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Dutton and Trump politics

The mainstream media in Australia is currently whitewashing fascist politics. It is not just sycophantic, or lazy, journalism. It is dangerous.

When Peter Dutton was named the leader of the LNP opposition last week, a number of poor pieces emerged about giving the “hard man a go” to prove who he is. One of the most supine was from Jacqueline Maley at Fairfax.

These soft columns mention some of the ugly acts of Dutton’s past, such as walking out of the apology to the Stolen Generation. He has apologised for that, blaming his background, presumably as a Queensland cop. Dutton has also apologised this week for joking about the existential threat that climate change poses to our island neighbours. He described this bigoted quip as “in poor taste.”

What these articles have not detailed is Dutton’s appalling record as head of Immigration. In 2017, the government paid out $70 million to refugees and asylum seekers to avoid having the lawyers’ meticulously documented trail of abuse of innocent people laid out in court. The solicitors described it as the largest human rights class action settlement in Australian history.

The life of refugees on Manus and Nauru is indeed well documented in its horror. Women coerced by guards to provide sexual favours to have enough water to wash out their shampoo or clean their children in the overwhelming heat. Women forced to queue for each issue of a sanitary item. People abused for taking a piece of fruit for later from the nursery-hour dinner. Tents smeared in black mould found to be “highly toxic,” with only a small fan to make the heat less intolerable. Utterly inadequate medical care.

The point of this treatment, under Morrison as well as Dutton, was to make the Taliban or the genocidal Sri Lankan army or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard less horrific than Australia. During Labor’s last term, detention was a process. Under the nine years of LNP government, it became an intolerable dead end. Guards travelled with Hoffman knives as standard issue to cut down suicide attempts. People lay through the stifling days, depression-drugged, in dank tents without home to return to or hope for the future.

Eventually the children on Nauru declined into resignation syndrome. They were literally dying of despair, but Dutton wasted taxpayer money in the courts to avoid evacuating them from Nauru.

When he was eventually forced by Medevac legislation to bring the most ill adults to Australia, their treatment can only be described as vengeful. Those closest to death received medical care; the rest continued barely helped. They were imprisoned in Alternative Places of Detention, robbed of the ability to walk the streets or choose a meal. After they communicated with people outside their windows, or for fear of more suicides, some were even robbed of fresh air. These men with damaged health were made more anxious by utterly inadequate pandemic provisions. It was only the spotlight shone on their treatment by Novak Djokovic being locked in one of the hotel prisons that provoked outrage and eventual freedom. This extraordinary waste of money took place while their families and friends in the community could have housed them at minimal cost to the country.

The Murugappan family illustrated the treatment of the refugees and asylum seekers in Australia, not much better than the abuse offshore. Fleeing a genocidal army must have made being dragged from their house by uniformed men at dawn even more terrifying. (Dogs often accompanied this kind of night raid perpetrated on vulnerable people as they were moved around at the whim of the department.) YouTube still holds the video of the sound of the girls’ screams as armed guards kept them from their mother. The children have long slept with their parents, scared of what might happen next, or the procession of guards inspecting them at night, torches glaring over their beds. They had teeth pulled because of rot from a lack of vitamin D. In Melbourne, these little girls did not have time in the sun to produce the vitamin.

These stories are not isolated and they happened in our suburbs and small towns to so many other people Australians don’t know about. This was possible because the victims, ordinary people fleeing our nightmares, were dehumanised and hidden from our sight.

Dutton repeatedly misled the public about the conditions under which people lived, the quality of healthcare to which they had access, or suggested that the people living in harsh conditions were of criminal character and deserved it. And none of this was necessary. Labor’s boat turnbacks had made the extortionate price of this last-resort path unviable. Daily cruelties to make Australia intolerable were not truly perpetrated to “send a message” that people smugglers must stop. They were attempts to make Australia’s reputation cruel and ugly, so that nobody would ever want to come here that Peter Dutton didn’t invite. White African farmers, white Ukrainians or au pairs might receive mercy. No mercy is granted the non-white or the Muslim outside our pitifully small humanitarian visa program.

Fascist is a term thrown around loosely; fascist politics is a more useful concept. Yale philosopher Jason Stanley defines it as identifying enemies and appealing to “an in-group (usually the majority), and smashing the truth and replacing it with power.” Dutton and his party defined people who arrived by boat as our enemies, as likely to be radicalised and to harm us. More recently, Scott Morrison seemed keen to echo our AUKUS allies in adding the tiny cohort of trans youth to the list of enemy threats. These culture war battles are divorced from fact but aim to deploy rage to distract a resentful voter base. These trumped-up panics are accompanied in Australia, Britain and the USA by a rapid decline in our democratic standing.

Dutton has signalled that his leadership is to be about culture war battles and division. After Albanese included the three Australian flags in his press briefings, Dutton made the ostentatious step of appearing in front of the Red Ensign alone. First Nations Australians are to be invisible. After 9 years in government, Dutton has discovered the “forgotten people” of the suburbs. This dogwhistle is to announce the fact that Morrison’s “quiet Australians” remain the target of culture war divisiveness.

Biden defeated Trump in the US. Boris Johnson’s career remains precarious, but his party’s hold is not. Our May election gave the Liberal Party the thumping it had earned. None of these countries is safe. It has taken decades for the radical right in America to suppress the votes of those not caught up in its culture war campaigns. It may be that there are not enough to fight back against the Republican’s authoritarian trajectory in 2022 and 2024.

Without a strong news media, Australia faces a clouded future. Albanese’s government may be able to repair our Rule of Law protections adequately to protect us into the future from the international right’s authoritarian games. The radical right might lose their hold on the Liberal and National parties. We have seen in America, however, that this form of the right is prepared to play the long game. Journalists that help them whitewash their cruellest actions aid them in this plan.


This article was originally published on Pearls and Irritations.

Lucy Hamilton is a Melbourne writer with degrees from the University of Melbourne and Monash University.




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  1. Phil Pryor

    Dutton is an excretion, a dropping, a residue, a pinup boy of the Q L N P, that gang of grotty grubs who hold the nation back. Dutton remains prejudicial, anti intellectual (hah) a primitive hunnish howling harping hitman for ignorant views, antisocial attitudes, and is beyong painting, lippy, rouge, Murderer Doch lying and propaganda, an untouchable primitive. The executive liars and the coerced scribblers can try all they like to invent a human touch, but it will fail the test of honesty. Duckwit-Futton lives!! Ugghh.

  2. David Baird

    An excellent article, Lucy. Many of those battling away in the western ‘democracies’ are pretty much unaware of, or don’t care how constant the threat of authoritarianism is. Australia has more, and more draconian, laws ‘protecting us’ than is good for the country, and it all began with little Honest Johnnie, the Man of Steel, back post 9-11. With the Right largely controlling the mass media, truth will become what they say it is. In the US the near-revolution of Jan 6, 2021 is only the most obvious symptom of the malaise and the perpetrators behind it are nothing if not determined to succeed. Our own media’s cleaning up of Dutton’s image is blatantly dishonest, and its practitioners know it. These will continue to be dangerous times for democracy, even in its current slightly tattered state.

  3. A Commentator

    I think it is a little lazy to draw too many parallels between Trump and conservative politicians.
    Trump had (has) no basic philosophical orientation.
    He probably hasn’t read a book during his adult life. He isn’t a conservative.
    Trump stands for nothing except Trump. He is motivated only by ego and self-aggrandisement, his decisions are irrational and unpredictable.
    Trump shares his views with marginal conspiracy theorists.
    Regardless of whether or not you like Dutton (or Morrison or Boris Johnson), let’s not pretend Trump shares any form of mainstream political orientation with any of them

  4. Michael Taylor

    AC, you misjudged.

    This is not a comparison between Dutton and Trump, but a comparison of politics.

    Lazy comment from you. I expect better.

  5. Albos Elbow

    AC, trump may be an arsehole, but the majority of his policies he does share with conservatives.
    Racist, anti-woman, anti-refugees and immigrants, climate denier, anti-vaccines, fossil fool champion, pro guns, pro coal, pro gas and oil, anti-conservation, against corruption commissions, tax avoidance champion, big business supporter, anti-unions, anti-government, pro white supremacy, . . . shall we go on?

  6. leefe

    The so-called ‘Quiet Australians’ were Howard’s preferred audience. His ‘battlers’. And all he did was make their lives harder.

  7. Michael Taylor

    AE, indeed. Trump is on record as saying that his policy of locking up Mexican refugees (and separating children from their parents) was inspired by the LNP.

  8. A Commentator

    I wasn’t only referring to the content of the article, it’s simply that I notice lazy comments from time to time.
    This article was close enough to the issue to make my point.
    * Trump could probably be characterised as a political figure that would wish to be a fascist, but the political system of the USA prevented that
    * Australian politics is generally mainstream, and even the “policies” advocated by Clive Palmer fall short of fascism.
    * “Fascist” is a label that has become devalued by overuse. I think it should be reserved for genuine fascists, like Putin

  9. Florence nee Fedup

    I suspect this department is where Chalmers begins saving money. In the billions, if the truth is known. Speed up issuing visas. Assess & give permanent visas to all who came on boats before 2012. Change wording of legislation will never be allowed to settle to “Will be sent to Nauru. No assessments will begin for a decade—a win-win for all.

  10. Kathryn

    A Commentor, if you dont believe that Dutton is EVERY bit as dangerous, self-promoting, arrogant and born-to-rule as Trump, you are sadly mistaken! Dutton ticks every box as a sadistic, child-torturing psychopath who’s appalling mistreatment of the young Tamil family from Biloela gives an insight into his complete lack of compassion, humanity and appalling willingness to degrade and illegally incarcerate people – even little children – in order to appease his rabid following of vile, intolerant racists and habitual haters! Dutton’s malignant callousness and vile, vindictive nature exposes him as a political malfeasant miscreant who attains pleasure out of other people’s misery! What is worse, is that this born-to-rule tyrant has now been elevated into autocratic, fascist power by the worst, most depraved and corrupt regime in living memory! The fact that this megalomaniacal narcissist is said to have acquired an unexplained wealth of more than $300 MILLION needs to be intensely and retrospectively investigated! No wonder the corrupt sociopaths in the LNP are fighting tooth and nail against an independent ICAC! God help us all if this unspeakably evil man becomes the next – and likely the absolute worst and most fascist – PM in our history!

    Peter Dutton Net Worth 2022, Age, Wife, first Wife,

  11. Andy56

    Look i understand people can change. But if it takes 9yrs to admit to better understanding, especially when your the minister, you have to question the mans ability to learn. Now if he did learn but continued with his approach, that implies a nasty streak in his personality. And if it was ” only ” towing the party line, that defense was thrown out a long long time ago. ( I was only following orders)
    Personally, i think he is a low life who has nothing to contribute to public life. Anyone who advocates for nuclear power, clearly cant add up or dont give a cheese burger cause they aint paying for it.

  12. Andrew J. Smith

    Good article, Dutton took opportunities like Trump, while many would argue that it wasn’t the LNP which, from the time of Howard, cooked up aggressive anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-population growth agitprop which Australians have been subjected to for a generation now.

    The same were also presented as environmental ‘hygiene’ issues, deflecting from fossil fuels, climate science, carbon, transition to renewables and any related regulation, or taxes.

    Represents a nativist libertarian ‘Anglosphere’ circle of influence including US right wing media (PR techniques & dog whistling content), white nativist agitprop and messaging of radical right libertarian socioeconomics, for the 0.1% and large corporates e.g. offshore supporting Brexit to avoid EU constraints (shared with Putin, his allies, LNP types, Trump and his alt right grifters.

    We know the media suspects from fringe through to centre right legacy media, plus infamous think tanks in global ‘Koch Network’ informing the right on libertarian policies, but Dutton, Trump, many Australians have been unwittingly influenced by the nativist ‘Tanton Network’.

    The latter was developed from the ’70s via fossil fueled ZPG Zero Population Growth by deceased white nationalist John ‘passive eugenics’ Tanton, admirer of white Oz policy, visitor to Oz, muse of Bannon et al and promoter of the ‘great replacement’ (not new), described by former Reagan staffer as ‘the most influential unknown man in America’.

    Fast forward and we see how Hungarian legacy media is not much worse than Oz, i.e. consolidated, hollowed out, fawning, disappears centre right through left, in lock step with the nativist populist regime of Orban, Soros conspiracy/’great replacement’ and attracts Murdoch’s Fox News with Tucker Carlson, CPAC events, Koch linked anti-EU think tanks funded by the Hungarian government, one was called out by eminent US conservative Anne Applebaum and attracting Australian visitors of the same circles:

    ‘Why Australia’s conservatives are finding friends in Hungary… In a speech that was not reported in Australia at the time, Downer railed against immigrants who he said “set up separate ghettos” and lived a “Bantustan-style” life, a reference to the segregated black settlements of apartheid South Africa.

    He was even more pointed on the topic of refugees, whose pickiness was “undermining the whole [migration] system”. They were only owed temporary protection while they fled danger, he said, and “when that’s finished they should peacefully be able to return home”.

  13. Michael Taylor

    Andrew, I apologise… for some reason your comment got caught up in the system. One of life’s mysteries. 🤷🏻‍♂️

  14. Albos Elbow

    Commander Voldemort Potato Head has been able from humble beginnings in suburban Brisbane, to amass a fortune of $300 million.

    He started off by working for nearly a decade as a policeman in the Queensland Drug Squad.

    After being dishonourably run out of the Queensland Police Force for misconduct, he joined the Queensland Liberal Party to start a career in politics.

    Over the years, he has become a very fashionable bumlicker for corrupt big businessmen and found his niche in the fossil fuel industry.
    It was a dream come true to become a minister in COAL-NP under Scummo.

    Since Scummo came to parliament holding a lump of coal, his net worth has increased by about $20 million.
    Fossil Fuel billionaires can be very generous when it suits them.

  15. Lucy Hamilton

    A Commentator, you need to read the essay to see that I make the same point that you do. I talk about “fascist politics” not fascism. It’s a noteworthy difference.

    Thanks to the posters who have made thoughtful responses.

  16. Bruce White

    Well said Lucy Hamilton. Thanks for calling a spade a spade. And for calling an arsehole an arsehole.
    I had meantioned, perhaps a year ago Duttons’ time in the Queensland Police Drug Squad.
    I also mentioned that ‘what sort of character reference would someone obtain from a police informant?’.
    (I note that police informants make notoriously unreliable witnesses, and are often ‘beholden to their police handlers’ in testimony, provision of evidence,blackmail,extortion, etc. because of charges being threatened to extort them.

  17. wam-

    It is only a few years ago, I wrote:
    How many ex-coppers are worth $5m? We cannot call dutton dumb.
    How the ^@$^@$ did he get the extra $295m??? when at the political level he is dumber.
    WW2 had a phrase?

  18. Consume Less

    When Trump came on the scene my reaction was WTF, this can’t be happening. Dutto, a different bloke and circumstances, but my reaction is similar.
    Rekon Jacinta Ardern would be happy Scooter is in the history bin.

  19. GL

    Keep up the good work Spud, you’ve been “leader” of the Liberals for less than two weeks and have pretty much guaranteed that you will keep the party in oppostion for years to come if you keep up with this sort of petulance, stupidity and warmongering bullshit. Actually, I’m going to be surprised if you last more than 18 months in charge before they decide to remove you.

  20. andy56

    already twice in a week, he’s been called out. I think thats a record that scotty would be proud of, hahahahaha
    Nuclear subs , oops and “Nuclear, junk policy,bring it on.” I predict, just as scotty had a disaster every week, dutton will too.

  21. Phil Pryor

    a m, Friday, and Dutton is in the news for blathering secretive insider info on the deal he was cooking up about mythical subs, the ones the USA will be lucky to supply for itself over twenty years. Duckwit-Futton, no brains, prudence, restraint, expertise…

  22. Andrew J. Smith

    Michael, no problem.

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