Peter Dutton has had a rough few weeks. Firstly he was “deeply offended” when he was called a rape apologist. He said so in court, where he was suing Shane Bazzi, an unemployed refugee advocate.
Mr Bazzi used Twitter to make his comment. I suspect that many Twitter readers agreed with him, but that is not a defence. It depends on what you feel the word “apologist” means.
And then there is the flawed Australian Defamation Law, where the judge decides what the reader probably imputed from your statement. So you are not judged on what you said, but on what someone else decided you meant to say. Even Christian Porter wanted to change that aspect of the law, before commencing on his own legal adventures.
Mr Bazzi was responding to a statement Mr Dutton had made in 2019. His tweet linked to a Guardian article where Dutton made the claim that rape victims on Nauru were fabricating their claims.
“Some people are trying it on,” he said. “Let’s be serious about this. There are people who have claimed that they’ve been raped and came to Australia to seek an abortion because they couldn’t get an abortion on Nauru. They arrived in Australia and then decided they were not going to have an abortion. They have the baby here and the moment they step off the plane their lawyers lodge papers in the federal court, which injuncts us from sending them back.”
The same day the tweet was posted, Mr Dutton had said he was unaware of the “she said, he said” details of Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations. These words can be construed as “police-speak”; formulaic, dismissive and designed to cast equal weight on the male-female narrative scales.
Ms Higgins was claiming she had been raped. Her alleged assailant was not claiming to have been raped, and so the formula is all wrong. There is no moral equivalence.
The problem with Dutton’s public pronouncements is that so many of them are wrong, or without evidence, or just another way of drawing attention to himself. Many of them are offensive, and many set up ‘straw men’ for the public to fear and loathe. Paedophiles and pacifists are two groups he targets, and the Chinese Communists are an old standby.
Some can be interpreted as ‘dog whistling’, such as when he demonises refugees, or Muslims, even African gangs. On a lighter note, he did want to assist white South African farmers in fleeing their own country, because of perceived racial prejudice.
There is always a whiff of lingering leadership tensions about Dutton, and he obviously thinks that what works for him in his electorate of Dickson works everywhere. It does not. How about his deciding to end ‘wokeism’ in the Defence Forces? Who was he trying to dog whistle that day? Who in Australia does not have a member of his or her family, or friendship group, who is non-binary, or a member of the LGBT community?
Peter Dutton is a Minister in Scott Morrison’s Government. Shane Bazzi is unemployed, and his defamation defence was crowd funded. He advocates for refugees. In an ironic sense, Shane Bazzi’s family has been ‘defamed’ by Dutton, as he is descended from the Lebanese migrants who arrived in the 1970s.
In 2016, while Immigration Minister, Dutton stated that Malcolm Fraser had made a mistake by letting in Lebanese-Muslim migrants in the 1970s. His reasoning is, as we have come to expect from 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.
I have been deeply offended by many of Dutton’s statements, but to this stage I have not sued Mr Dutton for offending me. There are many pithy comments which describe this situation, but my favourite is “the pot calling the kettle black.” Second favourite was “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
And if he truly believes in free speech, he could stop trying to silence people who object to his simplistic world view. If it begins to look like we are being dragged into a war on China, he will be the culprit, and the reason will be cheap political advantage.
Peter Dutton has recently floated the idea of taxpayers bearing the cost of politicians’ defamation cases, seeing it as a ‘workplace entitlement’. If you cannot have a diversity morning tea, forget the public funding for defamation proceedings.