Politics Opinion

Despite constant criticisms of Albanese, Dutton jumps ship to India

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Opposition Leader Peter Dutton meeting India's Minister for External Affairs S. Jaishankar (image via S. Jaishankar's Twitter)

Peter Dutton takes every chance to attack the Prime Minister for his travels abroad, but he now finds himself in India, writes Belinda Jones.

WORN OUT FROM non-stop sledging of “Airbus Albo” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has jetted off to India for a few days in India for “trade, security talks” while many of his Coalition sledging mates headed to London.

Important to note here that Dutton, by virtue of the fact he’s in opposition, does not represent the Government, nor is he the trade minister, home affairs minister, or their shadow ministers.

Dutton met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressed an India Australia Strategic Alliance (IASA) event and was reportedly accompanied by Jason Wood MP and '20 top industrialists'.

The IASA’s Chairman is Dr Jagvinder Singh Virk, long-time Liberal Party member and friend of Tony Abbott. Dr Virk accompanied Dutton on this trip, as he has done many times with Coalition members and only Coalition members.

The mainstream media has been oddly, largely disinterested in this unique event, even though it’s Dutton’s first trip to India the trip has received minimal coverage in mainstream media. Usually the mainstream media are eager to update the public on Dutton’s every movement, thought and muttering from the opposition benches, like clockwork, so their lack of interest in this trip is quite out-of-character. 

Dr Virk is a tireless worker awarded for his leadership within the Indian community in Australia and in his homeland of India. He boasts he rubs shoulders with the politically powerful in both countries, a community leader, medical doctor, an academic, speaks several languages and has a variety of business interests, including education and property.

Dr Virk’s wife, Rattan Deep Kaur Virk, sits on the SERIOS Board, a charitable organization, recipient of a $140,000 grant from the Morrison Government to study the economic impact of religion on society.

Dr Virk appears to carry a great deal of influence within the Coalition and the right-wing India Foundation in India, he doesn’t give off the average party branch member vibes.

Virk’s Facebook photo album is bulging with happy snaps of himself and many Coalition heavyweights, past and present, including former Indian High Commissioner Barry O’Farrell, former Housing Minister Michael Sukkar, Senator Simon Birmingham, former MP Kevin Andrews, former Senator Eric Abetz and similar high-level political contacts in India.

In April 2020, when borders were closed or closing around the world, Dr Virk and expat Simon Quinn organised for over 3,000 Australians to return safely home

In a YouTube video posted 16 April 2020, four days after the first flight landed at Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne, Dr Virk candidly discusses how these flights were organised at such a turbulent time with the help of another old mate, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

Dr Virk speaks with Jasvinder Sidhu and Vikrant Kishore, he explains how he used his voice and rang everyone he knew to get the approvals he needed. His recollection is almost forensic.

Thankfully, Dr Virk knew so many powerful people in government at that time, but that familiarity appears to have bred contempt for the proper bureaucratic processes that every other Australian has to navigate if they want anything from government.

Dr Virk didn’t have to wait for hours on hold to speak to a Centrelink operator or deal with the stress of having to gather evidence to fight a Robodebt notice, no, Dr Virk bypassed the public service entirely and went straight to the minister. And they let him in. Got what he wanted. In a matter of days. In the early months of the pandemic. That takes quite a bit of clout.

Dr Virk got his approvals from the Morrison Government and the Indian Government for five flights as borders slammed shut and international travel was in chaos. 

At 26:30 mins the video the trio are discussing the $90-per-day quarantine food arrangements for the returning passengers on these flights. Dr Virk insists the passengers must be delivered “one to two Indian meals per week” while in quarantine. 

Now, as luck would have it, he was talking to the right person! Jasvinder Sidhu, at the time, was a Labor staffer working for Labor Senator Jess Walsh, a highly ranked Labor member who claimed he had contacts in the Andrews Government. Sidhu had been a scuffle a few months earlier over racist comments reported in Melbourne’s Herald Sun.

Sidhu tells Dr Virk he’ll take care of the food issue: 

“I can follow that up with you and the Government.”

Dr Virk suggests Sidhu should use his part position to lobby the Victorian Health Minister for some quarantined passengers to get Indian meals once or twice per week during their 14-day quarantine.

He said:

 Not follow up only... Sidhu, you people now are the Labor operatives there in Victoria, you’re to take that initiative, you’re to get lobbying to all your Labor people in community. Get your Labor MPs, Indian community MPs, or... get in a group. Make an impression on your health minister, please allow us then it can be done.

It strikes me as rather odd these two fellows are chatting in the first place but when the elder experienced Liberal influencer mentors his younger political opposite, a Labor staffer, how to influence the Labor party from within because a Liberal party member tells him to. 

After all the favourable treatment bestowed upon him by the Morrison and Andrews governments, up until that point in that unprecedented time, he continued to negotiate for a better deal. Makes one ponder why Virk is so influential?

Dr Virk’s community work is honourable, no doubt about that, but the manner in which he used his influence, and the Coalition allowed him to do so, to bypass protocols is alarming.

Despite clearly have his very own voice to Parliament, Dr Virk used his social media platform to advocate for the "No" vote for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

You can follow Belinda Jones on Twitter @belindajones68.

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