The boat tragedy off Indonesia has made not a whit of difference to the substantive policy debate in Australia. The opposition is not going to embrace the Malaysia deal; the government remains as convinced as before that Nauru is not an answer.
Rather, the latest sad loss of life - coming after earlier government warnings of more drownings if it cannot impose a stronger deterrent to boats - just prompted an unedifying tactical battle in the House.
The opposition, knowing it is potentially vulnerable to Labor's claim that boats are encouraged by the Coalition's refusal to allow the Malaysia people swap to pass Parliament, went on the offensive.
Tony Abbott declared neither government nor opposition was to blame for the tragedy; it was all the people smugglers. But it showed the need for ''a clear and definite policy to stop the boats''.
Though the Coalition doesn't believe the Malaysia people swap is such a policy, it dared the government to bring the bill for it to a vote, in full knowledge that Labor would not, because it doesn't have the numbers.
The government has used the risk of drownings as a central argument in its case for the Malaysia deal. The harsh truth, however, is that this danger is not the prime motive of either side in their shared desire for offshore processing, whether in Nauru, as the opposition wants, or under the Malaysia deal.
The main driver is the wish to protect the borders against big numbers of asylum seekers arriving, with all the political difficulties Labor and Coalition believe they bring.
At the other end of the spectrum, those who back solely onshore processing - the Greens and many in the Labor left - do so despite knowing that some who try to come will perish on the way.
They think that desperate people who will do anything to reach a safe place should be welcomed when they arrive, not flown off to Malaysia.
They accept that the chance of a disaster at sea is one of many hazards these people are willing to face in their long and arduous journeys fleeing persecution.
In this vexed debate, arguments compete on both political and moral levels in the tug-of-war over offshore-versus-onshore processing. There are few absolutes, and each approach has some high costs.
Follow the National Times on Twitter: @NationalTimesAU