In the first Quarterly Essay of 2014, Paul Toohey searches for the solution our politicians have been unwilling or unable to find, and asks whether, amid the diplomatic turmoil, we’ve now missed our chance. Tony Abbott promised to stop the boats. With the help of Kevin Rudd’s "PNG solution", he has. But at what cost? Visiting the Indonesian departure points, Toohey tells the dramatic stories of asylum seekers heading from Java to Australia, investigates people-smuggling and witnesses the aftermath of a sinking at sea.