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A super poor decision

Malcolm Turnbull shouldn’t have promoted Peter Dutton

Whenever a government proposes concentrating power in the hands of a single individual, a predictable objection is always raised: “Yes, perhaps this might work in the immediate future, but what if one day there is somebody truly awful in this position? That’s what we have to worry about.”

Today, there was no need for hypotheticals. Malcolm Turnbull has created a new super department, combining Border Force, ASIO, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, and the Office of Transport Security. Will it be run by somebody competent, like Simon Birmingham? Or somebody reasonable, like Julie Bishop?

No. It will be headed up by somebody truly awful: Peter Dutton.

Longtime readers will know that I hold Dutton in deep contempt, so you might not wish to trust my entrenched opinion. Rely, then, on the government minister who back in March asked Sky’s Samantha Maiden if she could imagine how quickly public support for the spy agencies would collapse if you put “a fascist like Peter Dutton in charge of the portfolio”.

But perhaps that government minister was simply in a bad mood. Perhaps I, too, am mistaken in my personal opinion. I will leave you to your own conclusions, based on the following catalogue of Dutton’s work over the past few years. I’ve gone in roughly reverse-chronological order.

Last month, Dutton defended his new language test for would-be citizens, saying that in its objections Labor was confusing two different types of tests. A world-leading languages expert said, in fact, both tests required the same level of English.  

In May this year, after Yassmin Abdel-Magied had unreservedly apologised for a controversial tweet about Anzac Day, Dutton applauded the ABC for axing her TV show, and said, “One down, many to go.”

Also in May, after Fairfax journalists went on strike to protest sackings, Dutton said productivity at Fairfax had gone up during the strike, and urged people not to read Fairfax papers.

In April, seeking to justify his citizenship changes, Dutton said you’d expect migrants to send their kids to school. When it was pointed out to him that this was already required by law, he had no answer. He also said domestic violence offenders should not be let into the country, but was unable to explain how existing police checks would not pick up on this.

Also in April, Dutton agreed with radio host Ray Hadley that Newspolls were a fair measure on which to judge Turnbull’s performance, and that at some point that would affect his leadership.

In December last year, Dutton told Hadley that the story of a school that had not sung Christmas carols at its year-end assembly made his “blood boil”. Attacking political correctness, he said, “We need to rise up against it.”

In November last year, Dutton implicitly condemned an entire migrant community, spanning generations, when he agreed with Andrew Bolt that Malcolm Fraser had made a mistake back in the 1970s in resettling Lebanese–Muslim refugees.

In August last year, Dutton said refugees were setting themselves on fire as a way to get to Australia.

Also in August, asked whether there would be an investigation into reports of abuse on Nauru, given the PM’s speedy response to allegations of abuse in the Northern Territory, Dutton responded, “Nauru is not part of Australia, so this is an issue for the Nauruan government.” He also described the reports of abuse as “hype”.

In May last year, after a second refugee in detention set themselves on fire, Dutton sought to blame refugee activists for inciting the act.

Also in May, Dutton said that refugees would simultaneously take Australian jobs and languish in unemployment queues. He accused those refugees of being illiterate and innumerate in their own language and in English.

In January last year, Dutton referred to a journalist as a “mad fucking witch” in a text message, then accidentally sent that journalist the text.

Finally, back when Dutton was the health minister, a reader poll for Australian Doctor magazine found that Dutton was the worst federal health minister of the past 35 years.

These are just quotations, of course. You should read this piece, written by Imran Mohammad, about his four years on Manus Island, for an insight into the conditions there, for which Dutton currently bears responsibility.

Some might believe that it is possible, on the basis of the above, to come to a judgement on Dutton’s competency, decency and commitment to transparency. Certainly the prime minister believes it is. After all, Turnbull just decided to promote the man. There must have been some reason for it.

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About the author Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly was an adviser to prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. He is the Monthly’s politics editor.

@mrseankelly
 
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