Dutton's Austasi — Turnbull's worst decision yet

By | | comments |
Giving a former Queensland drug cop control of Australia's entire domestic security apparatus ... what possibly could go wrong? (Image via @mana_kailani)

From a crowded field, making Peter Dutton tsar over an immense Homeland Security-style department is easily the Turnbull Government's most appalling move yet. Columnist Ingrid Matthews comments.

I GOT THE BIT about the Prime Minister feeling under siege, from the weird array of weaponry at his Monday press conference. I understood he was projecting his worst fear – losing face – by posing with gas-masked muppets. It was clear this ludicrous pantomime would crowd the Referendum Council Final Report out of the top headlines.

But I did not think Turnbull could top off that hyper-contrived clownshow inside 24 hours.

That political editors choose terror announcements over propositions for constitutional reform has nothing to do with substance and everything to do with optics. The Referendum Council news footage showed a fidgety Bill Shorten and a tremulous Malcolm Turnbull cautioning against heroic failure.

Such dullness is no competition for inflatable zodiacs and Special Ops commandos. But by Tuesday, that crock of nonsense was surpassed. Out trundled the Prime Minister to announce that Peter Dutton will head up a super-ministry to respond to “the evolving terror threat”. The move was widely anticipated since at least April, because Dutton is a conservative thorn in the prime ministerial side. It is a terrible decision. Space precludes listing everything wrong with it (Sean Kelly has helpfully enumerated many reasons), but it also highlights a broader theme.

Meritocracy mythology and government by gamesmanship

In our system, it is absolutely routine to reward those in power for ineptitude and wrongdoing. Remember the death of Ms Dhu? Two of the police officers whose neglect killed her were promoted. Remember how we traded wheat for weapons in breach of United Nations sanctions while at war in Iraq? The responsible minister, Alexander Downer, was gifted the London High Commissionership. Look at Joe Hockey, a treasurer so innumerate he was nicknamed "Eleventy". Now he is our man in Washington.

Peter Dutton was voted worst ever health minister by 1,100 doctors (from a field that includes Tony Abbott). He speculated that Lebanese Australian Muslims who migrated over 40 years ago caused terror threats. The “dour and plodding former policeman” said:

“Out of the last 33 people who have been charged with terrorist-related offences in this country, 22 of those people are from second- and third-generation Lebanese-Muslim background.”

All 33 people are innocent, because they have been charged, not proven guilty. It is not entirely surprising a former Queensland Police officer does not comprehend presumption of innocence.

Aside from this misleading and probably malicious racism, Dutton is responsible for monumental waste and cruelty. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection spends almost half-a-million dollars per off-shore asylum seeker per year. It spent over $2 billion on its off-shore detention regime without proper authority. The most recent pay-out to keep its torturous actions secret was $90 million. Even before the "Home Affairs Department" announcement, the department found $250 million for its new mega-HQ. It spent over $1 million on toy medals — more than the ADF spends on real ones.

It was the Abbott Government that allocated over $400 million to set up a "Border Force" incapable of running a lawful identity check. Dutton was the minister when Operation Fortitude was conceived and fell flat on its ridiculous face. He refused interviews on the grounds that the operation was an operational matter — when it was demonstrably inoperative.

All this was reported as "controversial", when it was simply racist and unlawful. It was not unbelievable, or incredible. Expressions of surprise reinforce the lie that racist abuse of power is the exception, that there are serious consequences. But Border Force boss Roman Quaedvlieg still has his job. Meritocracy mythology is aggressively prosecuted, but the exact opposite happens. Those with positional power who know where the bodies are buried are more likely to be promoted under government by gamesmanship.

Operation Fortitude was racist overreach of the first order and we can expect more racist overreach from a Dutton-led Home Affairs Department. The only justification for all this – as well as for the citizenship law amendments and the embarrassing gibberish about the "laws of mathematics" – is false.

“My job is to keep Australians safe”, claims Turnbull endlessly, yet the evidence of its falsity is on the public record.

Not all Australians

Turnbull does not mean his job is to keep all Australians safe. He does not mean Aboriginal people in custody. He most certainly does not mean Aboriginal children in custody. Or a black boy hunted down and killed by an angry vigilante, reportedly after receiving information on the boy’s likely whereabouts from a police officer.

For 220 years, police and other armed personnel have rendered Aboriginal people unsafe. Take a recent report showing how NSW police and courts – and not crime rates – cause higher rates of incarceration of Aboriginal people. It works like this: where an Aboriginal person breaches an AVO, police add more severe stalking offences to the charge. NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research chief Dr Don Weatherburn suggested there could be 500 fewer Aboriginal people in gaol per year but for police escalating charges. When asked why police bring more severe charges against Aboriginal people, Dr Weatherburn said “we don’t know”.

We don’t know.

Nor will the safety of Muslim women in public, a serious problem largely caused by political terror-rhetoric, be enhanced by this "Homeland Security" department. The new department will not make Muslim and other feminists, who make perfectly legitimate comments online, "more safe". Turnbull is not talking about the safety of women and children trapped in households with a violent man. In NSW, "family men" killed 192 women and children in the ten years to 2010. Nationally, men kill on average two women who were their wives or girlfriends every week. These killings are the tip of the domestic violence iceberg.

As an economist and domestic violence survivor, I note the misallocation of resources inherent to the "security" spend, and am reminded how little our society cares about women and children. Governments spend billions conflating a racist and violent immigration regime with terrorism, but shut down women’s shelters.

For decades police told women that there was nothing they could do about stalking. The stalker "had not committed a crime". Yet when the Lindt café siege report was handed down, NSW Police created a "fixated persons unit" virtually overnight — while the years feminists spent convincing the law to take stalking seriously are used by police to send more Aboriginal people to gaol. The NSW police shot and killed an innocent bystander in the Lindt Café. They were rewarded with new shoot to kill powers. Their failures prompted debate about whether the ADF should have been called in. The Prime Minister used this to beef up military call-out powers and neutralise a factional opponent with a mega-ministry.

Politicians always seize excitedly on anything that can be passed off as evidence of an increased terror threat. This is not reward for merit. It is government by gamesmanship.

The mega-department of Home Affairs will do nothing to address the greatest safety risks to First Peoples and Muslim women, to people of colour, and all women and children. Together, these groups make up a majority of the population.

Now consider this: Peter Dutton is a "family man" and former armed agent of the state. It is these two groups that pose the greatest safety threat to millions of Australians.

Ingrid Matthews is a sessional academic at Western Sydney University School of Law. You can follow Ingrid on Twitter at @iMusing or her blog oecomuse

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

Monthly Donation


Single Donation


The whole truth. Subscribe to IA for just $5.

Recent articles by Ingrid Matthews
Morrison's Israel embassy 'issue'

Ingrid Matthews analyses PM Scott Morrison's spectacularly ill-conceived plan to ...  
Politics 2017 finale: The bin fire edition

An RC instigated by a Labor PM, John in Bennelong and strategic MYEFO leaks: Ingrid ...  
Putting 'Modern' Malcolm and 'Humble' Barnaby to bed

Ingrid Matthews discusses the hollow triumphalism of recent speeches from Malcolm ...  
Join the conversation
comments powered by Disqus

Support IAIndependent Australia

IA is dedicated to providing fearless, independent journalism, free for all, with no barriers. But we need your help. To keep us speaking truth to power, please consider donating to IA today - even a dollar will make a huge difference - or subscribe and receive all the benefits of membership. Keep ‘em honest. Support IA.

Close Subscribe Donate