Some Liberals think they have found a turning point.
Just as "stopping the boats" worked in 2001 and 2013, the coalition is clinging to a slim hope it will work in 2019 too.
They think Labor's changes to medical transfers for asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru can be the unravelling of Labor's charge towards a May election win.
But in their excitement, some coalition MPs are just making things up.
"Under Labor, it's get on a boat, get to Nauru, get sick and get to Australia," Tony Abbott tweeted.
Actually, getting on a boat, going to Nauru and getting sick doesn't guarantee anyone a trip to Australia.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said a suspected terrorist on Nauru could get to Australia under the new laws.
"The doctor can Skype from Tasmania or wherever the doctor might be, all they need to say is that the person needs to come here for a consultation," Dutton told 2GB radio.
Actually, Dutton could use his explicitly spelled out national security powers to ban a terror suspect from coming to Australia for medical treatment.
The coalition's desperation to stoke fears about border protection meant Prime Minister Scott Morrison faced multiple questions about whether he will tell Australia about any boat arrivals.
When Morrison was immigration minister he stopped revealing boat arrival numbers, referring to them as "on-water matters".
"You can expect Operation Sovereign Borders to maintain all of its aspects and integrity on my watch," he told reporters this week.
But the temptation to publicise any boat arrivals will be huge.
The coalition has a perverse incentive for a boat to arrive. It would back up their argument that Labor's changes have given the green light to people smugglers.
So Morrison was asked to send people smugglers an explicit message that the rule changes would not apply to any new arrivals.
He wouldn't do it in a press conference but he promised people smugglers would know his thoughts.
"I'll be engaging in some very direct messaging as part of Operation Sovereign Borders with people smugglers and with those who might be thinking of getting on boats," Morrison said.
Bill Shorten walked a tight line on the medical transfers and wobbled on Tuesday morning after he received a briefing from security agencies which had already warned the legislation would weaken border security.
But the opposition leader regained his strong stance as the Greens refused to substantially weaken the laws.
Where the coalition hopes this will be a turning point, Labor hopes it will shore up voters concerned about the plight of refugees.
It is not the end of offshore detention many on Labor's left want but some will see it as a start.
It is also undeniably a risk for Shorten.
He's spent the last five years shoulder-to-shoulder with the coalition on border protection and this is the first real crack between the two.
That Monday night and Tuesday morning wobble back towards the coalition position underlined just how fraught this issue is for Labor.
But the 2013 election was not won on border protection alone and the 2019 election will be the same.
Voters in 2013 were sick of two leadership spills in six years, sick of broken promises on climate and energy, sick of infighting factions within the Labor government.
They were sick of a minority government that felt like it was in chaos and couldn't control the parliament.
It all sounds stunningly familiar.
If the polls hold true, Morrison is headed for a solid defeat. He's already in minority and set to lose even more seats.
The attack on Labor's franking credits policy was an attempt to claw back older voters who might otherwise abandon the coalition.
Now the border protection rhetoric is an effort to scare voters about another rush of boats.
"They are weak and their weakness will infect this nation," Morrison thundered in question time, as he scrambled to avoid losing another vote.
The coalition isn't out selling its own policies at the moment - it is scratching back against Labor's.
Stopping the boats worked before because there were boats to stop. This turning point might be a false dawn if the seas remain clear.
Australian Associated Press
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