PRIME Minister Scott Morrison appears to be a keen student of federal politics.
Having ascended to the nation's top job by aping the tactics of Julia Gillard, he now seems determined to hold onto it by copying the strategy of John Howard.
Eighteen years ago, the Howard Government looked headed for electoral defeat after just five years in power.
But when a Norwegian freighter captain, Arne Rinnan, defied orders from Canberra to keep the MV Tampa away from Australian waters with his cargo of 433 rescued asylum seekers, many of them in urgent need of medical attention, and proceeded instead towards the Australia-controlled Christmas Island, he gave Mr Howard just the hot-button issue he needed to change the national conversation.
"Asylum seeker", "boat people", "queue jumpers" and "illegals" became the buzzwords in conversations across the nation.
The government rewrote its own asylum policies, excised islands from the Australian migration zone and ordered a reluctant navy to intercept and turn back vessels carrying asylum seekers, making Australia's asylum policies the harshest in the western world.
In response to a single vessel, the Australian population of 20 million or so became obsessed with the arrival of a few thousand of the world's most desperate, and were convinced by their own parliament that stopping them coming here was crucial to preserving our nation's continued prosperity.
And it worked. John Howard won the 2001 election, and won again in 2004 to become Australia's second longest serving prime minister, behind only Sir Robert Menzies.
Now Mr Morrison seems focused on using asylum seekers to turn around his election chances.
It has still not been adequately explained to the voting public how the fortunes of just a few hundred - even a few thousand - asylum seekers might impact so gravely on the fortunes of the rest of us that our parliament might spend so much time debating how we handle them but, in politics, it's the perception that counts.
In Mr Morrison's defence, the Labor opposition is just as happy to exploit asylum seekers for electoral gain and the debate lacks nuance on both sides.
Australia's voters are caught in the middle, either frightful of being swamped by others or ashamed that our nation might be so heartless. What has changed since 2001?