What’s frequently missing from the Australian political debate is a sense of historical perspective. Look at it this way. No federal government in Australia has been defeated after serving only one term in office in nearly a century. And that was at a most unusual time.

In December 1928, James Scullin led the Australian Labor Party to office from opposition. Labor then lost to the Nationalist Party (a predecessor of today’s Liberal Party) in December 1931 and Joseph Lyons became prime minister.

Labor experienced some bad luck along with much bad management. The Great Depression commenced in 1929. Moreover, during the Scullin government Labor split twice over economic policy. The economic conservatives first, followed by the left radicals.

Certainly contemporary Labor, under the leadership of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, is experiencing some midterm problems with respect to not only the cost of living but also due to the impact of the failure of the Yes case in the referendum in October with respect to placing an Indigenous voice within the Constitution. Even so, Labor has led the Coalition in all the Newspoll results since the May 2022 election.

In view of this, it came as some surprise that, on April Fools’ Day, the Nine newspapers ran an article titled “Who will Albanese pass the baton to?” Sure, the author, James Massola, conceded that Albanese was elected “with a two-term strategy to govern”. But the mere fact that Labor’s leadership succession was being discussed is indicative of the volatility in contemporary politics.

On Sky News’ Sharri program on Wednesday, former Liberal Party operative Michael Kroger flagged the possibility of the Albanese government, which has a majority of only two in the House of Representatives, going into minority government after the next election. He thought it just might be possible for the Coalition to form a minority government.

For his part, former Labor minister Graham Richardson acknowledged on the program that the prospect of the Albanese government obtaining a majority of seats after the next election was just a “50-50 chance”. But he added that “the other side of 50 is that Albo could get up”. Quite so.

In view of this, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton is not doing badly. The only Liberal Party leader who got close to dismantling an incumbent government after one term was Tony Abbott in 2010. In the end, Labor prime minister Julia Gillard was able to form a minority government with the help of two independents whose electorates recorded Coalition majorities in the Senate vote on the same day.

In spite of this, Dutton receives negative coverage in parts of the media, especially on the ABC. There are a number of left-of-centre journalists who will tolerate a Liberal Party government provided it is led by someone like Malcolm Turnbull with left-liberal views – but not the likes of John Howard, Abbott or Dutton.

An example of the media hostility towards Dutton is evident in the recently released Quarterly Essay (editor Chris Feik) by journalist Lech Blaine. It’s a book that can be judged by its cover. Namely, “Bad Cop: Peter Dutton’s Strongman Politics”.

Quarterly Essay is a publication of the left, for the left, by the left. No surprise, then, that the author has already received soft interviews on the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster and is a star attraction at literary festivals that are invariably leftist stacks.

Now, to be fair, Blaine does acknowledge that Dutton is not unelectable or as unpopular as some of his critics assume, and that he has impressive political skills. However, the portrait of the Opposition Leader contains abundant criticism fired up by what is mere abuse.

According to Blaine, former policeman Dutton is not only a “bad cop” – with the connotations that this term implies – but he also has a “resting death stare” and “views the world with the pessimism of a Russian novelist”. What’s more, the Opposition Leader is depicted as “a punisher” and “Australia’s budget Donald Trump”.

Towards the end of the essay, the author refers to “Dutton’s track record of bastardry” and describes him as a “vampire”. Blaine’s conclusion is that “the man is small and scared”.

On the non-Labor side of Australian politics, Blaine’s heroes are former Liberal Party prime minister, and constant contemporary Liberal Party critic, Malcolm Turnbull – along with Bridget Archer, the Liberal MP for the seat of Bass in northern Tasmania.

Turnbull told the author that Dutton is “not the sharpest tool in the shed” – a cliche used to fang opponents. Come to think of it, Trump recently used a similar cliche against Turnbull. The author also quotes Turnbull as describing Dutton as a “thug”. More abuse.

Blaine sees the future of the Liberal Party in the likes of Archer, who has crossed the floor on numerous occasions to vote with the Labor Party and the Greens. Archer was recently awarded the 2023 McKinnon Prize for being the political leader of the year. The prize is administered by the Susan McKinnon Foundation and the University of Melbourne.

Archer’s most prominent attempt at political leadership last year turned on her decision to defy Liberal Party policy and advocate a Yes vote in the referendum. She even campaigned in Launceston with the Prime Minister for the Yes case.

However, in Bass the Yes vote scored 38 per cent to 62 per cent for No. In this instance, Archer was a leader without followers.

It is widely believed that an opposition leader’s lot is not a happy one. In view of this Dutton has done relatively well. As Simon Benson’s report on these pages on Easter Monday revealed, support for Labor appears to have dropped in Western Australia and NSW.

Certainly, Dutton has his problems, most recently exhibited in South Australia, when backbencher Alex Antic prevailed over frontbencher Anne Ruston to head the Liberal Party’s Senate team at the next election. This was a needless distraction since both are likely to be returned – and if the Coalition happens to win, Ruston will almost certainly rank above Antic in a Dutton government.

However, precedent suggests the Coalition’s best chance of returning to office will take place around 2028.