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Peter Dutton: The would-be PM and overlord

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Cartoon by Mark David / @mdavidcartoons

Senior editor Michelle Pini discusses the latest incarnation of Peter Dutton, the "good bloke" and would-be PM, currently showing in most mainstream media outlets.

AFTER HIS FIRST FAILED ATTEMPT at toppling Prime Minister Turnbull, Member for Dickson Peter Dutton has taken himself off to the backbench, ostensibly to lick his wounds, survey his followers (this time on a calculator), and re-emerge as a stronger and more serious contender for the prime ministership.

This move has afforded Dutton the opportunity to reinvent himself from the humourless, hard ruler, void of empathy, to which we have become accustomed, into … wait for it, a “warm person” and a “good bloke”.

Former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton outlines his resume and tries out his new, softer and warmer persona for the media.

Many Australians may be shocked to think that this metamorphosis could be possible, given Dutton's recent track record as the Minister for Home Affairs.

However, as we ponder this possibility, the propaganda campaign to achieve this new public persona is well underway, deep in the hastily rewritten annals of the Murdoch press, as well as in more surprising crevices of the mainstream media (MSM), such as Fairfax and even the ABC.

Before we are swept away by the sheer brilliance of the MSM PR network, however, in the interests of the facts – and our sanity – let us take a short stroll through Mr Dutton’s parliamentary record.

Dutton's early speeches were characterised by themes with which he has concerned himself for most of his parliamentary career — people and groups which he termed, "the boisterous minority and the politically correct".

In 2001, in his maiden speech, Dutton said:

"The silent majority, the forgotten people – or the aspirational voters of our generation, as some like to term them – are fed up with bodies like the Civil Liberties Council and the Refugee Action Collective, and certainly the dictatorship of the trade union movement." 

Stolen Generations

Dutton, then in Opposition, boycotted Prime Minister Rudd's apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008 and offered to quit the shadow ministry.

Worst health minister

As Minister for Health in the Abbott Government, Dutton was categorically voted the worst health minister in living memory by the Australian Medical Association (AMA), according to a poll conducted by Australian Doctor magazine.

Climate change denier

Dutton, like many within the far-right of the Coalition, is a climate denier. This might be enough to give pause to any thinking voter interested in evidence-based policy.

However, Dutton also took satisfaction in any suffering Pacific Island nations might be experiencing through the effects of global warming. He made a "joke" about "water lapping at [their] door", laughing at his own wit – with fellow climate deniers, former PM Tony Abbott and another would-be PM candidate, current Treasurer, Scott Morrison – after attending a Pacific summit on the effects of climate change.

Pecuniary interests possible Constitutional breach

There is also the small matter of his eligibility to serve as prime minister, or in the Parliament. 

Dutton's family trust operates two Brisbane childcare facilities, which received $5.6 million in Federal Government funding.

This, as reported by Kylar Loussikian and Dana McCauley in the Sydney Morning Herald, places

'... the Liberal leadership contender in danger of being ineligible to remain in Parliament.'

Although Mr Dutton's office says he has not breached the Constitution, this may, in fact, represent a breach of s44 (v), of the Act. 

When Labor pushed the issue on Wednesday:

'The Prime Minister said the Solicitor-General had not been asked to provide advice about whether Mr Dutton was eligible to sit in parliament.'

The Home Affairs Ministry

It is perhaps Dutton's signature Home Affairs portfolio – and the one he admitted as being his favourite at a press conference this morning – where he most effectively demonstrates why no amount of public relations campaigning or deliberate softening of his public image should convince Australians that he is a suitable prime ministerial candidate. 

This morning, Mr Dutton (apparently with a straight face) said he'd love to get everyone off Nauru and Manus:

"If I could I would put them all on a charter flight to Australia tomorrow."

And if we haven't been paying attention, we might believe him, were it not for the fact that Mr Dutton, as Minister for Home Affairs, has not only been in a position to fly here all those people gaoled without charge on Manus Island and Nauru, but has actively and consistently ensured this could never happen.

This is the same man who, just two short months ago, said compassion must not be shown towards refugees:

"It's essential that people realise that the hard-won success of the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion in bringing 20 people from Manus to Australia."

Indeed, although Dutton has continued the heinous policies originally enacted by Morrison et al, he has relished the role of overlord, systematically crushing every effort to free, assist, or even save people, including children, from certain death. 

Here is a short – and by no means conclusive – list of how the would-be PM has earned his current image of a cruel, inhumane and detached gaoler:

  • The United Nations has identified Australia's treatment of refugees, under this Government with Dutton as the responsible Minister, as "inhumane".
  • Nauru is a kind of real-life 'Hotel California' where the people held on Nauru are "free" to walk around the island, but they are not free to leave unless they go back to the horrors from which they fled.
  • There are 1,534 people remaining on Manus Island and Nauru, including 119 children (sources advise two children have been moved for medical reasons since this latest figure), 40 of whom have spent their entire lives in offshore detention.   
  • Although Minister Dutton has claimed that he was responsible for removing 800 children from the offshore detention camps, it was the Rudd Government that actually removed most of the children.
  • While Minister Dutton says he is responsible for closing Manus Island, he omits the fact that it was closed only to forcibly relocate the refugees to another (unfinished) facility.
  • When Manus Island refugees peacefully protested against being moved from the Manus camp to an unfinished building site at Lorengau, Minister Dutton discontinued their food, water and medical supplies, and refused access to aid agencies.
  • New Zealand has offered on multiple occasions to house at least some of the people illegally held on Manus, but Dutton and Turnbull have repeatedly refused their offers of assistance. The offer was reiterated again on 19 August and again rejected.
  • Contrary to the Government's claims that asylum seekers held in detention are "illegal", Cabinet documents evince then Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison first asked his department to advise how asylum seekers could be prevented from ever receiving asylum, before deciding to intervene in ASIO's security procedures and delay security checks for 700 asylum seekers back in 2013, until visa provisions could be tightened. Dutton has actively supported this policy.
  • Dutton removed a Tamil family, including two Australian-born children, from their Biloela community and placed them in detention, despite a 12,000-strong petition, and no available details as to the reason for their removal.
  • 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.
  • On 30 July, an inquest into the death of 24-year-old asylum seeker Hamid Kehazaei's death found Australia solely responsible for his "preventable" death, while on Dutton's watch.
  • 12 people have died while in Dutton's "care" in the offshore detention centres of Manus Island and Nauru.

As recently as last month, Dutton's blatant disrespect for international law and lack of humanity was evident in his refusal to sign a global migration agreement, which would allow mandatory migration detention only as a last resort. 

Dutton said Australia would not:

“ ... sign a deal that sacrifices anything in terms of our border protection policies."

And only this week, a gravely ill 12-year-old child on Nauru suffering "resignation syndrome" was finally brought to Australia after refusing food for 20 whole days, while Dutton's department refused to allow him to be flown here with his mother.

If we haven't been paying attention, we might start to be convinced by this new "warm and fuzzy" version of Peter Dutton, morphing before our very eyes, the "good bloke", who would save children if only he could. But let us not be taken in — Peter Dutton has not changed.

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

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