Between Dastyari and dual citizenship, is Shorten's bull run ending?

When Malcolm Turnbull said "I have never had more fun in my life," it betrayed a certain truth for leaders in these turbulent times - merely holding on to the job, is some kind of victory.

On paper however, it should be Bill Shorten who is the happier of the two men, given his side's commanding lead.

But 2017 has become a little rocky towards the end and Labor's cooler heads know the most recent polls hint at a narrowing.

What's worrying them - and encouraging Turnbull - are the troubles that could yet bring Labor back to the field in the early part of 2018.

But panic in Labor's ranks, there is not. Even after Turnbull seized the initiative on a banking royal commission last week, denying Shorten one of his key promises.

"Look, we've had a good year," said one Labor frontbencher, "even if things have become messy right at the end, but that's politics, things happen, not everything rolls the way you want it to, but I think looking back at 2017, they've been terrible, we've been focused".

The danger for Labor one counsel's, is not messiness, which he says will be quickly forgotten, but rather, hubris - the assumption that the government cannot recover.

Labor's immediate headaches are Sam Dastyari and the dual citizenship fiasco. The former is self-inflicted - even if the question of who leaked classified surveillance details, remains the subject of dark conjecture in Canberra.

At least one Shorten backer believes this was calibrated to nullify the period known as "the killing season".

"The Dastyari hit was clearly timed to give both Turnbull and the government, breathing space to get it to the the new year," the Labor insider said.

The NSW Labor senator has achieved a rare double - being demoted twice over essentially the same incident.

Then there's the constitutional prohibition on dual citizenship under section 44.

Until a few days ago, this had done far more damage to the Coalition than Labor, as it ensnared ministers Matt Canavan, Fiona Nash, and Barnaby Joyce; the Senate president, Stephen Parry; and backbencher, John Alexander.

But with the citizenship register now tabled, Barnaby Joyce welcomed back to the fold with a strengthened mandate, the unmistakable scent of schadenfreude is mixed with an uptick in morale on the government side.

It is now Labor struggling to defend a slew of its own MPs caught up in this unprecedented drama.

Already one frontbencher, Katy Gallagher, has asked the Senate to refer her case to the High Court to end the uncertainty.

Another, the accident-prone former minister, David Feeney has since done likewise.

Shorten had given himself no wriggle-room to accommodate these developments, steadfastly declaring "there's no cloud over any of our people".

Understandably, the Coalition is on the war path after such high-minded ALP tut-tutting.

Taken together, the two controversies, Labor's embarrassing admission that it has a number of questionable citizenship cases of its own, and the Dastyari-phone tap affair, have certainly taken the gloss off the opposition's hull.

While most in Canberra accept that Dastyari's solicitation of donations, travel costs, and other dubious contacts to Chinese interests have ended his career, it is Shorten the government really wants to wound.

The consensus among Labor frontbenchers contacted is that neither issue is helpful but neither are they sufficient to change the calculus of Australian politics.

While there is some disquiet over Shorten's aggressive approach, dubbed by one "total politics", there is also a recognition, grudging in some cases, that he has united his team, driven it to the front, and kept it there.

But still another warned that today's calmness would "evaporate in a flash if we let the Coalition back into the race".

This story Between Dastyari and dual citizenship, is Shorten's bull run ending? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.