Dead to us
The Liberal Party should look before it leaps to embrace Peter Dutton
In a desperate bid to save his prime ministership, Malcolm Turnbull this morning capitulated [$] to the climate sceptics and put off including any emissions reduction target in the National Energy Guarantee. Meanwhile, he insisted that he has the “absolute support” of hardline Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. We all know hollow words when we hear them, and as a new killing season approaches, anything Dutton says on the subject will be taken with a grain of salt. Here’s a prediction: if the Liberal Party panics and replaces Turnbull with Dutton, they will suffer such an epic backlash at the next election that ex-Queensland premier Campbell Newman’s 2015 defeat will look respectable. It would not be exaggerating to say that Dutton is one of the most loathed individuals in politics, barely popular in his own Brisbane electorate, let alone the rest of the country. For a majority of Australians, to parrot a line Dutton wielded against his media critics, he is dead to us.
Even his conservative fans, like Andrew Bolt, remember that Dutton was a dud health minister. As immigration minister he has kept the boats stopped, implementing with dull determination the inhuman policy of turnbacks and indefinite offshore detention, which he inherited from predecessor Scott Morrison (who in turn owed much of it to Kevin Rudd, who stopped the boats when he reprised the prime ministership in 2013). Ever since the “Nauru files” revealed shocking abuse of detainees, including children, that policy has been morally indefensible. Even if voters support offshore detention – or more likely can’t think of a better solution, or don’t support bringing asylum seekers here – they will, perversely, not reward the minister responsible for it. It’s feel-bad politics.
Otherwise, as James Button wrote in this seminal essay for The Monthly, Dutton’s achievement as minister has been to turn the focus of his department from the successful integration of migrants – a key plank of our success as a multicultural nation – to border protection. He has gone from one assault on multiculturalism to another, a lot of it seemingly targeted at Melbourne: from #borderfarce to this year’s extended beat-up on Sudanese “gangs”. As Dutton’s power has increased with the formation of the Home Affairs mega-ministry it’s been the relentless conversion of Australia into a mass-surveillance state, the creeping authoritarianism that is justified by the war on terror, but which is so often turned against government critics.
Finally, the only joke Peter Dutton has ever cracked revealed the black depths of cynicism beneath his personal politics. There are plenty of people worried that with turnbacks, walls and gulags, opportunistic anti-immigration politicians in rich-world countries are softening up voters for a truly horrific wave of repression when climate refugees start turning up in their millions, as low-lying countries literally submerge later this century. It’s a subplot in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, for example. In 2015, as he lined up for a press conference with then PM Abbott and Treasurer Morrison, Dutton talked about how a meeting in Port Moresby – to discuss the threat of climate change to Pacific islands – had run late. Oblivious to the boom mic above him, Dutton joked: “time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping at your door”. He later apologised.
There is more public affection for Tony Abbott than there is for Peter Dutton, and that’s saying something. A few weeks ago, in a poll released days after the Super Saturday by-elections, Essential’s polling on the best leader of the Liberal Party had Turnbull on 28 per cent (up 4 per cent), Julie Bishop on 16 per cent (down one per cent), Abbott on 10 per cent (down one per cent) and Dutton on 5 per cent (up two per cent), beating only Morrison and Christopher Pyne. An electoral honeymoon with Peter Dutton? Unthinkable.
The most interesting number in this morning’s Fairfax-Ipsos poll, which was otherwise devastating for the PM, is a proxy measure of the conservative “base” who would support the toppling of moderate Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull: 13 per cent. That is the proportion of voters who believe the government is doing “too much” on climate change. A clear majority, 56 per cent, think Australia is doing too little and another quarter think we have it about right.
The wise heads in the Liberal Party – if there are any left who might prevail – must know all this. Some are quoted off the record today, admitting that “we can’t go to Dutton”. Even Bolt, a chronic Turnbull-hater, stopped short of endorsing an alternative this morning. Perhaps most sobering was his concession that a leadership spill would not be about winning the next election, or even saving the furniture as Rudd did in his comeback in 2013, but about positioning for the election expected in 2022. The Liberals, he wrote, should “pick a leader who can best restore the Liberals as a centre-Right party, and set Labor the tests at this election that they can show a Labor government failed by the next”. If that’s your prime motive for a leadership spill, you’ve lost the plot. Only John Howard could intervene and restore sanity now.
The Australian reports [$] that Queensland LNP president Gary Spence has urged MPs to topple Malcolm Turnbull for Peter Dutton.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Fairfax Media reports that support for the Coalition’s big business tax cuts has fallen, although 47 per cent of voters support [$]
cutting the rate from 30 per cent to 25 per cent over the next decade. The Coalition is expected to abandon the policy after a vote in the Senate.
In the AFR, Adele Ferguson writes [$] that APRA’s performance at the banking royal commission on Friday “showed a regulator not up to the job”, while the ABC’s Ian Verrender writes that the “C word” popped up again on Friday: criminal.
The ABC’s 7.30 has launched a three-part series, starting tonight, on the state of the Great Barrier Reef, including this story and visualisation.
The Victorian government announced [$] yesterday that it would use $1.24 billion to pay for 650,000 home owners to install solar panels, as the state’s stand-off with the federal government over the National Energy Guarantee deepened.
In Fairfax Media, Alpha Cheng, whose father Curtis Cheng was shot outside of police headquarters in Parramatta, writes that “If anyone should want to ban Muslims it would be me – but I don’t.”
Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
In a desperate bid to save his prime ministership, Malcolm Turnbull this morning capitulated [$] to the climate sceptics and put off including any emissions reduction target in the National Energy Guarantee. Meanwhile, he insisted that he has the “absolute support” of hardline Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. We all know hollow words when we hear them, and as a new killing season approaches, anything Dutton says on the subject will be taken with a grain of salt. Here’s a prediction: if the Liberal Party panics and replaces Turnbull with Dutton, they will suffer such an epic backlash at the next election that...