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Reactionary Succession: Peter Dutton, Australia’s New Opposition Leader

The devastation wrought on Australia’s Coalition government on May 21 by the electorate had a stunning, cleansing effect. Previously inconceivable scenarios were played out in safe, Liberal-held seats that had, for decades, seen few, if any challenges, from an alternative political force. But the survival of one figure would have proved troubling, not only to the new Labor government, but to many Liberal colleagues lamenting the ruins. The pugilists and head knockers, however, would have felt some relief. Amidst the bloodletting, hope.

As he has done before, Peter Dutton, former Queensland policeman and failed university student, high priest of division and shorn of compassion, the face of Fortress Australia, survived the electoral challenge. Earlier in the night, it did not seem that he would hold on to the Queensland seat of Dickson. His opponent, Labor’s Ali France, looked ready to assume the reins. But survive, he did, as he has done previously at several ballots. His rival and obvious successor to take over the Liberal Party, Josh Frydenberg, did not.

Dutton, Australia’s new opposition leader, is a reactionary, though he must couch his ascent to the leadership in more accommodating terms. He is a reminder of a brand of politics that Australia’s conservative Prime Minister John Howard made the norm: callous, self-centred, free of vision and hostile to outsiders. Under Howard, illegal wars were launched, a national security state created, and torturous offshore detention centres established in Pacific outposts. His time in office was characterised by an oleaginous, ignorant smugness.

It was Dutton who seemingly wanted to stay on this mummified path. In the tribal wars affecting his own party, which saw an ongoing battle between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, both eventually having spells as Liberal Prime Ministers, Dutton played his dagger’s hand. Towards Turnbull, he was particularly vicious, cultivating hard line support for his own leadership credentials.

It was Dutton who finally saw off the meeker and unsuspecting Turnbull in August 2018, signalling his own leadership challenge with the subtlety of a hangman and the graciousness of a prison escapee. But his time to be leader had not come. Within the Liberal Party, Dutton was seen as electoral bile in various seats in Victoria and New South Wales, an extreme and extremist’s choice. He may have engineered the assassination in favour of conservative values, but the profits of leadership would go to Scott Morrison and his deputy Josh Frydenberg.

In his autobiography, A Bigger Picture, Turnbull explained why, in the palace coup, he preferred Morrison as his replacement. “Dutton, were he to become prime minister, would run off to the right with a divisive, dog-whistling, anti-immigration agenda, written and directed by Sky News and 2GB.”

Turnbull’s reading of politics, for all his qualities as a legal advocate, seemed cock-eyed. Morrison had his own penchant for division, dog-whistling and anti-immigration. And the former merchant banker, intellectually superior as he was, never saw Dutton as a viable threat, having “assumed people have a reasonable amount of self-awareness.” Given such awareness, Dutton never struck the defeated Turnbull “as being so self-delusional and narcissistic as to imagine that he could successfully lead the Liberal Party. More relevantly, it had never occurred to me that others would think he could either.”

Under Morrison, Dutton became all that is terrifying about the national security state and corrosive to democratic accountability. He ruled over Australia’s new super Department of Home Affairs and showed every sign of loving it. More national security legislation was passed, privacy protections eroded, surveillance encouraged.

Dutton also became the dour face of anti-China jingoism and bellicosity, often making spurious historical comparisons. (The 1930s has been something of a favourite.) When he found his way to the role of Defence Minister, he began trumpeting arguments for war, making it clear that Australia would unconditionally commit troops to a conflict against Beijing over Taiwan.

The process now is one of cosmetic tinkering: a nip here, a tuck there. Unlike other leaders who speak of discovering inner steel, Dutton is keen to promote an inner, non-existent softness. In a statement released to the press, he threatened to show Australians “the rest of my character, the side my family, friends and colleagues see.” His wife, Kirilly, irrelevantly informs us of his remarkable skills as a father, his “great sense of humour” and his “incredible passion.” His defenders claim to know a New World of intellect lurking like newly discovered permafrost.

West Australian premier Mark McGowan, and former Australian prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Paul Keating, see things rather differently. For McGowan, Dutton is an “extremist,” incapable of listening, “extremely conservative” and not “that smart.” Rudd sees an “idiot” who believes that more shouting and stitching of hair on the chest in the morning somehow improves “your overall strategic circumstances with China and the United States.” Keating detects a “dangerous personality” intent on “injecting Australia into a potentially explosive situation in North Asia.”

In terms of where he sees his party going, Dutton is proving gnomic and unconvincing. “We aren’t the Moderate party. We aren’t the Conservative party. We are Liberals. We are the Liberal party. We believe in families – whatever their composition.” He tautologically claimed to back businesses “small” and “micro,” while standing for the “aspirational, hard-working ‘forgotten’ people across cities, suburbs, regions and in the bush.”

Media hacks are doing their bit to suggest a more nuanced man behind the thuggish visage. Miraculously, veteran journalist Michelle Grattan can spot a “complicated” figure. There are “two Peter Duttons: the public sword carrier and the mask-like face and the non-public person, who is routinely described as charming, with a sense of humour, and politically more granular than you think.”

Such a profile could be applied to many: the dedicated war criminal with a love of family, sunsets and fine wines; the concentration camp guard who went about his work with diligence and returned back to hearty stews and his rare stamp collection. Look more closely, and there are always two sides. But which one wins out, in the end?

 

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25 comments

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  1. Phil Pryor

    You can decide, but, as an observer over time, I see Peter Duckwit-Futton as low, slow and a no go intellectually. It is insulting to suggest he is a Queensland Copper of the old school, righteous, nasty, supremacist, self fixated. A brown shirt and big boots, rather pre-1945 look, would suit him. How can a civilised improvement be sought from a primitive, a savage, from Piltdown Peter? And, he has a deputy, a living, walking failure, in Ms. Ley. Is this a dream team or a nightmare fright scare? As well, the old country party has repainted the rusty car door with “leadership”: that follows money donated and influence demanded. No leading for us then. The ALP, Greens, Teals and others must fight hard for three years just to catch up…

  2. New England Cocky

    Hmmm ….. Looks like the Liarbrals have just awarded the Albanese LABOR government a second term on the Treasury benches. Spudhead and Airhead to lead the Liarbrals to the next electoral defeat in 2025. Sounds promising.

  3. Margot

    Love people claiming that having been a Q’land cop is a positive.

    Peter Dutton has the worldview of a Queensland cop. It’s in our interests to give him a go
    Jacqueline Maley
    May 29, 2022

    https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/politics/federal/peter-dutton-has-the-worldview-of-a-queensland-cop-it-s-in-our-interests-to-give-him-a-go-20220527-p5ap3u.html

    John IPA Roskam says “And the reason the left attack him so strongly as they attacked as they attacked Howard, is because they understand he has the capacity to speak to ordinary Australians. He started off as a cop and you can’t get more ordinary Australian than that.”
    https://www.news.com.au/national/federal-election/how-bully-peter-duttons-greatest-faults-could-make-him-best-choice-for-liberal-leader/news-story/a4d3c10c50986510aed413e9fea54369

    You can’t get more ordinary Australian than a Q’land cop?

  4. Steve Smith

    Spudhead and Airhead, Gold NEC

  5. Harry Lime

    “newly discovered permafrost?..If only.Our country has only just come up for air after nine long years of unmitigated horseshit,and the newly minted Opposition come up with Dutton?If he’s the answer,what’s the fucking question?The remnants of the LNP must have a death wish
    In the meantime maybe Voldemort could get some hairpiece tips from the Orange Horror, or visit Sirs for some’realistic’ head rugs.

  6. Mr Bronte ALLAN

    Thank goodness the dustbin dickhead is not in power! Morrison was arguably the worst PM we have ever had, but dustbin could well be following closely behind him. This bald headed so-called “god guy(?)” by the idiots in the COALition who could not pick a worst idiot to lead them (to victory?) if they wanted to! He has the charisma of a stone, the look of a deranged idiot & it appears the mentality of a grape! Thank goodness Australia is now led by a level headed educated person in Anthony Albanese! Great article Doctor! Also well said, Mr Prior!

  7. Canguro

    A link within the comments section of the SMH latest political movements… on the newly elected Nationals deputy, Perin Davey. Hair-raising!

    These politicians purport to represent the best interests of Australians. Which Australians? The silent majority? The ‘forgotten” ones? A small clique of their ‘mates’? Or corporate supporters – buying parliamentary support for their privileged right to plunder by dint of cash donations?

    I read her voting record and found it consistently appalling. And I daresay an examination of other conservative politicians within that database would furnish a similar story.

    Why isn’t this sort of information consistently front & centre for the Australian populace so that we can be be truly informed on how these so-called ‘representatives’ – hah!, an irony, surely! – are actually performing. When they vote within parliament in a way that undermines the fabric of society, degrades trust, damages the environment, supports corporate plunder, fills the pockets of the elite, favours the few over the many… god, I hope they’re out of power for a generation or three.

  8. New England Cocky

    SpuddoDuddo “is a reminder of a brand of politics that Australia’s conservative Prime Minister John Howard made the norm: callous, self-centred, free of vision and hostile to outsiders. Under Howard, illegal wars were launched, a national security state created, and torturous offshore detention centres established in Pacific outposts. His time in office was characterised by an oleaginous, ignorant smugness”.

    Beautifully put Binoy!!

    Now to discover how the Nazional$ have dispatched Beetrooter….. so long as Chester is ignored by the knuckle draggers, Australia may have at least six (6) years of effective efficient government to repair the disaster of the past nine (9) years of neo-liberal unthinking.

  9. leefe

    ” … the worldview of a Queensland cop.”

    Corrupt, lazy, violent, racist, self-serving … not that I’m arguing with the take on him, but does anyone really think those are good things?

  10. Harry Lime

    Ex walloper Dutton has risen to the appropriate level of his incompetence..the skull on top of a steaming pile of ordure,along with the vacuous Ley.Even Murdoch’s garbage are going to have a hard time promoting these hollow has beens.

  11. Michael Taylor

    There’s so much to unpack here.

    He’s either lying or he thinks we’re stupid.

    Or maybe both.

    I’m placing my money on ‘both’.

  12. Consume Less

    FFS, NOW it’s the forgotten aussies, what happened to the quiet aussies.

    Mr Dutton said their policies will be aimed at the “forgotten Australians” in the suburbs.
    “To win the next election, we’re not going to abandon any seat,” he said.
    “I do think they are the forgotten people, I do think those people, and small business and microbusiness, feel the system is against them.”

  13. Canguro

    Opposition Smoposition… let’s put the new head prefect for the forgotten Australians aside for a moment, and…

    CELEBRATE!

    The ABC has this evening called the Melbourne seat of Macnamara for the ALP, who now will govern in their own right with 76 seats.

    Great result!

    An indulgence. I’m so pleased for Albo and his team.

  14. Phil Pryor

    After a tragedy, and flood and fire and storm victims here know that, we have to sort out the rubbish for anything useful for a while, defective though it is. So, Peter Duckwit-Futton, a well known lying bullshitting self thrusting survival experiment, has decided to enlist the filth of bent media in his support, no doubt for favours to and fro, to pretend to have CHANGED, to have concealed his true HEART, his real SELF, which we know over time is shitsmeared insincerity and fraud front. This Great Grub is a known lying supremacist, a racist joker, an ambitious crawling licey lout who would knife and cuff and belt any intruder of the advance of his defective ego. TRUST Dutton?? Get a wife from the brothel and a car from old John L or an IOU from Skase or Bond. Dutton is a Dummy for media and money and mining interests, not YOURS, not OURS, not MINE. And, his new deputy is a lady, so on the nose, it’s above Groucho Marx’s spectacles…

  15. wam

    wow canguro you &^@@%@# beauty the libs must have got above the greens you little beauty Albo don’t forget the independents keep them in the loop.
    ps yes, Mr Lime, amassing $millions on the way.

  16. Terence Mills

    Along with all the rather confused statements made by Spudley Dutton yesterday he also said :

    “I’m not going to change but I want people to see the entire person that I am,”

    I won’t be looking, Spud !

  17. Terence Mills

    Another thing that Spud said yesterday that doesn’t make sense.

    He acknowledged he had made a mistake in boycotting the Rudd government’s apology to Indigenous people and particularly the stolen generations. His rationale for leaving the parliamentary chamber was :

    “I worked in Townsville. I remember going to many domestic violence instances, particularly involving Indigenous communities, and for me at the time I believed that the apology should be given when the problems were resolved and the problems are not resolved.”

    WTF !

  18. GL

    I just had a thought: Instead of using “It’s all Labor’s fault.” and “Albo made a speech.” we can now use without fear of contradiction, “It’s all the LNP’s fault.” and “Thugspud made some grunts.”

  19. Max Gross

    Hitler loved his dog (yes, yes, I know the first person who mentions Hitlers loses the argument!)

  20. Canguro

    Max Gross, as the wave of suicides swept through Germany in the final months of the war, a similar death wish took hold of the upper echelons of the Nazi Party. Fifty-three generals from the army, fourteen from the air force and eleven from the navy took their own lives along with the Ministers for Education and Justice, the Desert Fox, Erwin Rommel, and finally, Hitler himself.

    Cyanide capsules were handed out like votive offerings at mass, and among others, were used by Goring, Goebbels, Bormann & Himmler.

    Hitler, in his paranoia, was convinced his capsule had been tampered with, and he chose to test its effectiveness on his beloved Blondi, the German Shepherd that had accompanied him to the Fuhrerbunker, where she slept at the foot of his bed.

    The dog, who had just given birth to four puppies, died instantly when the miniscule cyanide molecule, formed of one atom of nitrogen, one of carbon and one of potassium, entered her bloodstream and cut off her breath.

    [Source: When We Cease To Understand The World – Benjamin Labatut]

    Greater love hath no man then…

  21. John Murray

    I believe the media is already conspiring to air brush Dutton’s CV.
    He is being referred to as having been Minister for Immigration, Home Affairs and Defence, conveniently forgetting to mention Health where he was given a number of accolades (sarcasm alert).
    Wouldn’t he want to demonstrate a broader range of experience, given that he was opposition health spokesperson before being minister!
    But I’m not sure that he is qualified to be leader of the opposition as he has never been Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister or held a financial portfolio – (sorry I can’t help myself – I claim this is irony and not sarcasm)

  22. Albos Elbow

    You have to count your lucky stars when Scummo is dumped by Australian voters and he is replaced by . . . wait for it . . . you guessed it . . . Commander Potato Head.
    This will ensure far right wing fuckwits like Commander Potato Head, Sussan Ley, Coal Canavan, Barnaby Coal Gang and the Minister for Burning Fossil Fuels remain in Opposition for a very long, long time.

  23. New England Cocky

    @ Albo’s Elbow: Agreed. It is as if the Murdoch Media-ocrity have set themselves a near impossible challenge of proving that Voldemort Duddo has public appeal that their propaganda will generate over the next three years. YUK!!!!!

  24. Chandler Chandler

    DISGUSTED THAT CORRUPTION WILL CONTINUE TO SURVIVE IN OPPOSITION.

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