Mungo MacCallum is one of Australia's foremost political journalists, commentators and prolific book-writers. He has been writing on Canberra goings-on probably much longer than he'd care to admit. While seen in some circles as being a bit of a leftie, we like the way he can get stuck into both sides of politics with venom and verve when it's needed and they deserve it. Besides, we once had an advertiser who refused to read a copy of the Indie because Mungo's column was in it. He's been with us ever since.
Forget last week's hysteria about breakthroughs and putting people before politics - reopening detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island will not stop the boats, and nobody really believes that it will. The asylum seekers don't; they say they will continue to risk the trip because even indefinite detention under Australian protection has to be better than the camps of Malaysia or Indonesia, and there is at least a chance of eventually making it to the mainland.
Julia Gillard's government doesn't; all their advice, on which they have relied in the past, is that Nauru was a trick that might have worked once, but won't work a second time - the smugglers and their customers have woken up to it.
Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison don't; they say Nauru is just one part of the solution, the others being temporary protection visas and, most crucially, turning back the boats and without the other two policies in place failure is assured.
And Angus Houston and his fellow panellists don't; Nauru and Manus Island is only intended as a stop gap, a short-term circuit breaker while the real answer is a regional arrangement for which an improved version of the Malaysian solution would form a good starting point. In practice all we have done is committed to spending vast amounts of money in what may well be a vain attempt to make Nauru and Manus Island simultaneously habitable and repulsive, but we are still just as far from solving the problem as we were a fortnight ago.
And even in political terms nothing much has changed. Our breathless media have, of course, portrayed it as a giant backdown for Julia Gillard and a spectacular triumph for Tony Abbott: but just hang on a minute. The fact is that Gillard put Nauru on the table last December, as subject to which we shall return. But Abbott refused to touch her compromise deal because it did not include TPVs and turning back the boats, and it did include the Malaysian solution. Now he has flip-flopped; he has embraced Nauru, although his other measure have been firmly rejected by both the Houston committee and the government. And Malaysia, as we have seen, is still very much part of the ongoing policy.
Abbott, of course, can be expected to continue to reject any attempt to include Malaysia, although the panel has made it very clear that without it, the whole thing will fall apart; simply cherry-picking the bit Abbott likes (Nauru) will solve absolutely nothing. Which is, presumably Abbott's aim: when the boats keep coming, as they will, he will announce that the government has failed yet again and that he, and only he, has the magic formula.
And he will be vastly encouraged by his allies in the media, especially (of course) in The Australian. While some of its commentators expressed reservations and even doubts about the efficacy of his slogans to actually achieve results in the real world, none had the slightest hesitation in acclaiming his complete vindication as a political tactician, and they were unanimous in blaming Gillard for everything.
The most unpleasant and absurd instance of this rewriting of history came in the Tuesday Australian under the headline: "The 338 who died as cabinet wavered". In what was billed as the "inside story" Dennis Shanahan (who else?) and Joe Kelly revealed that on October 13 last year the immigration minister Chris Bowen had put a proposal to cabinet that Labor should offer to reopen Nauru and lift the humanitarian refugee intake to 20,000 a year if Abbott would pass its offshore processing bill, which would also have allowed the Malaysian solution.
Cabinet, however rejected the scheme. And since then 123 boats carrying 9777 asylum seekers have arrived in Australian waters, and an estimated 338 have drowned. The implication, of course, is that it is all Gillard's fault; if she had agreed to Bowen's proposal, Abbott would of course have immediately acquiesced and all the tragedies could have been averted.
What Shanahan and Kelly do not bother to report is that after another ship foundered a few weeks later, on December 22 cabinet reversed its decision and Bowen was told to put his proposal to Abbott; and Abbott knocked it back flat. No ifs, no buts, no further negotiations, although Nauru has remained part of the government's deal ever since. And of course in June this year Abbott treated Rob Oakeshott's attempt at a compromise bill in parliament with the same contempt. There could be no compromise: it was his way or no way.
But in the fantasy world of Shanahan and Kelly, he is utterly without blame or fault: it was and is Gillard who must take the sole responsibility for those 338 deaths. Downright dishonest and frankly grubby journalism. But hey, it was an exclusive.
So, where to now? Presumably Gillard and Bowen will go back to Malaysia and Indonesia to pursue the ideas of the Houston panel and attempt to open talks about regional processing. It will not be easy because both countries are already miffed at having been demonised in Australia as serial mistreaters of asylum seekers confining them to hell-holes and beating them with bulls' pizzles. This is certainly the impression Abbott has fostered to justify his rejection of the Malaysian solution.
And in any case there appears to be little point in making the effort since even if an agreement could be reached, Abbott would certainly knock back any legislation needed to implement it. And the Greens remain unwaveringly opposed to offshore processing in any form. Back to point A.
At least if the polls are correct, Gillard's ordeal has only another year or so to run, and then Abbott will inherit it. I'll bet any money he can't fix it either. But of course it will still all be Labor's fault. Just ask The Australian.