I very much doubt that Julia Gillard is deeply, internally committed to off-shore processing of asylum-seekers. She is a left-winger by origin. In any event, it is hard to find evidence of deep commitment to anything in the Prime Minister or her team.
That leads me to ask “What the hell is she doing?”
The Liberal Party will never attempt to win an election on industrial relations, because it knows that the Labor Party has the electorate’s trust on that issue. If industrial relations policy is the issue at an election, Labor wins.
The same thing can be said, in reverse, about refugee policy. If the question at the election is who is best able to deal with boat people, or, to put it with more piquancy, “border protection”, the Coalition wins.
That question is barely contestable for the Labor Party competently led and directed. At the moment, winning on the point is impossible. Why do they insist on trying?
Obviously, if there had been some disaster in the refugee policy area, the Labor Party would have to deal with it, but you can never plan for those sorts of events. The worst that would happen if there was onshore processing is that, possibly, there would be more people trying to come by boat.
Tony Abbott could scream about those numbers, but they lack the shock value of the attempt at the Malaysia deal and the spectacular failure of it. Moreover, the attempt and the failure signal to the electorate that the Government considers it a critical issue fairly to be considered as crucial to the success or failure of the Government as a whole.
Many commentators have observed that Abbott is dictating policy from opposition. Nothing is a clearer demonstration of the truth of that observation than the malaise in which the Labor Party, purportedly a social democratic party committed to compassionate treatment of the weak, finds itself by insisting on sending vulnerable people to a third world country that likes to beat people with sticks.