MELBOURNE - The debacle of the now-formalised agreement between China and the government of the Solomon Islands has forced Morrison onto the defensive.
And this on what was supposed by the press gallery ahead of the campaign to be a source of unique and irrepressible strength: his tough-guy act on China.
Every day that passes seems to confirm that not only is it pretty much just an act, but it’s an act where the performers don’t know their lines.
That’s why Morrison has left entirely unclear the issue of whether the government knew – or didn’t know - that the Solomons deal was coming.
If it didn’t know, of course, would be a staggering indictment of our alleged foreign intelligence service, ASIS.
Junior minister Zed Seselja said on Wednesday that the government found out at the same time as the rest of us, on 24 March.
But also yesterday, Morrison said the deal “is no surprise to us”.
Today he was asked to reconcile those two statements, and notably changed his language.
“We have known for some time the risk of a deal such as this coming about,” he claimed (emphasis added).
He then vaguely alluded to “security matters” to explain why he wouldn’t say any more.
But between Seselja’s statement yesterday and Morrison’s parsing of words today, it’s clear the government had no idea.
Where is foreign minister Marise Payne in all this?
Certainly not in Honiara, making Australia’s case to the Solomons government.
Nor, it seems, will she be darkening the door of the National Press Club in Canberra.
Payne has refused to debate her opposite number Penny Wong during the campaign, according to Laura Tingle.
This is a surprise since the bold, eloquent and dominating Payne would surely have bested the reserved and reticent Wong in any one-on-one.