(Image: Tom Red/Private Media)

Peter Dutton has been a busy man since being appointed defence minister two weeks ago. He wants to end the “wokening” of our armed forces. He’s leading a crusade against waterdrop Twitter. He’s still finding an opportunity to make the Biloela family’s life hell, despite being moved on from the home affairs portfolio. And he’s facing scrutiny from the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO).

Dutton’s appointment to defence was widely celebrated by News Corp types, who felt he was the kind of nobullshit guy needed to rebuild the strength of a portfolio that has had nine ministers in the last 14 years. And his early weeks are likely to have impressed them. Dutton is leaning into the kind of hard-nosed culture-warring that has always made him such a darling of the right.

A war on woke

Last week, Dutton announced that his first priority as defence minister was to repair a morale slump across the Australian Defence Force, and remind troops the government “has their back”. The subtext to this is pretty clear.

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Last November, the Brereton report detailed a string of alleged war crimes and a toxic warrior culture among the country’s most elite soldiers serving in Afghanistan. But for some in the military community, that report was read as a sign of betrayal by a government and military top brass prepared to throw soldiers to the wolves.

Dutton maintained that the process of implementing the report’s recommendations is afoot, but the message sent was clear: the new minister didn’t want those pesky allegations deterring diggers from doing their job.

“The commitment that the government has got to the Australian Defence Force — not only financially but morally — is very important,” he said.

This week, Assistant Defence Minister Andrew Hastie reminded troops that their main job, at the end of the day, was to kill people — a directive reportedly consistent with Dutton’s initial instructions to the top brass.

Dutton’s appointment was celebrated as marking the end of a period when, according to some Liberals, the army had gotten too woke — apparently by banning death symbols and bringing in dancers to twerk at a warship.

Defamation Dutton

Despite all that important reform, Dutton has decided now is the time to fight back against people being rude to him on Twitter. The minister has vowed to send defamation threats to people on social media referring to him as a “rape apologist”. Regular users with little income or influence have already received letters.

Of course, as Crikey pointed out last week, the minister has been perfectly happy to dish out vitriol of his own over the years.

Biloela family

When Dutton was moved on from home affairs, there was some hope among refugee advocates that the government might soften its position towards the Tamil asylum seeker family from Biloela who have been in detention for more than 1000 days.

Yesterday, Labor Senator Kristina Keneally received permission from Australian Border Force to visit the family on Christmas Island, where they’ve been held since 2019. Then, just 22 minutes later, Keneally received an email saying the defence minister had determined the special purpose aircraft meant to take her to Christmas Island was no longer available.

Dutton, who has not commented on the matter, appears to have intervened. As home affairs minister, Dutton displayed little sympathy for a family he could bring home with the stroke of a pen. He’s called the young children “anchor babies”, and accused the family of “using every trick in the book” (i.e. our court system) to stay in Australia.

The auditor-general strikes back

Dutton left the home affairs department with a whiff of scandal. In February, the ABC reported Dutton had turned a community safety grants scheme into a bit of a slush fund, intervening to overrule a list of recommendations from his own department and funnel money into marginal seats.

Now, the ANAO has commenced an audit into that funding. A report is expected to be tabled in February next year, likely just in time for the next election.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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