Peter Dutton was at pains to declare on Wednesday that none of the 850 or so asylum seekers detained at the Manus Island detention centre would be coming to Australia – despite a Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruling the day previously that stated their confinement was unconstitutional.
"We'll work with PNG ... to help people return to their country of origin or to a third country", the Immigration Minister said. "But we've been very clear, and I repeat it again today, that these people will not be coming to Australia.
An unbending attitude may have served Mr Dutton well during his nine years in the Queensland Police Service and in his current portfolio, but stern words will not invalidate or override the practical effect of the Supreme Court's ruling.
Because about half the detainees have been assessed as refugees, they cannot readily be returned to their country of origin.
Huge and costly efforts have been made to settle some asylum seekers in third countries, but with minimal success.
That, and the Supreme Court's insistence that "the PNG and Australian governments shall forthwith take all necessary steps to cease and prevent the continued unconstitutional and illegal detention of asylum seekers or transferees at the centre", expose the inadequacy of Mr Dutton's response.
The Turnbull government's failure to consider a possible adverse legal finding (the test case was launched early in 2014) sits uneasily with its claims to having resolved the asylum-seeker issue.
Allowing detainees the freedom to come and go may buy it time, but not much. Many of those locked up on Manus are reportedly fearful of venturing out into the capital, Lorengau – a consequence of a 2014 riot that ended with the death of a 23-year-old Iranian detainee at the hands of locally employed guards.
Now the PNG government of Peter O'Neill has said the Manus centre will be closed.
Only last month, Mr O'Neill told the National Press Club in Canberra that the Manus centre had "done a lot more damage for PNG than anything else". Nor did PNG "have the resources" to resettle those found to be genuine refugees, Mr O'Neill said. "We ... need to resettle them, we need to move them back to their country of origin if they are not genuine refugees, but we cannot hold them there forever."
Now the Manus centre is to close, the Turnbull's government's only alternative may be to transfer Manus detainees to Nauru. That would allow it to peddle the fiction that it's "solved" the problem and send the "required" message to people smugglers. But bluster and dogmatism cannot paper over the fact that holding asylum seekers indefinitely is unlawful, a breach of human rights and a stain on Australia's international reputation.