PM turns a cor­ner but time is fast run­ning out

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boat turn-backs. Shorten in­sists he won’t buckle on this. He is con­fi­dent most Aus­tralians are ready to wel­come those refugees who have spent five years off­shore and are le­git­i­mately in need of med­i­cal care here.

The Gov­ern­ment sees it very dif­fer­ently. Even Liberal mod­er­ates who qui­etly and suc­cess­fully pushed for the re­moval of chil­dren from Nauru think the La­bor-Green-cross­bench plan for eas­ier med­i­cal trans­fers is a bad idea.

They point out this isn’t about sick kids – 100 chil­dren have been re­moved from Nauru over the past three months. Only 10 re­main, with six about to be trans­ferred to the US and four part of fam­i­lies who have cho­sen to stay. This is about the adults. More than 1000 re­main on Nauru and Manus Is­land.

The Gov­ern­ment ar­gues those adults could eas­ily “doc­tor shop” to find the re­quired two reg­is­tered medi­cos to ap­prove their trans­fer on the grounds of de­pres­sion. If there is no se­cu­rity rea­son to deny them en­try, the Minister would have to fol­low the med­i­cal ad­vice and let them in.

If the La­bor-Green-cross­bench com­bi­na­tion passes this change through the hung par­lia­ment when it re­turns in the new year, the Gov­ern­ment be­lieves peo­ple smug­glers will be able to fill their boats again. That could be an elec­tion-eve game-changer akin to the ar­rival of the Tampa in 2001. Se­nior La­bor fig­ures sus­pect that’s ex­actly what this strug­gling gov­ern­ment wants: a re­sump­tion of boat ar­rivals for purely po­lit­i­cal rea­sons.

It’s worth not­ing some 700 refugees and asy­lum seek­ers from Nauru and Manus Is­land are now in Aus­tralia, hav­ing been brought here on med­i­cal grounds. Hun­dreds more have been re­set­tled in the US. None of that has led to an in­flux of asy­lum seeker boats, al­though it’s im­pos­si­ble to know what might hap­pen if peo­ple smug­glers are able to mar­ket the fact Aus­tralia has adopted a more “com­pas­sion­ate” ap­proach.

Shorten says he won’t al­low the boats to re­sume, but he’s weighed down in this fight by La­bor’s record of fail­ure on this front when last in gov­ern­ment.

The Op­po­si­tion leader has a good nose for read­ing the pub­lic mood and re­spond­ing to it. He’s out­played the Coali­tion on com­pany tax cuts, banks, gay mar­riage and so on. We’ll soon see if he’s also in tune with the elec­torate on refugees, or whether he’s struck the wrong chord.

Mor­ri­son will try to keep the fo­cus on border pro­tec­tion and na­tional se­cu­rity be­tween now and the elec­tion. It sure beats Liberal in­fight­ing.

Par­lia­ment may have risen for the year, but no one is putting their thongs on just yet. The Prime Minister still has some dif­fi­cult hur­dles to clear be­fore he clocks off.

Mor­ri­son has promised a de­ci­sion be­fore Christ­mas on whether to shift the Aus­tralian Em­bassy in Is­rael to Jerusalem, which will be dif­fi­cult to spin into a pos­i­tive which­ever way he goes. He’ll up­set In­done­sia and oth­ers if he moves the em­bassy. He’ll up­set con­ser­va­tives in his ranks if he backs away.

The PM has also promised to re­lease the Gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to the Rud­dock re­view into pro­tect­ing re­li­gious free­doms, which it has been sit­ting on since May. If the de­bate over gay kids at re­li­gious schools is any guide, a plan to leg­is­late the rights of Chris­tians, Jews and Mus­lims will open a can of worms.

Then there’s a mid-year Bud­get up­date to be de­liv­ered amid signs of weaker eco­nomic growth.

De­spite some suc­cess this week, Mor­ri­son still has a lot to do and not enough time to do it.

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