Politics

The view from Billinudgel

The human side of Peter Dutton
Confirmation that the home affairs minister has COVID-19 is a grim reminder of just how pervasive the virus is

Source: Facebook

It would be harsh and uncaring to admit a modicum of satisfaction at the news that Peter Dutton has contracted coronavirus.

But given that Dutton seems to spend most of his waking hours inflicting harsh and uncaring treatment on just about everyone else, a sense of karma is understandable.

It would be understandable if those incarcerated in the hellholes of Nauru and Manus, or indeed any victims of Dutton’s far-flung gulag archipelago, felt little compassion.

And there will be few sympathisers among the bureaucrats who have been smashed as part of Dutton’s ruthless pursuit of the power needed to implement his authoritarian super department in Home Affairs. What goes around comes around.

But beyond the personal, the knowledge that the virus has infected someone at the innermost workings of the government is a grim reminder of just how pervasive it is, and how hard it will be to contain and combat.

The prime minister says that the best advice he has received is that there is no need for the rest of his ministers to self-isolate, or to undergo tests. But this only adds to the confusion over just who should be taking precautions and what, if anything, should they be doing, rather like his on-again-off-again approach to whether he would attend the footy, before the code itself announced it would lock out crowds from round two onwards.

It may well be that many of Dutton’s cabinet colleagues are reluctant to shake hands with him. But they can hardly avoid associating with him, and the same applies to all those who have encountered him in his various offices and functions, planes, cars, on the streets – all over the place.

This, of course, is the problem of a pandemic: as the word implies, it is potentially universal. And unless there are truly draconian measures to control it – a solution that Dutton would instinctively embrace – there is no remedy except trying to balance the requirements of the health authorities and the demands of a public unwilling to accept the laws that would enforce these requirements.

Scott Morrison is thus astride the barbed wire fence, trying to keep one foot on the ground on either side. There will be travel bans – but not necessarily everywhere. Large public gatherings have been discouraged – so far at least, this is advice rather than straight out prohibition, though some states are indicating that penalties will apply for failure to comply. And what are designated as “essential activities” – whatever they may be – will be maintained, business as usual.

And of course, we are reassured, it will all be over eventually – the economy will snap back; except COVID-19 is now considered a worse problem than the global financial crisis, which Morrison says we are still getting over. Some of this messaging will be presumably change, although that prospect is not exactly reassuring – Morrison’s “clear plan” is still shrouded in doubt and mystery.

But at least one plan is clear and unequivocal. Peter Dutton assures us that he is feeling fine and will be back at work in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, he will be dealing with his repressive portfolio in the comfort of his well-appointed hospital room. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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