Why is it important to ask the question?
Peter Dutton is arguably the second most powerful person in Australia, after his boss, Scott Morrison. That means that we should be very mindful of his character, and his morals, his prejudices and his quirks, even his intelligence, because he, in his enormous portfolio, wields tremendous power, which can make or break lives.
The job was handed to him by Malcolm Turnbull, in one of his less savvy moments. Turnbull increased the department’s oversight, and hence Dutton’s responsibilities, to include national security, border control and law enforcement agencies of the government. This was at a time when there was speculation that Dutton needed to be distracted, due to raging ambition for the top job, and Turnbull’s apparent inability to control the right wing of his party. This gave Dutton access to almost unlimited power.
Wikipedia’s description is enough: The Department of Home Affairs is the Australian Government interior ministry with responsibilities for national security, law enforcement, emergency management, border control, immigration, refugees, citizenship, and multicultural affairs. Considering that Dutton’s performance at Immigration had been sub-optimal, and getting worse, it was like a gift for bad performance.
Remember this is the person once voted the worst Health Minister in history, worse than Tony Abbott even. His record at Immigration was equally appalling, and Home Affairs is now a champion in not meeting statutory targets, and as for budgeting, and staff morale, it ranks lowest of all Commonwealth departments. I sometimes think that, by keeping this person in the Ministry, Turnbull handed his eventual executioner the knife.
We need to trust him. But for many reasons we cannot. These are some of them:
He boycotted The Apology
He publicly refused to attend the National Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples, delivered by Kevin Rudd, in 2008. The apology was directed to the Stolen Generations, for the actions and policies of successive governments, which “inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians”.
He was the only Opposition front bencher to boycott the Apology, and in Kevin Rudd’s words, “Dutton was an MP for 7 years and was 38 when he boycotted the apology to first Australians. A grown man, experienced politician who knew what he was doing – sending a dog-whistle to racist sentiment. A question of character.For this reason alone, he should never be Prime Minister, in what can only be seen as a slap in the face for those affected.”
In 2010 he stood by his decision, deeming the apology irrelevant. In 2017, a full six years later, he said he had misunderstood the importance of the occasion, and regretted not being there. This stands as one of the two occasions I can recall, where he has expressed doubts about either his words, or his actions.
Is it time to re-assess him?
He has said many unacceptable things along the journey; the list is too long, and too tedious to reproduce here. But the theme is one of unrelieved hard-right intolerance. He does not even try and moderate his image.
He claims not to have been misunderstood, nor has he been mis-quoted. He takes pride in being direct, and in generally refusing to apologise, no matter what he has said. He proudly carries the banner for the far-right in the Morrison Government, and many believe that, should Morrison falter, Dutton stands ready to pounce.
Unlike Morrison there is not a shady history of him being removed from past jobs, no history of behind the scenes politicking. He was a policeman, then he was an MP. His public life is our only real source material, but he has been very open about his opinions, and he has delivered an unvarnished version of himself.
The only time he has attempted a ‘make-over’ was when he challenged for the Prime Ministership. He toyed with the idea of re-packaging himself for the public, and he was photographed smiling. Upon losing he appeared destined for the scrap heap, but Morrison probably believes that the old adage “Keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer” is good policy. Anyway, he stayed in the ministry, in his super-sized ministry.
In 2016, while Immigration Minister, he stated that Malcolm Fraser had made a mistake by letting in Lebanese-Muslim migrants in the 1970s. His reasoning is, as usual for Mr Dutton, shallow, misleading and discriminatory, both racially and religiously.
He believes that, no matter how long these people are in Australia, they, and their descendants, are more likely to commit criminal offences. While mathematically totally impossible to prove, or to disprove, when queried on his statement, he responded that the figures supported him, and that he would not be intimidated into re-considering his stance.
This is directly accusing immigrants, who arrived fifty years ago, of being stained with some sort of invisible criminal gene, which has managed to survive the many, many thousands of genetic permutations which have occurred since then. If it quacks like a racist duck, it probably is one. On a personal note, I am directly descended from Irish ‘criminal’ stock. Imagine if one of my relatives had married a third or fourth generation Lebanese. Would a ‘multiplier effect’ kick in? Surely the very basis of Australia is that Australians are all equal, no matter where your family came from, and no matter which version of God you believe in.
Again, when speaking out against refugees in 2016 he stated that many of them would take Australian jobs, while languishing in unemployment queues, and using Medicare. It is hard to languish in a queue when you’re in a ‘stolen’ job. And what is wrong with using Medicare, if you are paying taxes, in that same ‘stolen’ job? The logic is as twisted as his mind appears to be. Does he mean these things, or is he using the classic dog-whistle to excite the right? And we should not forget his statement, that Melbournians are too afraid to go out to dinner, because we fear African gangs so much. These statements came directly from a Cabinet Minister, in charge of IMMIGRATION matters.
Surely his attitude is dangerous?
The question I ask is “Should he even be there? Is he suitable to sit in the Parliament? Does he meet minimum standards? Can he make the country better, for his being there? So I am not asking whether he would make an enjoyable dinner party guest, but rather does he suit the role of a leader, of a person with a vision? ALL Parliamentarians profess that they want to make a difference, but do his ideas and standards drag us back to an earlier, less caring time, when overt racism, homophobia and religious intolerance were proudly on show.
In a recent appearance on Sky TV he appeared to show where his thoughts really lie: – “I have always seen parliament as a disadvantage for sitting governments”. This was based on the theory that, for good government, you need to sometimes make tough decisions, which might be messy and unpopular, but really, you need to do what must be done. There speaks a despot in training. A dangerous despot.