What we do know is that a RAAF C-17 transport went to Europe carrying what the government insisted was "critical military assistance" for Ukraine. What we don't know was what this might have been. You'd expect, however, that it must have been something pretty special. Even Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, a man known for loquaciousness, wouldn't reveal what was inside the plane, instead warning anybody who did faced the possibility of up to 15 years in jail.
Defence did, however, send Contact magazine video of the delivery. Unfortunately for them, editor Brian Hartigan is one of those old fashioned journos who wants to know what the story really is. He got out his magnifying glass and saw "cartons marked with various stock numbers - even some marked as originating at a certain adventure-equipment retailer in Fyshwick, ACT. Another box appears to be labelled 'Green Knitted Mittens'." Defence responded by immediately redacting the video and blacking out identification details.
In other words Russia invaded Ukraine and Scott Morrison seems to have made a big song and dance about sending ... gloves. This government insists Australia faces challenges like never before; promises the world; and delivers? Knitting.
Talk about a yarn. The defence debate in Australia has been reduced to a phoney war of noise, colour and movement signifying nothing. Morrison keeps promising more and more while delivering less and less. If there was ever any reason to think there might be some actual relationship between what Morrison says and the real world, it vanished last Monday. That was the evening he began spit-balling options for basing nuclear submarines on the east coast, in either Brisbane, Newcastle, or Wollongong. The thing is Defence has already examined all of these options, along with others, and come up with its own recommendation: Sydney Harbour or Jervis Bay. But those options don't fit in with his need to get people excited about defence. Answer? Start the whole process again and re-introduce bases previously dismissed as inadequate.
The 2011 defence study found Port Kembla was impractical given its "small and congested harbour". Newcastle has a problematic harbour entrance and is too distant from naval infrastructure. Oh, and it also happens to be owned by a Chinese company. Defence ranked Brisbane eighth and yet somehow, miraculum deus, it's now one of the top three options!
The real question is why on earth would the PM even bother to set such a ridiculous hare running? What was this all about?
Morrison's read 'distraction for dummies' and so he knows the best way to make people think he's delivering is always another story.
There's no chance of a decision before the election - Morrison himself ruled that out. Perhaps more importantly there is virtually no chance - none, zilch, zip - that a base will ever be built in any of these locations. He was talking rubbish making no military or economic sense. The only plausible explanation is that he was seizing an opportunity to set the political agenda and get voters in Southern Queensland excited about voting Liberal. Because guess what? That's exactly what he's done.
Now even this column has just wasted 200 words discussing nothing. Instead of pointing out the Navy's found no way of acquiring an effective, locally constructed nuclear submarine (before 2040) we're talking as if this impossible project might actually be delivered. It could be done, but only in the sense that we could also send someone to the moon.
The massive cost would require either huge tax increases (a 'submarine levy') or cuts elsewhere: that's why it's a distraction. His words suggest a fleet is about to appear off the Heads but ignores the real and far more urgent problems of what sort of subs we might get, how they'll be built, or critically, what are they going to do? The PM's not worried about how they might help defend the country - his concern is real estate and votes.
Its all rubbish. Morrison's read 'distraction for dummies' and so he knows the best way to make people think he's delivering is always another story, no matter how implausible, far fetched or irrelevant. It changes the subject, shifting attention away from the previous castle in the air just as people were beginning to realise it was built on ridiculous foundations.
This might be amusing if it wasn't so serious. If Morrison's plan is followed by 2040 we will have a narrowly capable defence force only capable of confronting enemies equipped with 2020's technology. What we won't have is a solid indigenous industry base capable of building the weapons we need, or a force with the breadth to engage the emerging threats this country may face: from climate change to asylum seekers to international adversaries armed with the latest, cutting edge equipment.
The PM's announced he'll begin expanding the ADF by 18,000 recruits - a 20 percent boost - but he won't say how he'll pay for this. Is a promise real if there's no funding?
Defence Minister Peter Dutton is about to announce a huge, multi-billion dollar contract to manufacture armoured fighting vehicles just before the election. Instead of going with South Korea's Hanwah, whose AFVs preformed better in tests, it will go to the inferior Rheinmetall option. That company promised to build its vehicles in vulnerable south Queensland electorates and that's where the party needs votes. Politics drives everything and defence has become a plaything for politicians who use national security as an excuse to promise whatever they want.
Last week the government was unable to ensure the effective coordination of military support for flood-affected northern NSW. Actually, attack helicopters only carry two people and aren't much use in floods, and the people of Lismore vote Labor so what can they expect? Meanwhile Morrison promises he's concentrating on the main game - getting ready to take on China. In 2040.
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