As we pointed out when he took home his third crown in Crikey‘s Annual Arsehat of the Year awards, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is on another level; the Serena Williams of blights upon Australian public life.
It’s telling that the government’s announcements about getting children off the island prison on Nauru — economical with the truth as they are — barely feature Dutton, and have been outsourced initially to Australia’s high commissioner in London (and Dutton bête noire) George Brandis and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Dutton deals only in attack, denigration and fear. Positive announcements have to be kept away from him.
The coming election in May is possibly destined to oust him from his exceedingly marginal seat. This week shows that, like Pelé in the 1970 world cup, Dutton knows there’s limited time left to display his artistry on the biggest stage, and he’s going to make the absolute most of it.
Doctors without registrations
Dutton’s Arshehat machine has been in overdrive this week trying to crush Kerryn Phelps’ Migration Amendment (Urgent Medical Treatment) Bill — which requires the temporary transfer to Australia of refugees and their families on Manus Island or Nauru if they are assessed by two or more treating doctors as requiring medical treatment. The bill could potentially cause the government a hugely embarrassing defeat in the House of Representatives next week. Dutton yesterday claimed that, under the bills, Greens founder Bob Brown and current leader Richard Di Natale could be those doctors.
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“Doctors including Dr Bob Brown and Dr Richard Di Natale, potentially, can provide the advice,” he said.
Except… they couldn’t.
“How much can this bloke stuff up in a day?” Di Natale responded. Neither Bob nor I are currently registered so we couldn’t sign off a transfer. To think this bloke was making daily decisions about the fate of innocent people. He’ll say anything to distract from the fact that his government’s policies are a disgrace.”
Six days in a leaky department
On Thursday, The Australian, through Tony Abbott’s drinking buddy Simon Benson, reported that a briefing from the Department of Home Affairs, apparently based on advice from ASIO and Border Force, states that the offshore processing of asylum seekers (the “third pillar of Australia’s border protection system”) would be dismantled by Phelps’ bill.
The classified briefing is understood to have provided detailed advice on the need for mothballed detention centres in Australia to be re-opened to accommodate transfers of people who were unable to be subjected to a timely threat assessment or those deemed not safe to be allowed to live in the community.
There were inevitable accusations that the government was politicising ASIO. Worse yet, the leak has led to a sensational and embarrassing referral to the Australian Federal Police from Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo, who will ask the probe to consider whether the government has broken the law.
Lies, damned lies
Dutton wasn’t done using the advice as a gun trained at his own feet. He told 2GB that opposition leader Bill Shorten had been briefed with the same information that had been leaked to the Oz. “The agencies have told him that this bill would be a disaster, that it would restart boats,” he said.
Except… they hadn’t.
Dutton later had to concede Shorten had not been briefed on the bill, saying he “assumed” the Labor leader had accepted an offer to be briefed.