Outstanding claims

It is hard to know on what basis Malcolm Turnbull considers Peter Dutton to be an “outstanding immigration minister”.

This is the same immigration minister Turnbull chose not to have on his own national security committee.

It is the same immigration minister who the federal court rebuked earlier this month for attempting to transfer a refugee from Nauru to Papua New Guinea for an abortion. Her pregnancy was the result of being raped while under his care as minister.

Turnbull’s “outstanding immigration minister” is the man who claimed last year that another refugee, also raped on Nauru, had decided not to have a termination. Dutton said her lawyers ought to be “ashamed of their lies”. She was taken from her hospital bed and spirited out of Australia on a charter flight. Internal documents later showed Dutton’s claims to be false.

This “outstanding immigration minister” is the man ultimately responsible for deaths in offshore detention centres, for the rape and assault of women and children trapped in the system over which he presides. He is the man who blamed refugee advocates for the self-harm to which indefinite detention drives asylum seekers, who told the media to stop reporting the issue as the presence of hope was “prolonging the difficulty of these people”.

He is the “outstanding immigration minister” who erroneously denied that a Greens senator was spied on while visiting camps.

He is the minister who referred to a senior reporter as a “mad fucking witch” – then sent the message to her by mistake. He is the minister who joked into an open microphone about the plight of developing nations that face catastrophe through rising sea levels, then insisted it was a private conversation. “Time doesn’t mean anything,” he had said, “when you’re about to have water lapping at your door.”

All of this would be incompetence, except that half of it is carefully planned.

This week, Dutton suggested refugees are innumerate and illiterate. He said there was “no question” they would take Australian jobs. He said “many of them” would languish on welfare benefits, “and on Medicare and the rest of it”.

Little of this is true, but that is of little importance to Dutton. It was a pungent grab bag of talking points that he and his party knew would shape the week’s agenda. “I don’t think you can argue against the facts here,” he told Ray Hadley in a later interview. “I’m not going to stand back from what I said.”

To make clear where this is pitched, he then said of Turnbull: “He was rock solid yesterday. He agrees because you can’t argue with the facts here.”

Dutton is a disgrace. Turnbull’s continued support of him is just as disgraceful.

The “outstanding immigration minister” injected a mighty dose of xenophobia into this election, and Turnbull did nothing to contain it. Instead, he offered the curious argument that Australia’s multiculturalism depends on strong borders.

Once again, and only two weeks into a two-month campaign, the discourse of this election has been chased out onto the bigoted fringe. Nothing but craven politics took it there. The victims, as always, are the most vulnerable. Their lives change hands for votes. And somehow, Turnbull finds cause to call this “outstanding”. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 21, 2016 as "Outstanding claims".

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