Peter Dutton looks at the world like a Queensland police officer. It would be good for us to give him a chance.
“Some decades go by with nothing happening, and some weeks go by with decades happening.”
So said Vladimir Lenin. New Prime Minister Anthony Albanese would not like to be compared to Lenin, since he is trying to move away from his leftist roots and become an aspirational, center-left leader.
But when the Liberals lost the election last Sunday and the dust settled, it felt like a decade or so had caught up with the party in one strange and messy night.
All of the bad things about nine years of Coalition government—and there were many good things as well—like not doing anything about climate change, not caring about gender equality, focusing on culture wars, and using public office for political gain—suddenly flipped the electorate, and Australia suddenly looked different.
Scott Morrison, who is stepping down as Prime Minister, let the cameras follow him to church in Sutherland, where he cried as he read from the Bible. Morrison said that he was glad his last words as PM were in front of a small group of fellow parishioners and not in front of the whole country of Australia, which he had been in charge of. That really said a lot.
Albanese, on the other hand, was having coffee with his partner and dog at the Marrickville Library, which was a more normal and relatable place to be (and a few dozen of his closest friends and media).
These two men are very different from each other, and they show two different sides of Australia.
We might get tired of the Labor leader’s story about growing up in a log cabin, but it says a lot about Australia that someone from his background can rise to the highest office, thanks mainly to his mother’s determination, the strength of community, and the power of Catholic and state-funded education. If someone gets to be prime minister in that way, they can’t help but represent those things.
Albanese’s weakness going into the campaign was that not many people knew who he was. On the plus side, Albanese doesn’t have much baggage. That could change quickly, and it won’t be enough to save him from crises of competence like the ones we saw during his campaign.
Peter Dutton, who will probably become the new leader of the opposition, doesn’t have the same thing going for him. He is well-known for his tough-guy portfolios and for how much he enjoys teasing the left.
His use of racial stereotypes, like when he said in 2018 that people in Melbourne were afraid to go out to dinner because of “African gang violence” and when he said in 2016 that resettling Lebanese Muslim immigrants in the 1970s was a “mistake,” were very disappointing.
Dutton is also known for not attending the apology to the Stolen Generations, which he later said he regretted. This will make it interesting for him and his party to come up with a response to the Voice to parliament referendum. As a former Queensland police officer, Dutton has seen firsthand how bad things are for Aboriginal people, so he may have thought the apology was just a show.
But symbols are important in politics, and the Uluru Statement from the Heart is not a way for a white-woke minority to show off how good they are. Also, what the right-wing of the Liberal party calls “woke” is becoming more mainstream, especially when these issues are presented as what many of them really are: a request for fairness.
As the person who got the Coalition out of a stalemate over same-sex marriage, Dutton should be aware of the mistakes his predecessor made in the culture war. It was good that he said this week that the Liberals are the party that believes in “families, no matter how they are put together.”
Dutton’s view of the world seems to have been shaped by danger. In the 1990s, he was a police officer in the Drug and Sex Offenders Squads, and he left the force after getting badly hurt in a car accident while on the job.
In his first speech in parliament in 2001, he said, “I have seen the wonderful, kind nature of people who are willing to help anyone in their worst hour, and I have seen the sickening behavior of people who, frankly, barely deserve to be alive.”
Recently, when Dutton was in charge of Home Affairs and Defense, he was aware of threats to national security. He was one of the first high-level government officials to realize that China’s plans for our area had changed in a big way.
Before the election, Dutton talked openly about how Australia might go to war in the future.
He told Jacob Greber of the Australian Financial Review that “most Australians would be shocked” by how much China interferes and fights in cyberspace.
He talked about a “invasive approach that isn’t limited by morals or the law” and said he was sure “we’re headed in a very troubled direction.”
The same rhetoric could, of course, be used to talk about the threat of climate change, but there’s no doubt that Dutton knows a lot about what China can do.
How will Dutton find a balance between these serious threats and his current desire to show the Australian people his friendly side?
We’ve heard a lot this week from Coalition frontbenchers and Dutton’s wife about how funny, honest, caring, and smart he is.
Dutton’s friend in Queensland, Stuart Robert, says that Dutton is “a warm-hearted, very, very decent, very competent person.”
Robert also said something strange: “You can’t judge someone based on comments they’ve made or decisions they’ve made when they’re following their own conscience or their own point of view.” Stuart, but people can! They will, too.
Still, the Twitter-obsessed left is being lazy when they say that Dutton is just a scary figure. He might be a good leader, or at least an interesting one.
After the disaster of Scott Morrison’s narrow view of Australia, we could all use a strong leader of the opposition who can refocus his party on mainstream values. Even if his enemies will never admit it.