‘Dead to me’: The world according to Peter Dutton

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Cartoon by Mark David / @mdavidcartoons.

When the singularly most powerful Minister in the country, excepting (arguably) the PM, categorises a group of people as “dead” to him, should we take it literally? Senior editor Michelle Pini reports.

MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS PETER DUTTON recently had a spontaneous brainwave — one that appeared to be completely void of consultation with advisers or fellow Ministers, detailed research or, indeed, actual thought.

Mr Dutton, who has previously only spat derision at refugees and migrants in general, decided it would be a good idea to fast-track visas for "persecuted" white South African farmers needing assistance from a "civilised" country like Australia — forgetting that there isn't even a queue of white South Africans trying to obtain Australian visas (unlike the Rohingya, for example).

This sudden and – as many said – diplomatically disastrous idea, was met with much local and international condemnation.

According to The Guardian, Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop also dismissed Mr Dutton's comments: 

'Australia will be making no special visa considerations for white South African farmers, Julie Bishop said, as she refused to back Peter Dutton’s claim the group deserved “special treatment” over alleged persecution.'

Dutton’s reaction, however, was not to retract his offensive remarks, offer an apology to the South African Government or even reconsider his statements.

No, the unperturbed Dutton forged ahead with his plans, insisting there was no conflict between him and Minister Bishop and dismissing criticism with the following comments (taken from the decidedly "non-leftist" Herald Sun, to be sure they haven’t been “inaccurately” reported or quoted out of context):

'“They don’t realise how completely dead they are to me,” Mr Dutton told 2GB radio on Thursday.

“We just get on with making decisions that we need to.”'

One can’t be sure whether the Sydney Morning Herald is considered a "crazy lefty" publication by Mr Dutton’s estimation, but it attributed these additional remarks to the Minister:

"The ABC and others report these things how they want to report them and how they want to interpret them ...

"There's lots of outrage. Some of the crazy lefties at the ABC and on The Guardian, Huffington Post, express concern and draw mean cartoons about me and all the rest of it."

So to recap, Dutton’s response was to deride any critics and express his contempt for … well, one would have to say for those who might consider themselves as "lefties", journos, ABC viewers, readers of The Guardian or Huffington Post (and probably this publication), Queensland magistrates, the South African Government, Getup, people who are not racist white supremacists, those who do not identify with the far-right, people who don't vote Liberal and everyone who dislikes or disagrees with Minister Dutton. That would have to be a sizeable portion of the population. 

The puerile "dead to me" comments may have been regarded as an amusing reaction were it not for the fact that this is hardly the only bad joke the Minister has made. It may have been viewed as a throwaway line had Dutton's cruel and intolerant policies and unwavering lack of empathy not already caused unspeakable suffering for asylum seekers trapped in the "open-air prisons" of Manus and Nauru. And the comments may have been easily disregarded if Dutton wasn't heading an omnipotent super ministry comprising the Federal Police, ASIO, Border Force and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection — the only Minister ever to be responsible for such a powerhouse in Australia's history.

However, since Dutton is effectively a law unto himself, feared by lefties and righties alike – and possibly even by some fellow Cabinet Ministers – such a statement is profoundly disturbing and may not bode well for his critics.

Let's examine the power Dutton wields as highlighted by the recent fate of a few daring dissenters.

Former Attorney General George “people-have-a-right-to-be-bigots” Brandis, hardly considered a left-wing crazy himself, reportedly did not see eye to eye with Dutton and was promptly banished to the UK, never to be heard of again.

Brandis' parting "outgoing swipe at Dutton" – as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald – underscored a new chapter in Australian politics:

'[Brandis] observed "powerful elements of right-wing politics" had abandoned the liberal tradition in favour of "a belligerent, intolerant populism which shows no respect for either the rights of individual citizens or the traditional institutions which protect them".'

When Manus Island detainees peacefully protested against being moved from the camp at Manus to an unfinished building site on PNG, far from sympathising with their plight, Minister Dutton discontinued their food, water and medical supplies and refused access to aid agencies. 

As a ten-year-old refugee repeatedly tried to kill himself to escape his horrific life in prolonged mandatory detention, Minister Dutton denied the child urgent medical treatment in Australia, fighting medical professionals, aid agencies and even magistrates for two whole years — almost literally, to the death. 

Yesterday morning (Sunday 25 March) – the day peaceful rallies were conducted in support of justice for refugees all over Australia – Minister Dutton chose the likeminded Weekend Sunrise program to share his views in an attempt to appeal to our sympathies. Describing the news about his recent actions as “a lot of rhetoric”, Dutton denied saying he wanted to "fast-track" visas, adding that people hate him because of Manus and Nauru (probably no arguments there). He also claimed that he was responsible for removing 800 children from the offshore detention camps and closing Manus — painting himself as a sort of benevolent overlord. 

Of course, it was the Rudd Government who actually removed most of the children, there are still (approximately) 158 children on Nauru and the detention facility on Manus Island was closed only to forcibly relocate the detainees to a fresh, unfinished facility with the same old tortures as the last, only now on the hostile PNG mainland. 

Given Dutton's record with dissenters, perhaps we should shout words of warning to Julie Bishop to "look behind you!" — and she may also wish to check her residency status.

You can follow senior editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9.

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