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It's one of my favourite scenes from Apocalypse Now.
Captain Willard and his crew thread their way upriver when they come across a chaotic firefight at the Do Long Bridge, the last outpost before they head into Cambodia.
"Who's the commanding officer here, soldier?" Willard asks a bewildered infantryman.
"Ain't you?" comes the reply as bullets whizz by and mortar rounds explode all around.
Last week, Parliament resembled the Do Long Bridge scene.
The firefight was intense, triggered by the High Court's ruling that it was unlawful to keep people with no prospect of deportation in indefinite immigration detention.
Needled by Peter Dutton, who conflated anti-Semitism with immigration detention, the PM exploded in blind rage. Shortly after, combover aflutter, the PM was hurriedly boarding his plane to San Francisco and the APEC meeting. Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil was valiant under fire. Immigration Minister Andrew Giles was a wet lettuce.
By Thursday it became painfully obvious who was in command. It wasn't the acting PM Richard Marles. It was Peter Dutton.
The opposition had terrified the government into hastily drawing up emergency legislation before the High Court had even published the reasons for its judgment. It had also forced the government to accept every one of its amendments to the Migration Amendment (Bridging Visa Conditions) Bill which slapped tough conditions on those released from detention.
Most contentious of the opposition's amendments was the imposition of mandatory jail terms for violations of visa conditions, which Labor has always opposed.
Party veteran Kim Carr said the government had acted "in a state of panic to abandon our own principles when we have yet to hear why the High Court made the decision that it did".
The opposition said it had to act because the PM had abandoned the Australian community in its hour of need. That might be a stretch but it's one that's gaining traction.
Scott Morrison's ill-timed Hawaii holiday at the height of the Black Summer fires should have been a lesson for all sides of politics. Australians resent their leaders absenting themselves when times are tough - even if it is on official and necessary business. Peter Dutton has no hesitation exploiting that resentment.
Recently, the learned talking heads on Insiders poo-pooed the idea that Albanese's absences were of any concern. It was just noise, they said. Peter Dutton's coup on the immigration detention issue suggests otherwise.
Rake through the wreckage of last week and you'll find the shattered remains of Albanese's pledge to have politics done differently. Dutton saw to that with his deliberately provocative conduct in question time. But so did the PM in allowing himself to respond so poisonously. Dutton clearly hit a nerve and he'll continue hitting it at every opportunity. Albanese has empathy in spades - no training needed there - but he could benefit from some anger management training.
You'll also find the corpse of the government's pledge to act methodically and resist knee-jerk reactions when framing policy. The visa conditions slapped on the released detainees - put together at lightning speed - might ease community fears for now but whether they survive further High Court challenge remains to be seen.
When he returns to the battlefield, Albanese needs to stay put and spend time in the trenches with the troops. He has to be present and lead if he's to avoid another Do Long Bridge disaster.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Did Labor lose control last week in the PM's absence? Were you shocked to see Peter Dutton dictate terms to the government over indefinite detention? Is it acceptable to keep people behind bars when they've served the time for crime? Email us: email@example.com
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- A former high-level Australian diplomat has been taken to hospital two weeks after embarking on a hunger strike outside parliament. Gregory Andrews started his protest in early November and vowed not to eat any food until Prime Minister Anthony Albanese "gets serious" and takes climate action.
- Police have charged 20 people, seized unregistered firearms and large quantities of drugs in the far north Queensland holiday hotspot Cairns as Schoolies celebrations begin. Investigators allege that eight of the people charged with trafficking were members of the Cairns Chapter of Mongrel Mob Outlaw Motorcycle Gang.
- Embattled Optus boss Kelly Bayer Rosmarin has pushed back against calls for compensation for individuals and businesses who suffered losses as a result of last week's massive outage. The Optus chief executive told a Senate inquiry that the carrier had so far provided $36,000 in assistance to those impacted by the breakdown and had received requests from 8500 customers worth around $430,000.
THEY SAID IT: "Take time for all things: great haste makes great waste." - Benjamin Franklin
YOU SAID IT: We could all learn from Danny Abdallah, wrote Garry. He's forgiven the driver who killed his children, something the rest of us would struggle to contemplate.
"What a beautiful man," writes Nic. "Reading your article has made me think about the petty wrongs I experience in my life and my responses to those slights. I feel ashamed. I can do better. I fully support the petition for a forgiveness day."
Deb writes: "Apart from my anger at stupid motorists who cut me off, I am not really a vengeful person. Could I forgive like Danny and Leila? Hmm, not sure. They are the epitome of mercy, understanding and compassion. We should all honour their 'day of forgiveness' regardless. We can all learn from their example. I can only think about the potential if the Middle East and Russia/Ukraine were to show such forgiveness for each other and end the senseless wars. It doesn't make sense to me. How can you profess to be religious and kill each other at the same time?"
"I am pretty good on the composure front but that was a thoroughly touching piece of journalism," writes Sharon. "Forgiveness is something we can offer for free but has an unquantifiable value. We should all be reminded of that, thank you."
Geoff writes: "I've met Danny a number of times before the horrible tragedy. We move in the same industry. Since that shattering day Danny is regarded as a giant in our industry. I have sat in many a site lunchroom were Danny and his amazing family was being discussed, and watched the toughest of the toughest men, who could take a blokes head off with one hand, having to put their lunch down to clear a tear. Danny is absolutely a gentle giant in our industry let there be no doubt. He is so admired that nobody dares to suggest the word revenge. His example personifies his character. We should all aim to be like this wonderful man and his family. They deserve the best this country can provide. What a beautiful (growing) family they are."
"For a good 55 years I have been trapped in self-pity and resentment," writes Irene. "Garry, your article has touched me. I am, and will continue to be, very grateful for the rest of my life."
Cass writes: "A display of what is, unfortunately, uncommon humanity. With every other thinkable reaction a possibility, this is the one they have chosen. In this age of the shallowness of woke virtue-signalling and endless eruptions of hollow faux-outrage, we are presented with humanity of such depth that it is indeed bottomless. This is where the future of the human race finds its foundation. Not in wailing and belligerence, but in reasoned thinking and resilience. Next time the opportunity arises, have a crack at turning the other cheek. It'll be hard, and it'll probably burn, but you'll be better for it. And so will those around you."
Helen writes: "Danny and Leila Abdallah's push for a National Day of Forgiveness is an example to all of us. We all fail to forgive such minor wrongs, when they show such grace in forgiving the loss of their children. And it is the lack of forgiveness that perpetuates hate, whether between family members, neighbours or nations."
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