Dutton’s casualties

Peter Dutton calls it “nonsense, fabricated, fake news criticism”. Tautology such as this is the refuge of the liar, grasping and untruthful.

He dismisses as “crazy lefties” the journalists who hold him to account, including those at the ABC.

“They don’t realise how completely dead they are to me,” he says.

Dutton’s posturing is obscene. His criticism of the national broadcaster deserves reprimand, although in this government he will receive none.

A minister accusing the ABC of falsifying news should be a moment of grave seriousness. Here, it is light patter before the next talkback caller.

It is difficult to know what Dutton intends to mean when he says certain media outlets are “dead” to him. Presumably, he means that he no longer intends to engage with their journalism. Like Donald Trump, he intends to break the compact between democracy and a free press. His is the preserve of the demagogue.

It is worth considering who else is dead to Peter Dutton. Their names are a reminder of the worth of that criticism.

Fazel Chegeni is dead to him. He died on Christmas Island while Dutton was the minister responsible for his care, crushed by a bureaucracy that had left him stateless. When he died, his file ran to 700 pages. “I’m advised there are no suspicious circumstances in relation to the death,” Dutton said.

Mohammad Nasim Najafi is dead to Peter Dutton. He died in Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre, having been given Panadol instead of medical care. Weeks earlier he had been beaten by criminals being housed in the facility because Western Australia’s prisons are overcrowded. “Who killed my son?” his mother asked The Saturday Paper at the time. “How did he die?”

Khodayar Amini is dead to Peter Dutton. He set himself alight while waiting for a decision from Dutton’s department. “Yes they did this to me, with slogans of humanity, sentenced me to death,” he wrote before he killed himself. “My crime was that I was a refugee.”

Ali Jaffari is dead to Peter Dutton. Another Hazara, another suicide in detention.

Omid Masoumali is dead to him, too. He set himself alight while being held on Nauru.

Omid Ali Avaz is dead to him. He was a refugee but was offered only a 12-month protection visa. He killed himself in Dutton Park.

Hamed Shamshiripour is dead to him. He was mentally unwell, his case well known to Australian authorities. He killed himself on Manus Island after asking to be returned home, his persecution in Iran preferred over the conditions Peter Dutton had created for him.

Perhaps it is glib bravado when Peter Dutton announces that the press is dead to him. Perhaps on talkback radio the echo of his voice makes him feel important.

When Peter Dutton says the press is dead to him, he means that he will not answer to its criticism. He means that he views himself as being above reproach.

The real deaths are real people, though, and each of them makes him unfit for office.

Lifeline 13 11 14

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 24, 2018 as "Dutton’s casualties".

For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.

All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.

There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

Use your Google account to create your subscription