As the saying goes, it’s unwise to make predictions, especially about the future.

At the beginning of 2023, a clear majority of members of the Canberra press gallery were of the view that Anthony Albanese and the Labor government were riding high and set to be in office for at least two terms, perhaps more. Few hold this position now as the Albanese government approaches its midterm, with an election scheduled for mid-May next year.

Around the same time, it was the almost universal view among political commentators that the Coalition in general and Liberal Party leader Peter Dutton in particular were in a disastrous state – unelectable in the view of many. Strength was given to this position by Labor’s victory in the Aston by-election on April Fool’s Day last year. It was the first occasion in a century that an incumbent federal government had won a seat from an opposition in a by-election.

Not long after, Dutton announced the Liberal Party would be advocating a No vote to enshrine an Indigenous voice to parliament and the executive in the Constitution. This decision was not only widely condemned in the Canberra press gallery as being bad policy, it was also regarded as bad politics. The Nationals had taken a similar stance some months earlier.

Perhaps the most vocal critic of Dutton was David Crowe – the chief political correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, who is a regular panellist on the ABC TV Insiders program. On April 19 last year, he wrote that “the opposition leader has seen no dividend from his decision to fight hard on the Indigenous voice”.

According to Crowe, “the approach is certainly keeping Dutton and his colleagues in touch with their base – by pointing their aircraft towards the ground and hitting the accelerator”. The Nine journalist concluded with this warning for Dutton: “The only rational response is to change course; otherwise, the ground awaits.”

This was hopeless advice. Whatever the merits or demerits of the Yes case, Dutton had little option but to oppose it. For starters, he had to appeal to the Coalition’s base. Moreover, the Albanese government had not done enough to explore the case for Yes. As well, there had not been a constitutional convention leading up to the referendum, which had been the situation with the 1999 referendum on the republic.

The government’s position on the voice was that it was a generous offer by Indigenous Australians to have special access to proffer advice to the government.

But it was more than this. In a speech at the Australian National University last October, Indigenous leader Stan Grant said: “The voice was never a modest ask, it was monumental. Perhaps this was the opportunity lost by the Yes campaign, to not let the voice truly speak.”

It is far from clear that, if the Liberal Party had supported the Yes case, the proposal would have received an overall majority in a majority of states. After all, most referendums go down and Labor has presided over just one referendum victory. Agree with his stance or not, the Opposition Leader made the correct political decision.

The Guardian Australia’s Katharine Murphy, who is also an Insiders regular, wrote on October 14: “Dutton’s decision to say no, and help flood the zone with shit, was certainly part of the reason public support for the voice tanked.”

This misses the point that backing for Yes in the polls was never high enough. It needed an initial lead better than 60 per cent to 40 per cent since support for referendum proposals invariably declines during the campaign. Moreover, it’s just barracking to maintain that No succeeded because of the alleged misinformation and disinformation of Dutton and the Coalition.

The defeat of Yes has damaged the Prime Minister, in the short term at least. And it has strengthened Dutton’s position. Many commentators have overlooked the fact that the Opposition Leader’s smartest move was to make the (then) backbencher senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price the opposition Indigenous Australians spokeswoman.

It was also brave because the resignation from the shadow ministry by Julian Leeser, a Yes supporter, created a Liberal Party vacancy. But Dutton replaced Leeser with Price, who sits in the Nationals partyroom – a decision capable of upsetting fellow Liberal MPs hoping for advancement. Price became a leading No campaigner assisted by Liberal Party senator Kerrynne Liddle, who was also promoted by Dutton.

Certainly, Dutton and his colleagues are in a far better position than they were when Crowe wrote them off less than a year ago. It remains to be seen how the Liberal Party will perform in the forthcoming by-election in the southeast Melbourne seat of Dunkley. It has been a Labor seat in recent years, so a Liberal victory would be a surprise.

The Albanese government faces numerous problems with respect to the cost of living. Also, its increased regulation with respect to areas such as industrial relations, aged care and workplace harassment will be resisted by many in small business. And then there is rising energy prices and more besides.

A recent Newspoll suggests that the Coalition’s position is improving in NSW and Queensland. And also among women, after many female voters deserted the Coalition in the 2022 election. But Labor remains in front on a two-party preferred measurement and Albanese is still preferred prime minister.

In addition, Victoria remains a weakness for the Coalition despite the fact the Victorian Labor government presides over a massive state debt along with a bloated public service, funded by taxation hikes. Victoria is Australia’s most left-wing state with a strong Socialist Left faction in Labor and a significant support for the Greens party in Melbourne, which preferences Labor over the Coalition.

Meanwhile the teals (who present as independent) hold seats that were recently Liberal in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.

The opposition leader’s lot is rarely a happy one. But at least Dutton is in the pilot’s seat and not experiencing much turbulence. Moreover, contrary to the predictions of some (false) prophets, he has not seen reason to change course.