An article by Jane Cadzow (Peter Dutton: ‘I’m just not impacted by that hatred’) in the Fairfax press on the weekend offers some valuable insights into the man who is being touted as the next leader of the Liberal Party.
The piece canvases Dutton’s character, both private and public. It deals with leadership. A long-suffering malignancy at the heart of Australia’s body politic.
Of our recent leaders with the exception of Tony Abbott, not one lacked the intelligence for the position. All with the exception of one, a woman, governed with self-interest. Not one was perfect in character.
As I read the article I tried to put aside my personal thoughts on the man himself and try to be objective about why it is people think he has the character to lead this nation.
The article begins with an overview of the 46-year-old bald but youthful Immigration minister before the interviewer draws attention to a long row of files behind his desk, each of which contains documents outlining the circumstances of an individual who hopes to remain in Australia.
They are all cases that wait at his leisure a decision as to whether he will allow them to remain in Australia. Never in Australia’s history has so much unrestricted power been given to one individual over the fortunes of individuals and families. Particularly to one, who as the article points out, who sees everything in black and white without room for the slightest shade of hue. Even more power than the Prime Minister.
“He has a lot of discretion,” says Innes Willox, chief executive of an employers’ association, Australian Industry Group, and chair of a ministerial advisory committee on skilled migration. “A lot of people’s fates are in his hands.”
I wonder about the exclusivity of such power with a man who has little time for the complex nature of life.
Cadzow is correct to say that he retains the demeanour of the detective he once was. For many he personifies the image of the plain-clothes copper they wouldn’t like to meet late at night, up a blocked ally. She is also correct to say that ‘’on television he is often so wooden that you can almost hear his media advisers’ sighs of despair.
He often gives the appearance of someone with a huge chip on his shoulder, a willingness to blame others and an out of control self-righteousness. “It is an indication of his level of charisma that his nickname in the corridors of power is Mr Potato Head.”
Leadership is a combination of traits that etch the outlines of a life and grow over time. They govern moral choices and demonstrate empathy toward others. It is far better for those with these qualities to lead rather than follow. In fact it is incumbent on them.
Now I’m not privy to who was responsible for putting Dutton’s name forward as a future leader. The speculation comes as a surprise really because he has never shown any of those characteristics in his time in Parliament.
From his own mouth he says that “personal pizazz isn’t a prerequisite for the highest office.” He is perfectly correct to say so. Probably Bob Hawke was the last one to have any. However, there are other prerequisites that are sacrosanct, like character, honesty, inspiration and integrity.
Probably the speculation arises from the fact that the hard right seem to control his party and he is a credentialed leader, given the qualifications it requires.
Cadzow also says that Dutton and his supporters are aware that a great portion of the Australian public loathes him. Something he may very well share with Christopher Pyne.
“This cold automaton who is non-caring and never sheds a tear – that’s the image that he has,” says Willox, arguing that the characterisation is unfair: “He’s a much deeper person than that public front.”
Apparently Dutton is unconcerned about what people think of him: “I’m just not impacted by that hatred in any way.”
It strikes me that a man who is not impacted by what others think of him has no right to be judging those who wish to remain in Australia.
According to Dutton; “If you’re prepared to fight for what you believe in, then people see you as a strong character.”
Fighting for what you believe in is a fine trait in a man’s character but for a man with fewer facial expressions than all his colleagues put together it is not enough to support a crack at the Prime Ministership.
No one hurls an insult across the chamber with more conviction. “You become a warrior, in a sense,” he says. The problem with this of course is that it is from whence the loathing stems.
With this in mind Kadzow recollects:
“I mention that I was once in a lift in the Commonwealth parliament offices in Sydney with federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten – I was writing a story about him – when Dutton got in, too, bringing the number of passengers to three. Shorten greeted Dutton in a perfunctory way. Dutton did not acknowledge him. At least, that’s the way I remember it.”
“Really?” says Dutton. “That’s pretty unusual. I mean, I have a fair go at Bill at Question Time, but I exchange pleasantries … I actually believe manners are very important.”
Right-wing conservatives seem to think that manners and conservatism are bonded exclusively to them but they are yet to learn the difference between manners and civility. The interview continues into the worthiness of good manners and Dutton is reminded of when he referred to senior News Corp correspondent Samantha Maiden, now with Sky News, as “a mad f…ing witch”.
No wasn’t his intention to offend “I apologised straight away to her,” Dutton says.
The problem with this is that he has form, as we Australians are apt to put it. He despises the ABC and Fairfax in fact if you disagree with him he is more than likely to form a low opinion of you. He has judged the ABCs Q&A as unfit for human consumption even though he says he never watches it and it rates well.
Of Fairfax he recommends that people stop reading their newspapers. “I think it’s a better way to lead your life – that would be my advice,” he said.
Once again I seem to run into this free speech philosophy that conservatives have that it should only be available to those who support their ideology. That we shouldn’t be open to those with alternate views.
The interviewer moves onto the recent incident on Manus Island. I have written much on the subject and I have to put my afore mentioned objective pursuit aside for a moment. I believe he is a guilty as anyone can be of misleading the Australian public and he should resign or be sacked. Anyway as Kadzow puts it:
“Last month – on Good Friday – drunken members of the PNG defence force fired shots at the Manus detention centre, which houses more than 800 men. The Manus police commander, David Yapu, said the violence was sparked by an altercation that had broken out earlier in the day between asylum-seekers and defence force personnel on the soccer pitch of the naval base that surrounds the centre.
Dutton had a different explanation. He said the attack was triggered by a sighting of three asylum-seekers leading a five-year-old boy into the detention centre. His inference was that locals had reason to fear for the boy’s safety: earlier in the year, two asylum-seekers at Manus had been charged with sexual assault. Police commander Yapu responded that the visit by the boy – who was aged about 10, not five – had occurred a week beforehand. The two incidents were not related, Yapu said.
Undeterred, Dutton stuck by his story, telling journalists “there are facts that I have that you don’t”. Eventually the three asylum-seekers lodged a formal complaint, insisting that all they had done was help a hungry child who had been begging for food or money outside the centre. They had walked the boy past the security guard at the gate and sat him on a chair outside their living quarters while they filled two plastic bags with fruit for him, they said. “All these incidents are recorded by your CCTV cameras. We are requesting for the immediate release of the footage of this incident.”
By the time of my second meeting with Dutton, he has seen the footage but hasn’t released it. “I’m not too interested, frankly, in demands that they’re making,” he says of the asylum-seekers. Dutton is “as absolutely convinced of the facts now as I was when I first made this public”. He is also confident that, with or without footage, most right-thinking Australians would agree with his interpretation of events: “I think if common sense is applied here, people can understand what’s been happening.”
To barrister and human rights advocate Julian Burnside, Dutton’s attitude is breathtaking in its arrogance: “He won’t disclose his evidence. He simply says he knows better than people who were on the spot.”
Frankly I don’t see the aforementioned qualities of leadership in this incident. All he has to do is release the tapes to clear it up.
Ben Enquist of the Australia Institute reckons It is clear to Oquist that Dutton’s innuendo about the three men at Manus was “deliberately designed to sow seeds of doubt in people’s sympathy for refugees overall. It was a calculated dog-whistle: ‘These people are potential sexual predators, so hold your sympathy in check’.”
An illustration of Dutton’s propensity for the offensive is when he opens his mouth to speak he cannot do so without reverting to overstatement and outrage.
Remember prior to the last election “he warned of dire consequences if Labor won government and implemented its strategy of curbing skyrocketing house prices by winding back negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount – forms of tax minimisation that benefit property investors. “I think the economy will come to a shuddering halt,” he said on Sydney radio station 2SM, “and I think the stockmarket will crash.”
Given that he has a large property investment, like many others in the Government, it is not hard to understand his opposition to negative gearing.
Before last Christmas a talkback caller rang a Brisbane radio station to say that the lyrics to the song the song We Wish You a Merry Christmas were changed to We Wish you a Happy Holiday, and no carols were performed at a Brisbane primary school. Dutton said the story made his blood boil. Apparently. He gathered all the indignation he could muster. He urged people to rise up against “political correctness gone mad”.
“(As It turned out lots of carols had been sung at a Christmas concert the school held a few days before the end-of-year concert. But by the time that information surfaced, the “war against Christmas” headlines had already been published.)”
I think good judgement is also a part of leadership.
In the recipe of good leadership there are many ingredients. Popularity is but one. It however ranks far below getting things done for the common good.
Showing pitiful judgement Dutton was the only Liberal frontbencher with a ‘no show’ against his name when Kevin Rudd made his apology speech.
In 2008, when Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologised for the past mistreatment of Indigenous Australians, Dutton was the only Liberal frontbencher who wasn’t in parliament to hear it. According to Jane Cadzow Dutton was so determined to boycott the event that he had told the then Liberal leader, Brendan Nelson, that he was prepared to resign if necessary. He says he now regrets staying away: “I didn’t appreciate the symbolism of it, and the importance to Indigenous people.”
Again I cannot help but think of what part judgement and grace play in the recipe of what leadership is.
“I see myself as somebody who was brought up to know the difference between right and wrong.”
An old school friend, former first-class cricketer Joe Dawes, agrees with Dutton’s wife Kirilly that one of his defining characteristics is his certitude. “He’s always had very strong views on most things,” says Dawes. Even as a kid “he had a strong view on how the world should be, how things should be done”
Many people have strong views, myself included. Because of this they are often called biased. There are also those who have listened at length to many views. They are called reasoned.
In other portfolios he hasn’t made any great impact. As Health Minister a poll conducted by Australian Doctor magazine voted him the worst federal health minister in the past 35 years.
It is as immigration Minister that Dutton has made his name. His personality somehow fits the title and as Jane Kadzow points out. Many expect that, by the time of the next election Dutton’s responsibilities will have expanded to include the Australian Federal Police and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), and he will have the new title of Minister for Homeland Security. Defence and intelligence analyst Hugh White has misgivings. “I don’t think the scale of terrorism threat we face is anything like sufficient to justify the risks involved in concentrating this amount of power in one institution and in one minister,” says White. It seems to him that the creation of the super-ministry would have only one clear goal: “To placate Dutton’s ambition.”
Jane Kadzow has written an intelligent, in-depth, fair and lengthy work on Minister Peter Dutton. You can read it in full here.
As for me I have failed in my attempt to be objective. I remain one of those who loath him.
My thought for the day
Humility is the basis of all intellectual advancement. However, it is truth that enables human progress.
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