Every year we give Crikey readers the chance to vote for their Arsehat of the Year — the person that best typified the year’s affront to decency, competence or judgement. It’s always a crowded and competitive field, and this year many anti-greats didn’t even warrant a nomination. Our winner this year had to be a real overachiever in non-achievement.
Winner: Peter Dutton
In some ways, having two-time Crikey Arsehat winner Dutton in the list of nominees is like drafting Lionel Messi to a local under-12s league. Dutton’s baseline skills — a legitimately breathtaking callousness toward refugees, a knee-jerk tendency for inflammatory racial sentiment, and a seeming suspicion of, well, democracy — make him such a formidable competitor that it hardly seems fair.
There were the months upon months he spent as the chief mouthpiece for the confected “African gangs crisis” in Victoria; the allegations he approached former Australian Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg and pressed him to give two of Dutton’s mates a job (one of whom ended up as Dutton’s policy adviser); his recent contention that he has always seen parliament as a disadvantage for the government of the day; and his ongoing argument that a “moment’s compassion” would be a boon for people smugglers.
All solid work in the craft of wounding the tenets of our democracy, our public life, and in less grandiose terms, just helping quietly destroy lives and in some cases, communities. But this is par for the course for Dutton — none of it by itself would have gotten him into the running for Arsehat of the Year.
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He really had to go above and beyond.
And, like all champions, he bloody did it. In August, Dutton initiated a leadership challenge against Malcolm Turnbull, strode in front of the press wearing an ill-fitting smile that still had the price tag on, and promised to “maybe show a different side” of himself. It was highly creepy. And for a few agonising days we were faced with the very real prospect that, through a backroom coup, the leader of an ever-expanding and fairly disastrous super ministry, clinging to his own seat by 1.6%, would bully his way into The Lodge.
Here, we suspect, was what what got him over the line; what really made him 2018’s truest Arsehat. Because not only did he maintain his floor-level awfulness, but he failed, and failed and failed, at more or less everything he tried.
His Victorian race-baiting was in support of the Liberals’ law and order campaign in that state, and in November’s election, they were completely wiped out by Labor. Slowly, shamefully slowly, asylum seekers are being taken from the gulags he oversaw. And in his crowning failure, Dutton brought down a government and almost certainly consigned his own party to a total drubbing at the next election, because he was so sure he could be prime minister that he didn’t bother checking if he actually had the numbers.
Dutton typified 2018, sitting at the centre of a Venn diagram where mediocrity, incompetence and empty provocation meet. Enjoy your hat-trick Peter, you’ve more than earned it.
The other nominees were:
Barnaby Joyce: His extramarital affair and his handling of it destroyed any chance the Coalition could breath some clean air after a disastrous 2017.
Luke Foley and David Elliott: Foley threatened to sue journalist Ashleigh Raper, who had reluctantly detailed his alleged sexual misconduct. Elliott, meanwhile, violated Raper’s privacy from the safety of parliamentary privilege, for sordid political gain.
Michelle Guthrie and Justin Milne: Joint effort in completely mismanaging and misunderstanding the point of the ABC — the one Australian institution still able to retain some public faith.
Steve Smith: For ruining the reputation of the Australian cricket team beyond anything we could have previously imagined.
Rebel Wilson: Wilson’s tactics in trying to sue a publication out of existence has the potential to chill journalism in Australia for years to come.