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Julian Burnside has long been a critic of Peter Dutton, but now he’s placed his considerable weight behind the candidate that looks to topple him.
Renowned barrister Julian Burnside QC posted a tweet on the 23rd of September pointing out that the “cruel detention” on Manus Island and Nauru has cost Australian taxpayers over $9.6 billion, and the cost of detaining each of the 1,650 remaining asylum seekers on the islands is $570,000 a year. The long-time critic of the government’s offshore detention policy went onto thank home affairs minister Peter Dutton for this state of affairs, before recommending that people “kick him out” and “vote Coyne”, as a better way is possible. Mr Burnside was signalling that he’s supporting Queensland Greens candidate Benedict Coyne in his bid to oust Dutton in the marginal seat of Dickson in next year’s federal election.
“I know Benedict professionally, a bit. He’s a good bloke, and honest,” Mr Burnside told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “Dutton is dishonest and a hypocrite,” the lawyer continued. “I think he is arguably the worst federal MP we have had in Australia.” And he pointed to a recent comment the former immigration minister made that outraged him.
On June 23rd, Dutton was quoted as saying, “It’s essential that people realise that the hard-won success of the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion.” The minister was referring to his perceived need to keep asylum seekers in prolonged offshore detention.
“I never imagined we would hear a senior minister of the Crown argue against compassion,” Mr Burnside remarked.
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In his recently released documentary, Mr Burnside makes the case that Dutton, along with all of the other Australian immigration ministers since October 2002 – “with the possible exception of Chris Evans” – are guilty of crimes against humanity.
Section 268.12 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 makes the unwarranted imprisonment or the severe deprivation of physical liberty of civilians a federal offence. This crime carries a maximum penalty of 17 years behind bars.
“I would like to see Dutton lose,” Mr Burnside added. “I hope a candidate like Benedict will help get rid of him.”
While the results of the leadership spill, recent scandals about decisions he made in his time as immigration minister, as well as questions about his eligibility to sit in federal parliament have shaken minister Dutton, he’s still a formidable force in the party room.
And as home affairs minister, he holds great power with the Australian Border Force, ASIO and the Australian federal police all under his tutelage.
But, where Peter Dutton is vulnerable is in his marginal seat of Dickson. The minister has held the seat since 2001, but support for the former Queensland police officer is wavering. In the 2016 election, he suffered a 5.2% swing against him, leaving him with a mere 1.6% margin.
And while a recent boundary change has improved Mr Dutton’s distribution slightly to a margin of 1.7%, this still means that it would take a shift of about 1,500 votes to knock Dutton off his political perch.
So, it seems the minister known for stirring up racial hatred, boycotting the national apology to the Stolen Generation and voting against removing children from immigration detention may have his days numbered.
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Mr Coyne said his campaign in the seat of Dickson is going from “strength-to-strength”. And with the federal election looking like it will be held next May, he stressed that there will be a lot of work to do in removing “the negative influences of Peter Dutton and corporate donations”.
“Australians from all over are getting behind this movement to replace those negative influences with fully-costed, inclusive initiatives, and future-oriented policies,” Mr Coyne said. “The future we want is built on the time of our invaluable volunteers and supported by donations from individuals.”
The former Australian Lawyers for Human Rights president said his campaign team is out there talking to Dickson locals about what matters to them, gauging how they’d like to see the future progress, and outlining how “the Greens’ economic platform offers the solutions”.
“We’re talking about wealth equality, and universal essential services, and planning and infrastructure that works for the community,” Mr Coyne concluded. “These are the issues that voters are identifying – that and an end to the corruption and instability in our democracy, of course.”