We know, now, a little more of what the election will look like. We know that it will be desperate. We know the Morrison government will do anything to win, except develop policies that address the concerns of the electorate.
The stories are already being placed. In The Daily Telegraph is spurious legal advice that says Labor’s “softened border policy” would invite criminals into Australia. The headline reads: “Foreign crims’ free pass.”
This is not new. It was the premise of Howard’s Tampa election. The difference is how naked it has become. No longer are there sly hints, warnings of “who comes”. In Scott Morrison’s Australia, asylum seekers requiring medical evacuation are predators and killers.
“Asylum seekers convicted of murder or rape could be allowed entry to Australia under Bill Shorten’s softened border protection policy,” the story reads.
“The Saturday Telegraph can reveal new legal advice received yesterday by the federal government shows the border changes pushed by Mr Shorten would not take into account an asylum seeker’s character when transfers to Australia were signed off.”
The immigration minister, David Coleman, was on hand for a quote: “Under Labor’s law, a person who has been convicted of serious offences would have to come to Australia and there is nothing the minister could do to stop it. For the alternative prime minister to support this is staggering.”
And then again on Monday, again in The Daily Telegraph: “The Morrison government is doubling down on its assertion Bill Shorten’s border protection policy will allow serious criminals entry to Australia.”
And from Coleman: “Under these laws, the boats will restart, and the government will have no discretion to protect the Australian community.”
Peter Dutton says the policy “absolutely obliterates Operation Sovereign Borders”. He said a policy that relied on boat turnbacks was “a complete joke”.
He got the headline for which he was hoping: “Peter Dutton says Labor trying to undermine border protection policy.”
It is not Bill Shorten that is “obliterating” Dutton’s system, however. It is medical opinion.
The policy behind these headlines requires that two doctors agree before an asylum seeker is brought to Australia for treatment. To suggest this undermines offshore detention is to confess that the system cannot function without ignoring medical advice.
Morrison hopes this will be a values election. He is promising curious interventions on behalf of the religious, among others. But his real values are here: his willingness to mislead, to exploit, to stoke fears and cultivate disharmony.
We know, now, a little more of what the election will look like. In its opportunism, its barefacedness, it will likely be the ugliest this country has seen.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 15, 2018 as "Mighty men of values".
This month marks 10 years since the first edition of The Saturday Paper. The paper is as audacious now as it was then: a rejection of conventional wisdom about what makes the news and who will read it.
To celebrate those 10 years - and the issue-defining journalism produced in them - we are offering all new subscribers a two-year digital subscription for the price of one. That's $298 worth of journalism for $109.
Get more of the best journalism in the country - and celebrate the success of a newspaper built on optimism.
Select your digital subscription