How To Be Hateful And Idiotic And Remain In The Turnbull Ministry


A simple illustration of Peter Dutton’s hateful and idiotic comments, by Michael Brull.

Let me begin with a thought experiment. A few months ago, Harriet Wran was sentenced to four years in jail for robbery, and for being an accessory after the fact to the murder of a drug dealer. No-one disputes that these are grave crimes.

Yet Harriet Wran is the daughter of Neville Wran, a former ALP Premier of NSW. Suppose a Liberal politician responded to the conviction of Harriet by announcing that this tarnished the legacy and reputation of Neville, and showed that he never should have been elected.

Any normal and decent person would respond that that comment is absurd. Neville Wran should be judged by his own actions, not by those of other people. To seek to tarnish him as a person because of the actions of a loved one is unfair, and reeks of spitefulness.

All parents want the best for their children. We assume that Harriet’s parents would have been pained by her drug addiction and involvement in crime. To use the subject of their own anguish against them would be horrible. I assume all this is obvious, and I won’t dwell on it further.

Now suppose that politician didn’t say that Neville Wran’s Premiership was tarnished by the actions of Harriet. Neville Wran himself was tarnished as a person. And not just Neville: his wife, and both of their parents. All deplorable people, and Australia would be better off if their descendants had never come to Australia.

This is already absurd. Let us, however, take it one step further. Suppose the Wrans were Jewish. And the actions of Harriet were not just used to tarnish her parents and her grandparents. They were used to smear all Jews in Australia.


That would be compounding absurdity, spitefulness, and bigotry. It is inconceivable that a Liberal politician who made that comment about Jews would keep their job. The fact that Dutton is still employed as Immigration Minister, in the Cabinet of Malcolm Turnbull, is yet another a stark lesson in the acceptability of overt racism in Australia today.


Racism sanctioned from above

It is worth tracing what Dutton said. After various attempts at baiting on Sky News by Andrew Bolt, Peter Dutton moved closer to the position of Bolt.

Bolt began by asking about a “huge crime wave” by “young men of African descent”, before asking, “Malcolm Fraser got the Lebanese refugee programme wrong, opened the door to people that his Immigration Minister at the time said do not. Did we make another mistake with the Sudanese refugee programme?”

After being unsatisfied with Dutton’s answer, Bolt tried again: “I’m just wondering whether we have been factoring in… the difference that culture makes in determining whether one cohort of people is going to struggle to fit in… Have we done that sufficiently in the past, in your opinion?”

Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton.
Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton.

Dutton said that “Well clearly, Andrew, if there is a particular problem that people can point to within a certain community, if we’re talking about a significant number of people within that community who are doing the wrong thing, then clearly mistakes have been made in the past. And the reality is that Malcolm Fraser did make mistakes in bringing some people in in the 1970s and we’re seeing that today. And we need to be honest in having that discussion.”

The comment is reasonably clear. Dutton thought that when it came to a “certain community”, a “significant number of people” did the wrong thing. Thus, mistakes were made in the 1970s in letting some people into Australia.

In Parliament, Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten asked, “Which people, from which country, does the minister believe should not have been allowed into Australia when Mr Fraser was Prime Minister?” After thanking Shorten for the question, Dutton explained that “out of the last 33 people who have been charged with terrorist related offences in this country, 22 are from second- and third-generation Lebanese Muslim backgrounds.”

Dutton didn’t explicitly say it was a mistake to bring in Lebanese Muslims. But the insinuation was clear. It was a mistake to bring in Lebanese Muslims in the 1970s, because over the course of three generations, 22 of them were charged with terrorist related offences. There is no way to tell in advance if someone’s grandchildren will one day be charged with an offence.

It seems Dutton at best thinks Fraser should have let in far fewer Lebanese Muslims; more plausibly, he implied none should have been allowed in.

Dutton knew what he was saying. He said later in the same reply that, “I am not interested in the politically correct nonsense that the Leader of the Opposition might carry on with.” Dutton expected to cause offence, and didn’t think it mattered.

Prime Minister Turnbull responded to this by applauding Dutton. Dutton is “doing an outstanding job”. Three more times Turnbull praised Dutton as “outstanding”. Like John Howard before him, he didn’t exactly praise the racism. He just praised the racist.

Turnbull declined to endorse the comments, but said that Dutton was “entitled” to reflect “on policies many years ago”. Turnbull concluded that Dutton is “thoughtful and committed and compassionate”.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Turnbull is no idiot. I wrote a month ago that his desperate position in the polls and within the Liberal party meant that he was going to turn on Muslims and asylum seekers as a political lifeline. Less than a week later, Turnbull started talking about how much he respects cartoonist Bill Leak. And he announced his new bill to permanently ban asylum seekers by boat.

This is part of the same trajectory. Turnbull is standing proudly by Dutton. That means we will be hearing more attacks on Muslims from the Turnbull government.


Undoing the damage or insulting our intelligence?

Since then, the government has tried to walk back what was said. Without any retraction or apology, they still hope to undo the damage already caused. Dutton has implausibly claimed he was misrepresented by Shorten, and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has creatively reinterpreted Dutton’s comments as concern about a lack of services provided in the ‘70s.

Since then, Dutton has praised the “vast majority” of Lebanese Muslims, who are a “great community”, and said he won’t allow their community to be defined by the small element who are doing the wrong thing. He has claimed that Bill Shorten is manipulatively and dishonestly misinterpreting what he said.

He hasn’t responded to the Lebanese Muslim Association (LMA), which flatly identified his comments as racist. The LMA reports that Dutton and his office have not contacted them, nor any other Lebanese Muslim organisation to address their concerns.

Amazingly, Dutton responded to the LMA’s condemnation of his comments by blocking them on Facebook (I am not making that up).


Perhaps more strangely, Julie Bishop announced the appointment of three new members to the board of the Council for Australian-Arab Relations. She hopes that they will help “strengthen ties and create greater understanding between Australia and the Arab world”.

I suspect the appointees will have their work cut out for them. We all know what Dutton said. We all know that no-one in the Coalition has repudiated it. And we all know that Turnbull thinks Dutton is doing an outstanding job, and is thoughtful, compassionate, and entitled to reflect on immigration policy.


Banishing anti-racism from Australian discourse

On Thursday, Liberal MP Andrew Hastie went on the Bolt Report, and applauded a young man suing a politician for calling him racist. “That’s why we have defamation law, we don’t need 18C to sort these issues out”.

The lawsuit in question seeks damages of up to $150,000. Whilst Liberals and Murdoch writers endlessly campaign to abolish the racially offensive speech provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA), they apparently are untroubled by a young man suing someone for accusing him of racism.

Right-wing columnist Andrew Bolt.
Right-wing columnist Andrew Bolt.

Think about that for a moment. They think there should be no legal limits on racially offensive speech, but regard it as entirely appropriate to sue for an accusation of racism.

Their desired endgame is one where white people are more free to engage in racially offensive speech, whilst wealthy white people with means won’t be called racist, for fear of ruinous legal costs.

Or put another way, it is an environment where politicians and media elites are never accused of racism, whilst they are even more free than they are now to tell us what they really think of Lebanese Muslims and other minorities.

Michael Brull writes twice a week for New Matilda. He has written for a range of other publications, including Overland, Crikey, ABC's Drum, the Guardian and elsewhere. His writings can be followed at his public Facebook page (click on the icon below right).