Minister for Attack: Can anything stop Peter Dutton?

Oct 3, 2021
Peter Dutton
(Image: AP/Rod McGuirk)

Defence Minister Peter Dutton is running a hard line towards China. But he’s not unstoppable. A federal election is coming up and the voters of Dickson could very well vote him out.

There is a moment in that great Australian movie, Chopper, when, in the exercise yard at Pentridge, he and his faction are glaring at the enemy, a group of prisoners from the old Painters & Dockers Union.

Chopper’s mate: Why have we been fighting this group for so long?
Chopper: I don’t know.
Chopper’s mate. Well, isn’t it a bit silly we don’t have a reason for fighting them?
Chopper. Well, go and fucking make one up!

There, out of the mouth of a criminal, comes the twisted logic behind Australia’s recently sharpened belligerence to China. The hawks now soar over the waters between us and China and scatter the peace doves. Under the aggressive tutelage of the UK and America, two of the most war-some nations on Earth, a reason for being armed and ready has been plucked out of paranoid fantasy and becomes foreign policy. China is now the reason.

Running this line is the hard, hard man of Canberra, my local member, the ever-not-smiling Peter Dutton.

It seems as though the Minister for Attack is always in a cerebral war room, like living life within Xbox’s Call of Duty. His preoccupation now is arranging the new south Pacific battle sphere which, on even the most moderate odds, is going to lead to an apocalyptic engagement with the soon to be most powerful military nation in the world.

The terrifying thing is that Dutton can do whatever he wants. He is the bull in the ethics China shop. He has no meaningful opposition yet loads of political support within a failing government who in their daily decision-making has upscaled the meaning of “infamy”.

Although he has failed to grow his electoral margin in the seat of Dickson, Dutton knows that conservative voters will always tick the candidate who shouts “force”, over the candidate who murmurs “conciliation”. He knows that time has its bony fingers on the dimmer switch of history. The memory of this cruel war in Afghanistan is fading, as did the war in Vietnam and numerous conflagrations before that.

An Australian government, irrespective of ideological persuasion, was never going to get serious about correcting the wrongs. Brereton came, exposed war crimes, avoided officer complicity, and went.

As the ink was drying on his signature on the report, the forces of a bent and racist patriotism were mobilising.

Special Forces, the RSL, Australian War Memorial, the tabloid press, all screaming in unison to lay off our diggers. These screams go all the way to the Cabinet room and powerful people are listening.

Forget about our international obligations with respect to war. Forget about the Afghan civilian carnage. Our COVID-19 captured community is wanting to move on, and Dutton is out front leading us away from the Afghanistan shit pile.

If that is a fair observation then Dutton could be on a mission to recast the Australian army. Can that really be done without accepting that the army (specifically special forces) behaved well below the Plimsoll line of international standards with respect to war making and the treatment of civilian populations. Let us sincerely hope Dutton is not toying with the idea of returning to a military governance style that at its worst, allowed Special Air Service (SAS) and commando soldiers hunting opportunities in the badlands of Uruzgan Province.

In a recent article, the famous writing team of Nick McKenzie and Chris Masters have noted that Defence Force chief Angus Campbell is now being described as a lame duck around Canberra. Nineteen days after he sat in the defences minister’s chair for the first time, Dutton overruled Campbell’s pained decision to deny unit-wide meritorious citation to the SAS for its work in Afghanistan. The denial was a logical response to the war crimes that the Brereton Inquiry exposed.

Amongst senior public servants in Canberra, Dutton’s private office is regarded as ‘very difficult’

What is next on Dutton’s hit list?

I am tipping he will stop Campbell disbanding the disreputable SAS’s second squadron, in which Ben Roberts-Smith served.

Brereton found that there was a greater concentration of war crimes in this squadron than any other part of the SAS structure. In fact, he said that members of the squadron had committed “the most disgraceful episode in Australia’s military history”. Brereton redacted those particular acts of savagery from his report. One incident involved the slitting of the throats of unarmed Afghan teenagers.

A flag-folding ceremony was due to take place at the end of August at the SAS base in Perth. The flag of the SASR’s second squadron was to be folded and presented to the regiment’s historical foundation. This would formally mark the squadron’s exit from the army’s order of battle.

The ceremony was cancelled at the last moment.

Campbell has only 10 months left as chief of the defence force (CDF), as the Defence Act (1903) prescribes a four-year tenure. The replacement will be Dutton’s choice. Maybe that person has already been quietly tapped on the shoulder. The consequences of this new appointment are vast. The Brereton report could go into army archives, with the new chief of defence force to deliver on Dutton’s apparently Sino-phobic agenda.

Can nothing stop Peter Godzilla? NO? Well maybe there is a long odds chance.

The voters of Dickson must go to the polls on or before May 21, 2022. The Coalition presently is heading to that election with 76 seats. Dickson is the twelfth-most vulnerable seat, with a margin of 4.6 per cent.

Dutton kicked out of Dickson? Now wouldn’t that put a smile on democracy’s face.

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