Peter patter

Peter Dutton has tried this previously. For years he has been promising a softer side. His wife has told the media that he is not a monster. He has hoped aloud for the country to see “the rest of my character, the side my family, friends and colleagues see”.

This week he tried again. “I think some of the harder edges come off as you get older,” he told Four Corners, his head as smooth and featureless as a lollipop, as if in agreement. “I think – as you mature and see things from different perspectives than just one.”

In the same interview, he said he was right to claim women who had been raped on Nauru were trying it on. “If I’ve said something that is inconvenient for people to hear or they don’t want to believe it’s true, then that’s a different scenario and I can’t apologise for that.”

Dutton’s problem is there is no other side. He’s like an engine with the chassis number ground off, only the number is his eyebrows. Even he looks unconvinced. He is unrelentingly himself and he knows that is the problem.

After the Fitzgerald inquiry into political and police corruption, Dutton did two things. He ran for the side being investigated and when that didn’t work he joined the cops. He was called a boy wonder, but only in jest.

“I remember being called the New Breed when I came out of the academy,” he told Four Corners. “We were the post-Fitzgerald New Breed. So we were treated with suspicion because, you know, integrity was a big part of that reform.”

Dutton sees the world as either good or bad. It’s police thinking: righteousness helps quiet the moral questions. This is one reason he keeps saying he has another side. He sees himself as good and can’t comprehend why others don’t as well.

Politically, he has always been the same. Before he was ever in parliament he was campaigning against “illegal immigrants”. In his first speech he claimed the “silent majority” were fed up with the civil liberties council, the refugee action collective and the trade union movement. He said political correctness stood in the way of a better life. He said the courts did not represent the views of the community.

His lie on African gangs was already being rehearsed, only without the racial dimension: “In society today we are experiencing unacceptable crime rates, causing older Australians to barricade themselves in their homes, all in the name of safety.”

Dutton doesn’t believe his party lost the last election over climate change. He says it can’t be reduced to one issue. When asked for his vision for Australia he says he will make it safe. He says he has stopped terrorist attacks. His Australia is a place of worry and paranoia to which only men like him will bring calm.

In The Australian this week, a friend made the case Dutton has been trying to make. It is at this point so far-fetched that no one put their name to it: “There’s this hard guy image, but he’s an incredibly warm and engaging bloke. I think that will become evident over time.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 1, 2022 as "Peter patter".

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