6 September 2011
The brinkmanship over asylum seekers has become a bad game of poker.
Julia Gillard keeps trying to bluff Tony Abbott.
But she's holding a rubbish hand and he's sitting on a straight flush.
And everyone knows it.
After the High Court's ruling, Gillard challenged Abbott to accept offshore processing was now off-limits without legislative change.
He wouldn't accept that interpretation but went one better, offering to back changes to the Migration Act anyway.
The Prime Minister then challenged Tony Abbott to be briefed by government officials (an offer usually made when a government wants to accuse the other side of not cooperating).
Again, the Opposition Leader went one better.
He accepted the briefings, but only if the officials came to him...in Brisbane.
The problem for the Prime Minister is she doesn't actually have a policy card to play at the moment.
Labor is torn over which way to turn on an issue that for years has deeply divided its blue collar and inner-city constituencies.
It's likely to stick with a tough approach, water down the Migration Act and send asylum seekers offshore.
Whether it's Malaysia, Nauru, Manus Island or a combination remains unclear.
But onshore processing alone is most unlikely.
As a number of Ministers privately concede, outrage from the Left is far preferable to allowing Tony Abbott scope to attack Labor for having a soft policy.
The High Court ruling was bad enough for Labor.
But the way Tony Abbott has played this issue over the past week has rubbed salt in the wound.
He's looked consistent, cooperative, even statesman-like.
By contrast, the government was clearly shocked by the Court's decision and has no plan B.
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