All Shorten had to do was sit by in a rea­son­ably calm and or­dered mood but in­stead he handed Scott Mor­ri­son a ‘get out of jail free card’.

Why did Bill Shorten do it? Why did the Op­po­si­tion Leader de­cide to stick La­bor’s col­lec­tive head above the para­pet on na­tional se­cu­rity and bor­der pro­tec­tion?

When all Shorten has to do is sit by in a rea­son­ably calm and or­dered mood, he hands Scott Mor­ri­son a get-out-of-jail-free card.

This isn’t go­ing to sud­denly re­v­erse the Coali­tion’s woes or change the prospect of a La­bor elec­tion win next year but it’s the sort of po­lit­i­cal judg­ment that will raise real ques­tions and give Scott Mor­ri­son hope.

Amid par­lia­men­tary tech­ni­cal chaos — with un­cer­tainty about votes on the floor of the house and the Coali­tion’s fail­ure to get through its agenda, such as pow­er­gen­er­a­tion divest­ment — Shorten made things look messy for the ALP as well.

It was fairly sim­ple; the Coali­tion was claim­ing new laws were nec­es­sary to al­low se­cu­rity bod­ies to break into en­crypted mes­sages to fight ter­ror­ists, gang­sters and pe­dophiles, and the Greens and in­de­pen­dents were seek­ing to get all re­main­ing asy­lum-seek­ers off Nauru and Manus Is­land with med­i­cal cer­tifi­cates.

The two is­sues weren’t linked and there was a rea­son­able ar­gu­ment for the ALP to say amend­ments were nec­es­sary on the en­cryp­tion laws to pre­vent over­reach. What’s more, La­bor had as­sisted the Greens and in­de­pen­dents the day be­fore to try to use par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dure to get the mo­tion on Nau­ruan evacu- ations through the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and it failed. There was room for an hon­ourable with­drawal on bor­der pro­tec­tion.

Yet on the last day of par­lia­men­tary sit­tings for 2018, when Mor­ri­son and the Coali­tion had been bat­tered for days, La­bor handed the be­sieged leader a life­line.

By lin­ing up with the Greens on changes to bor­der pro­tec­tion and ap­pear­ing to op­pose se­cu­rity laws the se­cu­rity forces said were nec­es­sary, La­bor may have ap­pealed to left-wing vot­ers but played to Coali­tion strengths.

Mor­ri­son and At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Chris­tian Porter were able to la­bel the moves a “cheap po­lit­i­cal stunt” while Christo­pher Pyne went for the vul­gar jugu­lar and ac­cused La­bor of not want­ing to act against ter­ror­ists, gang­sters and pe­dophiles.

There was too much of par­lia­men­tary tac­tics in La­bor’s ap­proach and not enough of end-ofyear broad pic­ture for La­bor to cap­i­talise on the Coali­tion’s ob­vi­ous woes. Mor­ri­son was handed a script he had writ­ten years ago on bor­der pro­tec­tion, chil­dren in de­ten­tion, drown­ing ba­bies, sink­ing boats and bil­lions lost in bud­get dol­lars.

If Mor­ri­son looks un­com­fort­able as Prime Min­is­ter and lim­ited as Lib­eral leader be­cause of in­ex­pe­ri­ence or his pre­de­ces­sor’s sab­o­tage, the one area where he looks con­fi­dent is on bor­der pro­tec­tion.

La­bor was on safer ground sug­gest­ing Mor­ri­son was over­reach­ing on the en­cryp­tion laws but even ALP min­is­ters know how peo­ple-smug­glers mis­rep­re­sent any leg­isla­tive change — not just the whole­sale changes made un­der Kevin Rudd in 2008 — and the Prime Min­is­ter had an ar­gu­ment when he said the peo­plesmug­glers would be “sell­ing tick­ets again”.

The last day of par­lia­ment isn’t go­ing to save the Coali­tion, but it’s a wor­ry­ing sign for La­bor.


Bill Shorten, left, and Scott Mor­ri­son at a char­ity Christ­mas present col­lec­tion at Par­lia­ment House yes­ter­day

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