MUNGO MACCALLUM.- Peter Dutton is human after all

Mar 16, 2020

It would be harsh and uncaring to admit a modicum of satisfaction at the news that Peter Dutton has contracted coronavirus.

But given that Dutton seems to spend most of his waking hours inflicting harsh and uncaring treatment on just about everyone lese, a touch of karma is understandable.

There will be little compassion from those still incarcerated in the hell-holes of Nauru and Manus, or indeed any victims of other camps held in Dutton’s far-flung gulag archipelago.

And there will be few sympathisers among the bureaucrats smashed as part of Dutton’s ruthless pursuit of the power needed to implement his authoritarian super department in Home Affairs. What goes around comes around.

But beyond the personal, the knowledge that the virus has infected the innermost workings of the government is a grim reminder of just how pervasive it is, and how hard it will be to contain and combat.

The Prime Minister says that the best advice he has received is that there is no need for the rest of his ministers to self-isolate, or even undergo tests. But this only adds to the confusion over just who should be taking precautions and what if anything, should they be doing, rather like his on-again-off-again approach to whether he would risk infecting the crowds at the footy, before the footy was to locked down next day.

It may well be that many of Dutton’s cabinet colleagues are reluctant to shake hands with him, and more intimate contact would be unthinkably perverse. But they can hardly avoid associating with him, and the same applies to all those who have encountered him in his various offices and functions,, planes, cars, on the streets – all over the place.

This, of course, is the problem of a pandemic: as the word implies, it is potentially universal. And unless there are truly draconian measures to control it – a solution that Dutton would instinctively embrace – there is no remedy except trying to balance the requirements of the health authorities and the demands of a public unwilling to accept to the laws that would enforce them.

Scott Morrison is thus astride the barbed wire fence, trying to keep one foot on the ground on either side. There will be travel bans – but not everywhere. Large public gatherings will be discouraed – but this, so far at least, is advice rather than straight our prohibition. And what are apparently arbitrarily designated as ”essential activities.” will be maintained, business as usual.

And of course, it will all be over quickly – the economy will snap back; except COVID-19 is now considered a worse problem than the Global Financial Crisis, which Morrison says we are still getting over. Some of this messaging will be presumably change, although that prospect is not exactly reassuring – Morrison’s “clear plan” is still shrouded in doubt and mystery.

But at least one plan is clear and unequivocal, Peter Dutton assures us that he is feeling fine and will be back at work in a couple of weeks. In the meantime he will be dealing with his repressive portfolio in the comfort of his well-appointed hotel room. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

Mungo MacCallam is a political commentator and former senior correspondent in the Canberra Press Gallery.


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