The defining moment of Anthony Albanese's national security speech at the Lowy Institute on Thursday came when he was asked what he would do differently to the government in dealing with China.
After having spent more than 30 minutes insisting there wasn't even a glimpse of daylight between the ALP's and the LNP's positions on defence and foreign affairs, the Opposition Leader seemed momentarily lost for words.
He then delivered a ringing endorsement of the government's rejection of China's list of grievances in November 2020: "We [Labor] would have done exactly the same," he said. "We will continue to stand up to China".
Mr Albanese, who said China had failed in its "special responsibility as a permanent member of the UN Security Council" by offering Russia sanctions relief, repeated the government's line China had changed and, as a result, Australia's diplomatic and defence settings had to change as well.
His only criticism, a clear reference to the recent "Manchurian candidate" controversy, was that the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister had weaponised the China relationship.
"If I have a criticism of the government it isn't about substance, it's about using the issue to obtain [domestic] political advantage," he said.
This was a far cry from what Mr Albanese was saying in December 2020 when he cast bipartisanship to the winds and blamed the Morrison government for the deterioration in relations with China.
"This government seems to have presided over a complete breakdown of relationships [with China]," he said after a Chinese diplomat posted an offensive tweet with a doctored picture depicting an Australian soldier threatening an Afghan child. "The fact that ministers can't pick up the phone to each other, I find that extraordinary."
The obvious reason for Mr Albanese's change of heart is that there has been a major shift in the ground on which the election is being fought. It's no longer just about COVID, vaccinations, women's safety, and whether or not the PM is a liar.
Coming on top of China's "wolf-warrior" diplomacy and its repeated attempts to punish Australia for standing up for its own values, the invasion of Ukraine has emerged as a Tampa moment.
The Morrison government is now determined to fight for its survival on national security, its success in containing the COVID-19 death toll, and the economy.
While Mr Albanese is not averse to having a scrap on the last two, he is doing everything he can to avoid being wedged on national security and defence spending.
That was why, within minutes of the PM's well-timed press conference announcing a 30 per cent increase in the size of the ADF on Thursday morning, he was on air endorsing the policy. If Mr Morrison could get the same degree of support from his Deputy Prime Minister and within his party room that he is receiving from the Labor leader he would be a very happy man.
Mr Albanese's dilemma is that his well-structured election strategy has been overtaken by events which are playing to the strengths of his opponents. Wednesday's announcement of the ALP's "consent and respectful relationship programs" disappeared without a trace thanks to the PM's visit to flood ravaged Lismore.
Then, even worse, his Lowy Institute address was gazumped by the PM's pre-emptive defence spending announcement and the horrific footage of the bombing of a maternity hospital in Ukraine.
While delivering a Labor victory was never going to be a walk in the park for Mr Albanese his job is getting more difficult by the day.
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