriage question once and for all.

Both have been toxic subjects within the Coalition; they've had long political half-lives.

On energy policy, Mr Turnbull first turned to the Chief Scientist. Alan Finkel's clean energy target initially found prime ministerial favour.

When his partyroom threatened revolt, the PM changed tack. He landed upon the national energy guarantee (NEG), which, when sprinkled with a bit of magical modelling on power bills, placated his mob.

Though it's yet to pass muster with the premiers, the NEG is the closest thing we've had to a bipartisan energy policy since Mr Turnbull sought to swing behind Kevin Rudd's emissions trading scheme.

A Commonwealth, state and territory leaders' meeting in April will decide whether the NEG lives.

Same-sex marriage had to be resolved

On same-sex marriage, the PM began the year unshifted from his election promise to hold a plebiscite.

But with Labor dogged in its opposition to a having one, there was stalemate. Yet leaving the rainbow issue untended was untenable.

And while Mr Turnbull celebrates what will go down as a signature achievement of the 45th Parliament, its resolution has three unlikely champions: Peter Dutton, Mathias Cormann and Dean Smith. They were the proposer, the negotiator and the legislator.

When Mr Dutton proposed the postal survey earlier this year as a way of keeping faith with the PM's plebiscite promise, it was greeted with derision.

A non-binding, non-compulsory, glorified opinion poll certainly didn't seem to be the appropriate solution to a vexed piece of social policy.

And certainly, no-one would've seriously predicted an 80 per cent turn-out, even if its eventual finding of 62 per cent support for same-sex marriage closely mirrored pollsters' assessments.

The postal survey was an unexpected triumph in participation, even if it was driven by public frustration at the constipated political class.

And having come out in such numbers to vote, it became an electoral obligation to enact.

This became Senator Cormann's job. He worked behind the scenes with Labor's Penny Wong to ensure quick passage of a bill Senator Smith had quietly and thoroughly designed.

Mr Dutton and Senator Cormann, the PM's conservative praetorian guard, are no rainbow warriors, but being ultimate political pragmatists they knew this had to be concluded.

And Senator Smith may have been a latecomer to the same-sex marriage cause, but he showed rare courage in being its deliverer.

To these three, Mr Turnbull should be grateful.

Joyce helped Turnbull make it to the end of the year

He ends the week, the last sitting week of the year, with a winner's grin and silent relief.

The citizenship crisis that has ripped through parliamentary ranks imperilled the Government's hold on power.

If Government was to fall as a result of a vote on the floor of the House, it would've been this week.

Wednesday's tied vote on a bulk referral of nine MPs to the High Court showed how vital Barnaby Joyce's emphatic win in the New England by-election was.

Mr Joyce's record-fast restoration to the front bench just hours before, allowed the Labor motion to be parried. But only just.

And though the citizenship dramas continue into next year, it will be Bill Shorten who has most to lose.

It's been a year of living dangerously for Malcolm Turnbull. But he survives.