It’s been a week for Peter Dutton. He’s moved to sue Twitter users, he’s blamed Grand Theft Auto for the culture in Canberra, and he’s lost control of his gargantuan baby.
CW: The following piece discusses sexual violence.
Prepare to shed a tear, gentle reader, for this is a tragic tale of loss and heartbreak; a moment of indelible tragedy, like the baby carriage scene in Battleship Potemkin or the end of Harry and the Hendersons. In this instance, the crying baby-slash-confused Sasquatch is the Department of Home Affairs, which is rumoured to be about to be the crown prize in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s upcoming ministerial reshuffle, with Peter Dutton playing the role of the distraught mother and/or John Lithgow.
This imminent game of frontbench musical chairs is the result of Morrison’s need to reassign the Defence portfolio, currently held by the absent Linda Reynolds, and the office of the Attorney-General, currently held by the absent Christian Porter.
Both have been off work because of health reasons coinciding with separate allegations regarding serious sexual crimes: in Reynolds’ case, failing to protect a staff member in her office from being raped by another staff member in her office, and in Porter’s for allegations that he similarly attacked a fellow teenage debater during a competition in the ’80s, over which he’s currently planning to sue the ABC.
The current scuttlebutt is that Dutton will be given Defence, suggesting that Morrison is heeding the words of that old adage “when life gives you sexual assault-lemons, make revengenade.”
That Dutton aspires to be PM is no secret to anyone – after all, it was his transparent ambition and inability to perform basic addition which Morrison successfully exploited in August 2018 by getting the gormless Home Affairs minister to do his dirty work and challenge Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, but then discover he’d accidentally catapulted Scotty into the gig instead.
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Mind you, Dutton had gotten a sweet consolation prize from both leaders: the establishment of a government within the government, the massive omniportfolio of Home Affairs in which Dutton continued the proud record of ineptitude, scandal and obstinate refusal to answer questions that had characterised his tenure as Minister for Health and then as Minister for Immigration. So if nothing else, one must admire his consistency.
In Home Affairs he got to combine Immigration, Citizenship, the Australian Federal Police, Border Control and emergency management – areas with very different cultures and no particular affinity for one another – into Home Affairs, which began a run of triumphs from confusions from bureaucrats at suddenly having paramilitary uniforms and sidearms despite performing desk jobs, to the baffling farce of different departmental computer systems not being compatible with one another.
And there was his call to rescue white South African farmers, which was applauded by white supremacists throughout the nation, calls for climate protestors to be jailed, his evidence-free campaigns against African gangs terrorising Melbourne and arsonists being responsible for the 2019-20 bushfires,
And, of course, his current demand that Twitter present proof of identity to him for people that are mean about him online. Oh, and the description of Higgins’ rape allegations as being a “he said, she said” situation.
It’s basically been nothing but triumphs, and yet now the rumour is that he’s going to see his baby given to the equally-capable Stuart Robert, fresh from such victories as hobbling the National Disability Insurance Scheme, overseeing the implementation of Robodebt and spending millions on the development of the useless COVIDSafe app. So at least the departmental heads know they’ll enjoy a similar level of attention to detail and commitment to quality service.
And Dutton will have a heck of a job ahead of him. Sure, Defence is one of those portfolios which every red-blooded fightin’ man wants to get, because it offers opportunities to wear camouflage, sit in tanks and go “pew pew pew!” in photo ops – a welcome costume change from the standard Liberal-blue suit, accessorised with a saucy bit of high-vis flair when visiting mines or outer suburban seats.
His current demand that Twitter present proof of identity to him for people that are mean about him online. Oh, and the description of Higgins’ rape allegations as being a “he said, she said” situation.
But the Defence portfolio is currently in complete disarray and Dutton’s first order of business will be to unravel the Gordian knot that is the submarine contract, a horrifically expensive and ill-advised deal initially cut to placate South Australian backbenchers who backed Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership bid following Tony Abbott’s similar strategy of promising SA backbenchers submarine-riches before the first failed leadership spill in February 2015, then denying saying any such thing after the spill motion failed.
And in another throwback of the frantic dying days of the Abbott epoch, Dutton’s reshuffle smacks of Abbott’s decision to move Scott Morrison from Immigration to Social Services: a great way to ensure that a potential rival is too busy in a doomed and thankless portfolio to think about making a leadership bid.
Mind you, Dutton saw the week out by telling Channel 9’s Today Show that the real thing “missing in this debate” was a discussion about how the real problem is people using pseudonyms on Tik Tok and young people “playing Grand Theft Auto“.
Sadly, he forgot to mention that darn hippity-hop music, meaning he loses this round of Go-To Moral Outrage Bingo. Better luck next time, Pete!
Will Dutton sink in the new role, or will he somehow be able to Stop the Subs? Either way, we look forward to Dutton’s forthcoming explanation about how defence spending is the only thing saving us from the threat of invading Pac-men.