Peter Dutton: Sexton or Resurrectionist

 

Publick Notice

 Consequent to lengthy publick discussions & controversies broad agreement is now arrived that the corporation formerly known as the Liberal Party of Australia did in fact, and in deed, expire in May.

  Cause of death as agreed: A weak mind; no soul and no guts.

*************

 

The result of the Australian federal election in May heralded the effective demise of the Federal Liberal Party as we knew it. This, in political terms, is ancient history. Lord knows how many column inches have been written about its defeat and it is not my intention to rake over old coals. It is rather the intention of this essay to ask: ‘Whither Now?’

 Like Scrooge’s door knocker, let there be no misunderstanding, Menzies’ Liberal Party is dead. No amount of guffing or hawing about core values, broad church, Menzies battlers, will bring it back. Today is another day, a different world, a totally different political culture and Australians are a heterogeneous and commingled people. The Liberal Party, across all levels of government in Australia, is in steep decline - a dysfunctional moribund mess. 

 So my specific question is: Will the current Federal Liberal leader and Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, prove to be the party’s Sexton or its Resurrectionist?

 For those perhaps unfamiliar with my archaic terminology, a sexton is traditionally defined as: ‘an under officer of the church, whose business is to dig graves’.[1] Resurrectionists were 18th century body snatchers widely [and illegally] employed by medicos in the United Kingdom to exhume the bodies of the recently dead for the constructive purpose of anatomical research. 

 To this end, will Dutton prove to be the Liberal’s final grave digger, or will he prove capable of resurrecting the corpse for some future constructive service. To be the former, all he has to do is carry on doing the same old same old. The latter however, requires audacity, ignore of opprobrium and the capacity to do some heavy lifting.

 Perhaps a consideration of the man himself might prove some insights as to his character and political instincts. From his own website this is my precis of what he wants the world to know.

 Born on the 18th of November 1970, Peter Dutton is the Federal Member for Dickson in Queensland. He was born in Boondall, a suburb in Brisbane. His father was a builder and his mother a childcare worker. The eldest of five children, he began his working life working part-time after school in a butcher’s shop, mowing lawns and throwing newspapers until starting university.

 For nine years Dutton served as a Queensland policeman. He worked in the National Crime Authority and Drug and Sex Offenders’ Squads, with a focus on protecting women and children.

 On leaving the police he and his father started a small and successful family business.

 Dutton started his political career as a Young Liberal running for state parliament as an eighteen year old Liberal candidate.  He was elected to the Australian Parliament in November 2001 and three years later, at age thirty, he became one of the youngest Ministers since Federation consequent to his appointment to the Ministry by Prime Minister John Howard. In January 2006, he was promoted to become Peter Costello’s Assistant Treasurer.

 During the course of his political career Dutton has served as Shadow Minister for Finance, Competition Policy and Deregulation, and Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing. He was a member of the National Security Committee of Cabinet for some six years; a member of the Expenditure Review Committee and leadership teams. Dutton served as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection overseeing Operation Sovereign Borders. As Minister for Health and Minister for Sport, he established the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund.

He served as the inaugural Home Affairs Minister in its revamped form from December 2017, with responsibility for the Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre.

 Notably, until the Liberal National government defeat in May of this year, Dutton was Minister for Defence.

 Dutton was largely responsible for the removal of Malcom Turnbull but was defeated by Scott Morrison for the leadership of the party and Prime Minister.  Peter Dutton is married to Kirilly and has three children. He and his family live in Dayboro in the Dickson electorate. He holds a Bachelor of Business degree.[2]

 So, what to make of the man and what can we expect from Mr Dutton? His is a family man, tertiary educated, with a professional background in policing. He has a business background and a politician with strong insights and experience into health, treasury, intelligence, security and defence. He lives in a potential Labor electorate which he has held by dint of his personality and hard work. Quite clearly Dutton is a committed member of the Liberal Party. Politically ambitious, he has demonstrated he has the intestinal fortitude to ‘mix it’ in the party room. He has, in the past, been plain spoken about a number of issues, including aboriginal health and well-being, the ‘woke’ society, Australia’s lack of defence preparedness and climate change. Generally considered to be more conservative than most of his colleagues, his critics accuse him of being too brash, too conservative and out of touch with the reality of today’s Australia.

 Typical of this criticism are the observations of veteran leftist journalist and former close adviser to former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke, Barrie Cassidy. The latter described Dutton as being a bad choice as the next Liberal leader as he is 'ideologically opposed' to action on climate change which has proven to be a major issue among voters. Cassidy opined that the Liberal Party was going more to the right and ‘more so by the minute.' Moreover, he said, having lost so many of their moderate MPs to so-called ‘Teal’ independents, the Liberals' parliamentary base is now even more dominated by the right at a time when female voters in particular have repudiated those policies at the ballot box. 

 'They're in a bind because they have a female problem. They have a problem with climate change, they have a problem with integrity,' said Cassidy. 

 'Who are you going to call? Peter Dutton to fix those issues when he's ideologically opposed, not  to women, but to the other issues. But if it's not him. Who else?'[3]

 Given the paucity of talent and experience in the federal Liberal parliamentary party Cassidy makes a fair point. However, Dutton’s assumption of the leadership was met in many quarters with high hopes that he could ‘turn the party’s fortunes around’.  

 Dutton has previously exhibited great strength of purpose. As Minister for Defence in the Morrison government he did not hesitate to shake up that moribund department and implemented measures to eradicate the excessive political correctness and progressive social engineering programmes contained therein. He had the potential to be the best Minister of Defence since Kim Beazley.

 However, some five months after the election there has been, until his recent Budget in Reply speech, little evidence of his ability or inclination to do anything to turn the party’s fortunes around.

 To assist me in my reflections I put the following question directly to the man himself:

 When will you publicly and unequivocally detail the future direction you intend to take the Liberal Party?[4]

 [NB. As a matter of detail, in my email I naturally advised him that I intended to discuss this question on this website.]

 The following morning I received the prompt and following reply from his parliamentary office in Canberra, penned by one of his staff:

 The Leader is most interested in representing the Howard battlers, the tradies, and people that are working hard, that believe in freedom of choice and all of the values that the Liberal Party represents.

 The Leader was brought up politically by John Howard and Peter Costello and that's exactly how he plans to lead the Liberal Party.

 We need to start turning their sights on the Labor Party. Whether it be regarding climate policy, the Voice or other cultural debates, we will take an approach that is underpinned by common sense and our core values.

 We will call them out and have our own policy suggestions, as we have already started with the Age and Veteran Service Pension Work Bonus Scheme.[5]

 So far so good.  I was reassured that someone on his staff had the professional courtesy to respond to my question. The content, more or less, addresses my question: it was politically non-specific – or is that an oxymoron? -  Sound aspirational stuff but no answer as to when to expect a detailed policy announcement.

 However the reply provided much food for thought. Dutton is clearly looking to the style of his mentors Howard and Costello which is no bad thing. They were both tough and successful politicians. However, what really attracted my attention were the bits about ‘freedom of choice and all of the values that the Liberal Party represents.’ ‘….the Voice or other cultural debates’, and taking an approach that is: ‘underpinned by common sense and our core values’.

 What precisely does all this mean? What are the values that the Liberal Party represents? What manner of cultural debates and the nature of so-called common sense? And of course, what are the particular core values in question?

 Looking at the Liberal Party’s national website, hoping to glean some inner truths into what today’s organisation really believes in, I was hardly surprised at the inane nothingness of its ‘Our Beliefs’ page. The rubbish therein contained is so broad and self-evident that I would not even consider it be motherhood statements. To quote directly: “In short, we simply believe in individual freedom and free enterprise; and if you share this belief, then ours is the Party for you.”

 I invite anyone interested in confirming this inanity to visit: Our Beliefs Liberal Party of Australia

I well remember the days of working in politics when statements of beliefs/philosophy/aims and objectives were central to the understanding of whom and what the party was and what it stood for. It was a detailed declaration of faith, in God, Queen, Country and its People. It detailed the party’s worldview and fundamental beliefs, it then detailed its position on matters of direct concern to its members and putative supporters. These included freedom of faith, education, health, industrial relations, agriculture and defence. After reading same one knew exactly what the party stood for, about its culture and its political direction. Remember, I am discussing only its fundamental statement of beliefs, not its specific and individual election platform. The latter would in turn detail, in printed form, what the party would endeavour to do should it be elected to office. Both documents were freely available from the party or its members. Thus could the party be held to account by the public.

 The aimless inanity of the Liberal Party’s official statement of beliefs is reflected in its aimlessness membership, the ill-disciplined caucus of disunity that constitutes its parliamentarians and the general lifelessness of the ‘Liberal’ political milieu. Who could honestly support any organisation that believes in…‘Whatever’? 

 Thus, returning to Mr Dutton, despite his conservative credentials, so far things do not look promising.  He has had ample opportunity to demonstrate his credentials, but all we have seen is reactive comment and sheer stupidity: let me remind you of a classic example of the latter.

 On the 7th of October his office issued a media release of the transcript of an interview of Dutton with Andrew Bolt of Sky News concerning the forced resignation of Andrew Thorburn, the short lived CEO of the Essendon Football team, because of his Christian beliefs. This, as it went, read well, including inter alia:

 In relation to the Thorburn case, I think it’s something that the Premier should have stood up on and stood up to the values that he would champion every day. He would say that he’s in favour of inclusion, he would say that he’s in favour of freedom of choice and freedom of speech and instead he’s supported a decision which has crucified somebody for their religious beliefs.

 In our country, in the year 2022, it shouldn’t be tolerated, it should be called out, and I absolutely stand by what I said yesterday. The Liberal Party has very strong values, particularly around the rights of the individual and I’ll take every opportunity to assert those because people will know by the time of the next election that there is a big difference between the Liberal Party and the Labor Party – not just on social issues, but on economic and national security issues as well.[6]

 Well crafted. The problem being however that the Melbourne Age two days previously [5th]  reported: ‘The federal opposition leader said while the views of a pastor at the church about gay people and the issue of abortion were an abomination, Thorburn had distanced himself via his comments and actions’.[7]

 If this was Dutton’s immediate and ‘gut ‘reaction it provides a good indication as to his personal stand on these particular moral questions  but more importantly suggests strong doubts about his political savvy. The views of the pastor on homosexuality and abortion are an abomination! Really! There are many members of faith in Australia, of any faith, who would strongly disagree.

 Indeed, James Macpherson in his article, ‘Dutton sides with Dan Andrews in the Culture Wars’ in the Australian Spectator  took no prisoners in his comments: 

 The Liberal leader, turned theologian, told Sky News Australia:

 ‘The views that have been expressed by a pastor at this church in relation to gay people, or to the issue of abortion – they’re an abomination and I condemn those points that have been made by that particular pastor.’

 Tell me Christians, with good friends like Peter Dutton, who needs enemies like Daniel Andrews? No one can ever accuse the Liberals of playing to their base. These days they spit on it.[8]

 This has been my own sad experience of the Liberal Party. In my acknowledgement of thanks to Dutton’s staffer, I proffered one piece of advice: ‘Please do not allow Mr Dutton to emulate every single one of his predecessors in overlooking the vital imperative of the culture wars.’ In doing so I noted that I speak with some authority on this matter, both as a veteran [Viet Nam] and as a retired museum curator involved in the ‘culture wars’ since the 1970s. I observed that I am scarred by both wars and have ample experience of Liberal failures to support both:

 I have been witness to so many of my colleagues seriously let down by the Liberal National Party coalition in this vicious and hitherto hidden war. I myself have lost two academic positions for speaking out against the ever increasing progressive left orthodoxy – for speaking out for what, in effect, were traditional Liberal values. We were there but where was the Liberal Party and its politicians? Had they listened to us then, rather than rewarding their enemies, we would not be in the cultural mess we are today.     

 You will therefore understand my sceptical bitterness. I started my adult life in uniform which I later exchanged for gown, to fight for that ‘common sense and our core values’ to which you allude. It is my hope that in my final years I shall live to see Mr Dutton deliver on your words.[9]

 So will Dutton deliver? Can Dutton play the role of Resurrectionist and reforge the corpse of his party into some constructive political instrument? Has he the strength of will to stand up to his disunited rabble across Australia, and give them, and this country, the leadership so critically required?

 I was impressed with his Budget in Reply speech in parliament. He addressed a range of major issues extending across the societal and economic spectrum including defence, health and education. His comments on the latter were particularly encouraging inasmuch he demonstrated he was beginning to get a grasp over the symbiosis between education and the culture wars:

 As a nation, we celebrate our wonderful Indigenous history. But we need to be equally proud of our British heritage and our migrant story.

 Many parents from across the country are increasingly concerned about the education their children are receiving at school. Despite great teachers and record funding going into schools – government and non-government – our nation’s literacy and numeracy levels are falling short.

 In our school curriculum, it’s important to include studies of the environment and other social policies.

 But the system has allowed ideologically driven advocates too much influence over what is taught to our children. Teaching a sanitised and selective version of history and the arts – and radical gender theory – is not in our children’s best interests.

 What is needed is a focus on making the basics a priority – reading, writing and maths. Fostering a love of our country and pride in our history and democracy, without sugar coating the past.

 Where the teachers lead the instruction and are supported to have orderly classrooms. Where students learn respect, discipline, and ‘how to think’ not ‘what to think’.

 A Coalition government pledges to work with families to reflect their values and perspectives in our schools.[10]

 To give effect to these comments and to the other issues in his speech, he must first clearly distinguish between his friends and his enemies. He and his colleagues must then, in discussion with party members, determine the direction they want to take the party.

 It is self-evident that a political party with an unsound foundation cannot provide its members with guidelines with which to explain or defend themselves on particular political issues.

 The Liberal Party across Australia is a classic example of this. It contains within itself all manner of significantly differing and sometimes diametrically opposed positions on contentious issues such as the environment, welfare, education, foreign policy and so forth. Why? The reason, put simply, is that there exists no coherent party agreement on these issues across the national Liberal community. Thus Liberal politicians come across as the bumbling inconsequential fools that many are.  

 Politics is the contest of ideas. Effective political leadership is based on the party with the most comprehensive portfolio of ideas that captures the imagination of the public. These are the ideas that provide the party with direction. The party must also be cognisant of and reflect the mood, feelings and concerns of the electorate writ large – not simply sections of it. Successful politics is also based on an intelligent and courageous leadership group being able to effectively articulate these ideas.

 Without the foregoing the party is simply running on a constantly changing wish list of thought bubbles, promises and ad hoc policies based on individual ideologies and individual agendas. Worse still, the party becomes reactive to its opposition whereby it is in constant negative gear. This clearly will not do. The political party has to be in constant overdrive, proactive in opposition and inspirational in government.

 It has been my long held view that Australia requires a strong, visionary and proactive political leader with the will to forge a new and ambitious direction for this country. He or she needs to clearly articulate a vision of where he or she, and the rest of us, would like to see our country in fifty to a hundred years’ time. Such a vision, transcending the petty nonsense and squabbles of immediate politics, should address the big questions facing the country: Questions such as the nature of our national identity; sustainable national and state population levels and settlement; regional development; national infrastructure programmes; water security and distribution; effective and cheap and reliable energy generation and delivery; sustainable agriculture; an appropriate technology/manufacturing base; communications and transportation; our place in the world and so on.

Such a vision, well-articulated, will inexorably lead to healthy debate which will in turn shape our appreciation as to the nature of our country and who we are as Australians.

 Although it is a debate that is long overdue, it is a debate that no politician has had the courage to address.

 This is Dutton’s chance. He has intelligence, force of personality and, I would think, the courage and requisite political skills. He has nothing to lose. His party is effectively dēfūnctus nation-wide whilst legions of Australians, disaffected with the state of contemporary politics, wait for that rare commodity, statesman-like direction.

 If he fails, he will go down as the Liberal’s Fred Sexton - yet another lightweight Liberal politician. If he succeeds he will indeed go down in Australian political history as the Great Resurrectionist!

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[1] Walker's Pronouncing Dictionay. London. 1806.

[2] I have extracted much of the primary content from Peter Dutton’s Website: Meet Peter – Peter Dutton MP

[4] Email to Peter Dutton MP. 25 October 2022 1:22 PM. Subject: Question!

[5] Email from Dutton, Peter (MP) 26 October 2022. 11:31 AM. Subject: FW: Question! 

 

 

Comments

08.11.2022 05:22

Sam Cannon

I agree with the general thrust of your comments but the Australian community believes the governments can deliver without pain and there will be a lot of pain up ahead.

08.11.2022 06:21

Mordechai

The Australian community is in for a world of long overdue pain. It is wholly its own fault for which I have nil sympathy.

07.11.2022 11:17

Mancer Black

Nice job on the essay John, but regardless of his positions, Dutton is too much a cretin of the past, he also looks like the walking dead. We don't need more career politicians, we need a Trump.

08.11.2022 06:15

Mordechai

Thanks indeed for the comment. I do agree that we badly need to 'clean out the swamp'. Trump certainly stirred those fetid waters.

06.11.2022 09:06

Bob Holloway

Well thought out and incisive. A clear picture of what Australia needs right now. A challenge to Peter Dutton, which I hope he reads.

06.11.2022 21:22

Mordechai

Thank you Bob for your kind comment. I have just sent a link to my correspondent in his office, so there is no excuse for him not to!