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Shorten's question and whimper time sees Libs pull out all the jocks

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Parliamentary Sketch Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald

View more articles from Jacqueline Maley

UNDER THE FLAG

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Morrison defends information flow

The opposition targets Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison in question time over his changing account of a riot at Manus Island last week that left an asylum seeker dead.

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As Opposition leader, Prime Minister Tony Abbott famously reduced the complexities of the Syrian civil war to a contest between goodies and baddies.

Not content with the Batman-ification of foreign policy, our muscular Prime Minister has introduced a wimps-versus-jocks narrative to border protection.

"You don't want a wimp running border protection": Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

"You don't want a wimp running border protection": Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

It is a narrative reminiscent of an '80s college frat house movie - a genre of film much neglected by critics, and one in which someone generally ends up with a wedgie.

''You don't want a wimp running border protection,'' Mr Abbott told reporters on Sunday, following an admission from Immigration Minister Scott Morrison that he had been mistaken on a crucial detail of earlier media briefings.

Morrison had led the public to believe that a 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker had been killed outside the Manus Island detention centre, and therefore not on his watch. Turns out the man was killed inside the centre, when he was very much under the care of the Australian government.

No matter. A real man faces up to his mistakes. Okay, so he might face up to them via press release, issued late on a Saturday night when most journalists have retired to bed or to the pub. But no one can say Morrison did not man up! He just manned up really late when scrutiny was at its lowest ebb.

Following the Immigration Minister's witching-hour confession, the Greens, who have something of a reputation for political milk-soppery, came over surprisingly macho. They demanded Morrison's resignation.

Eyes swivelled to the Opposition leader Bill Shorten in question time yesterday. A minister with a dead man on his watch, a minister who seemed to have misled the public over the circumstances of that man's death - it was just a matter of lining up the skittles and bowling a strong ball. What use would Shorten make of this great political gotcha? What mighty evisceration were we to witness? Would it be a knock-out punch or more of a frog-in-saucepan broil?

But when Shorten rose, his spine seemed not to come with him. The Opposition leader's first question was on jobs, as was his second.

He left the handling of Morrison's mistake to the mild-mannered shadow Immigration Minister Richard Marles. Morrison responded with a tsunami of verbiage, which revealed precisely no detail on what had happened, but reminded us all that his government was simply discharging a Manus Island security contract that had been signed by the previous, Labor one.

To say that Labor is on weak ground on this issue would be to put it far too wimpishly.

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