Crikey psephologist Charles Richardson writes:

three months ago Crikey commented on the possibility of cross-factional
support emerging in the Liberal Party for a softening of mandatory
detention, and said: “We may even get the heady prospect of a bidding
war between Abbott and Costello as to who can put on the more
sympathetic front.”

seems to have escaped attention in the rest of the media. On Sunday,
Tony Abbott put his toe in the water. Appearing on ABC’s Insiders he was asked: “Do you support Petro Georgiou and his supporters for putting this Bill forward? Have they the right to do that?”

Abbott’s answer: “Of course they do. The Liberal Party has always
believed in people’s freedom to do this kind of thing. Obviously, Petro
and a number of his colleagues feel very strongly about this. I think
we all have a lot of sympathy with Petro’s feelings, but the government
strongly supports mandatory detention. And I think one thing which
isn’t sufficiently recognised is that the government has been moving,
at least since earlier in the year, to try to ensure that within the
policy of mandatory detention, that the long-term detainees, the very
long-term detainees, are, wherever humanly possible, released into the

Conventional wisdom tags Peter Costello as
(relatively speaking) the warm, fuzzy social liberal and Abbott as the
hard-line conservative. But things are never so simple in the Liberal
Party. It’s pretty tentative, but Abbott does seem to be trying to at
least appear more open to a change in policy. On the other hand,
persistent reports say that Costello genuinely believes in mandatory
detention (in contrast to his brother Tim).

as long as Petro Georgiou is the poster boy for liberalisation, it’s
hard to see Costello doing much to support him: the two are on opposite
sides in the Victorian division, and Costello’s supporters are avidly
plotting against Georgiou’s pre-selection. Today’s Party Room debate
could be very interesting indeed.