As the Labor left discovered at the party’s conference this weekend, it’s much easier to advance progressive policies while in a successful government than it is in a barely-trusted opposition.

The questionable loyalty of Anthony Albanese. For Guardian Australia.

Commenting to the assembled media on this week’s fatal Manus Island detention centre riot, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young started to say “all Australians would be horrified by what happened”. The she corrected herself to say “most Australians”.

That’s because some Australians would not particularly care; their insecurity and xenophobia has been twisted into something so hateful and ugly by successive governments and oppositions that they now want asylum seekers to be treated more harshly.

Those who ARE horrified – at the events as well as the callousness of their fellow Australians – struggle to understand how everyday pressures brought on by strained government services and infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals can manifest as such bigotry.

Both the Government and Opposition understand – the former having mostly crafted the prejudice during the Howard government and Abbott opposition years, and the latter with Gillard and Rudd having capitulated to it in order to woo back marginal seat votes.

So while the harsh treatment of asylum seekers continues to secure votes from mainstream Australia – yes, even when riots and gunshot injuries and violent deaths are involved – it appears neither of the major parties will shift from the horror that is of their own making.

Yet a circuit-breaker is within their reach.

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Once the election was over, and Rudd despatched, it became quickly clear that the reforms could not quietly be reversed by Caucus. Labor MPs were left holding the Democracy Baby, and decided to make the best of it.

Like so many of Kevin Rudd’s other hare-brained initiatives, this one must have been a good idea at the time.