Peter Dutton has resigned from cabinet and moved to the backbench, but this is just the start of his leadership campaign. How will he present himself and his policy platform to the nation? Crikey has received a leaked extract of a feature to be published in the upcoming Weekend Australian Magazine that provides some insight…
Peter Dutton smiles as he welcomes me into his modest, tastefully appointed hilltop residence. “Some people call it a ‘castle’,” he says self-effacingly, “but I prefer ‘Gothic hideaway’.” For Peter, home is a sanctuary, a refuge from the hurly-burly of politics. “I come here to decompress,” he says, gesturing to his tai-chi studio. “I’m a black belt,” he confides. “Most of the time tai chi doesn’t really do belt rankings, but I came up with my own system.”
It’s this willingness to seize the initiative that has seen Peter Dutton touted as a future ex-prime minister. The man himself demurs at such talk, preferring to keep the focus on service. “I’m a servant of the Australian people,” he says forcefully, putting down his wine cooler. “And I will serve them any way they see fit. Whether they want me to imprison children, or maintain island detention centres, or deprive people of liberty, or keep people out of the country, or deport people — I put no limits on the nature of my service, I’ll do it any way that’s appropriate.
“And if someone decides it’s appropriate I become prime minister? Well it’d certainly mean a lot less time for my meditation and hydrotherapy, but it’s a sacrifice I’d be willing to make.” He emphasises, though, that he supports the current Prime Minister 100%. “He is one of my closest friends,” he says, pulling on a pastel knitted sweater.
Peter’s vivacious wife Kirrily enters with a plate of Iced VoVos and a friendly malamute, who sits on my lap nuzzling me for the rest of the interview. “I worry about Peter, of course,” says Kirrily, vacuuming happily. “Politics is a hard job when you’re as sensitive as he is, and on those nights when he comes home and cries himself to sleep over something he read in The Guardian, my heart aches for him. But he has a vision for the country, and I’m so proud of him for that.”
What is that vision, I ask, as Peter lights a roaring fire and hands me a marshmallow on a skewer. “Basically,” he says, seating himself on a nearby chaise longue and reflectively stroking his beloved cat, Sir Joh, “I want Australia to be outward-looking, not inward-looking. Too often we Australians look inward, and the trouble is that when you’re looking inward, that’s when they get you. I want us to look out, brave and free and open to the world, so we can see all the people who are trying to get in, and stop them. I see an Australia that takes its place in the modern world as a modern nation, with modern ideas and a modern economy. It’s an Australia that is very similar to the one we have now, to be honest. Except there’s all these ships all around the coastline. Ships with guns. More biscotti?”
Later, as I watch Peter sitting in his back garden, knitting a new beanie for his friend Bronwyn Bishop, as the rays of the afternoon sun illuminate his glossy head, I am struck by how this gentle man, so weighted down by matters of state, can still find time to take pleasure from the simple things in life. As he picks a dandelion and stares intently at it, as if seeking the truth of God Himself in its delicate structure, I see a man whose love of all creation is the driving force behind his political ambition. And as a young neighbour strays onto his property in search of a misdirected soccer ball, and Peter springs into action, hog-tying the lad and burying him up to his neck in the flowerbed, I think yes: this country is in safe hands.