Sunday Herald Sun - - Opinion -

ONE of the big­gest traps in pol­i­tics is un­der­es­ti­mat­ing your op­po­nent. And its com­pan­ion er­ror is think­ing you are over the line and have won, when the cam­paign is still far from over.

This week we’ve seen both of these mis­cal­cu­la­tions man­i­fest in Can­berra and it is worth un­der­stand­ing why.

The Lib­eral Party has al­ways thought Bill Shorten’s com­par­a­tive lack of per­sonal ap­peal would be his un­do­ing. They’ve al­ways ex­pected his ri­val An­thony Al­banese to come back and, like Mal­colm Turn­bull, seize of­fice on the back of some­one else’s hard work in Op­po­si­tion. But that hasn’t come to pass.

Of all the polling in­di­ca­tors, “pre­ferred PM” is the most ir­rel­e­vant. In the end, the only in­di­ca­tor pro­fes­sional an­a­lysts ever track is the pri­mary vote and, for many months, La­bor’s has slowly, but very steadily, risen. The Coali­tion, on the other hand, has strug­gled to hit a num­ber with a four in front of it, which is es­sen­tial if they’re to have a shot at a win, such is the dis­ci­pline of Greens votes end­ing up in La­bor’s ledger, via pref­er­ences.

Un­der­es­ti­mat­ing Shorten has been one of the Lib­eral Party’s worst mis­takes of this term; and think­ing they are too far ahead to lose has been La­bor’s.

Take the fight this week over bor­der pro­tec­tion. Shorten has al­ways ap­peared to un­der­stand the dam­age in­flicted on his side by the ar­rival of 50,000 asy­lum seek­ers in the Rudd-Gil­lard years. He’s care­fully cre­ated the pub­lic per­cep­tion that he’s in lock-step with the Coali­tion on mat­ters of na­tional se­cu­rity. That is, un­til some smart “strate­gists” in­side La­bor ap­pear to have told him they’re so far ahead he can now give the Left a win over the is­sue of med­i­cal evac­u­a­tions from Nauru and Manus Is­land to Aus­tralia.

Oth­er­wise, how can you ex­plain his de­ci­sion this week to do so?

This is not the move of a sure­footed Op­po­si­tion Leader who knows that he’s play­ing a strate­gic game against an op­po­nent with more po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal on na­tional se­cu­rity than La­bor could ever hope for.

This is not a de­ci­sion from some­one who’s aware from the sen­si­tive in­tel­li­gence brief­ings that any sig­nal of soft­ness might restart the boats. Ei­ther Shorten is fac­ing a re­volt at his coming Na­tional Con­fer­ence (and there were re­ports yes­ter­day that the Left will push to adopt med­i­cal evac­u­a­tions as part of their bind­ing plat­form) or he’s think­ing he’s got the elec­tion al­ready won, and so can do this now. Per­haps it’s a bit of both.

But how­ever it is ex­plained, it is deadly; fig­u­ra­tively, in po­lit­i­cal terms; and lit­er­ally, as it would start up the peo­ple smug­gler’s trade yet again, and that will cost lives.

Think­ing that you can play with the three el­e­ments that stopped the boats un­der John Howard, and stopped them again un­der Tony Ab­bott, is an ut­ter fan­tasy.

Un­der Howard, it was the in­tro­duc­tion of tem­po­rary pro­tec­tion visas, so that boat peo­ple who got to Aus­tralia couldn’t stay here per­ma­nently. It was off­shore pro­cess­ing in places like Manus and Nauru. And most im­por­tantly, it was turn­ing boats around so that boat peo­ple never got be­yond In­done­sia to main­land Aus­tralia.

Al­ready, we know that La­bor has com­mit­ted to scrap­ping TPVs. They claim they’re still pre­pared to turn boats around but Rudd said that too and never had the guts. That just leaves off­shore pro­cess­ing as the last rem­nant of the three el­e­ments of Aus­tralia’s suc­cess­ful bor­der pro­tec­tion reg­i­men. But not any more. By sid­ing with the Greens in the last par­lia­men­tary week of the year to de­mand new laws to force gov­ern­ments to bring to Aus­tralia any­one deemed by two doc­tors to re­quire med­i­cal evac­u­a­tion, La­bor has ef­fec­tively ended bi­par­ti­san sup­port for off­shore de­ten­tion and, in do­ing so, told peo­ple smug­glers very clearly that a change in gov­ern­ment means a change in re­solve. If La­bor is elected in May next year, they’re well and truly, back in busi­ness.

La­bor has set its stan­dard by favour­ing manda­tory med­i­cal re­moval to Aus­tralia. And the stan­dard that you de­clare in op­po­si­tion is the one that you im­ple­ment in gov­ern­ment. If con­sti­pa­tion is enough to get you off Nauru, there is no mean­ing­ful off­shore pro­cess­ing and Aus­tralia’s bor­der pro­tec­tion reg­i­men col­lapses. Are we re­ally ready for the con­se­quences? Look at Europe — are we ready for that?

Look at poll af­ter poll on im­mi­gra­tion and the feel­ing that it’s out of con­trol — is that the com­mu­nity sen­ti­ment we want here? And look at La­bor’s record when last in of­fice, es­pe­cially the 1000 deaths at sea — are we re­ally ready for that Aus­tralia, all over again?

Do­ing what’s right in the na­tional in­ter­est, and stand­ing res­o­lute, is the dif­fer­ence be­tween an op­po­si­tion leader, and a prime min­is­ter. This is Shorten’s real test, and right now, he’s let­ting in­ter­nal voices crowd out what’s best for Aus­tralia. PETA CREDLIN IS A SUN­DAY HER­ALD SUN COLUM­NIST

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