MUNGO MacCALLUM. The pugnacious potato has done it again.

Jan 15, 2019

Having unleashed his innumerate megalomania to destroy Malcolm Turnbull, with the unintended consequence of almost certainly scuttling his government as collateral damage, Peter Dutton has now derailed Scott Morrison’s attempt to mend the fractured relationship with the Pacific.  

His stuff up over stripping the citizenship of terrorist Neil Prakash on the eve of the prime minister’s trip to Fiji is more than a mere distraction; it has already become a diplomatic incident which will confirm the belief that the turbulent tuber treats the region with indifference, even contempt.

And in the Pacific, Dutton has form. At a meeting three years ago he joked with Tony Abbott about the region’s concerns about climate change: “Time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to have water lapping around your door.”

He may wish to forget his merry quip, but it is a safe bet many of the Islanders did not, and were looking for a little more respect from their big neighbour in future. What they got instead was the news that Dutton was planning to dump an Australian terrorist on their territory on the basis that his father had been Fijian.

The Fijian government, at the highest level, says he is not, and that seems to figure: Prakash was born n Melbourne, has never resided in Fiji, has never applied for citizenship in the country and, would almost certainly be refused it if he did. And contrary to Dutton’s unevidenced assertions, the Fijians insist that there was no contact with them – no consultation, no request for information, and definitely no agreement.

Unsurprisingly, the Fijians don’t want Prakash any more than the Australians do. And after all, he is – or at least has been, until Dutton had his brain storm – an Australian citizen by birth; he is Australia’s primary responsibility, and to try and duck shove him off to an impoverished neighbour is worse than patronising – it smacks of outright racism, especially when Dutton doubled down, insisting that he had legal advice (which he will not release) that Prakash is in fact Fijian.

Presumably the ignorant Islanders do not know their own law, and in any case their rights are unimportant. We will decide who we send to to Fiji and the circumstances in which we send them. Such is the white man’s burden.

And the worst of it is that the arrogance and stupidity was utterly unnecessary. Prakash is securely incarcerated in a Turkish jail and is likely to be there for many years. There was no urgency, no compelling reason to strip him of his citizenship, even if he had dual citizen rights – which apparently he does not. He is not going anywhere – certainly not to Australia, or Fiji for that matter.

It looks very much like a political stunt: Dutton showing off his power, exerting control simply because he thinks he can, and to hell with the diplomatic decencies or the embarrassment to his prime minister – who it should be said, has said absolutely nothing about the fiasco. Perhaps he has been rendered speechless in which case Dutton has done us all a brief favour.

But more probably he and his bureaucrats will be working frantically behind the scenes to explain to his fellow prime minister Frank Bainimarama and his colleagues that Dutton should be ignored — the virulent vegetable has little or no credibility on foreign policy (and not much in anything else either) so let let’s get on with the real issues — as long as no one really wants to talk about climate change, of course.

And Dutton himself appears to have moved on, this time to paedophiles. He is against them, of course, and intends to persecute them long after their prison sentences have been served, ostensibly to protect the public but more likely as strident law’n’order dog whistle of the kind for which he is justly renowned.

So – a national register, well, national as long as the states agree to it, which some may not, in which case Dutton will denounce them as supporters of vicious child abusers preying on innocent infants.

As always with Dutton (and frequently with his government) there has been no real research from anyone who has actually looked at the problem. A register may marginally deter potential child abusers, but it will certainly engender fear and suspicion within communities and encourage the emergence of criminal vigilante groups.

The doyenne of the child protection movement, Bravehearts founding chair Hetty Johnston immediately dismissed Dutton’s idea as just another stunt—what was actually needed was a royal commission into the family law system, but given its track record, the government is a bit over royal commissions at the moment.

And anyway, that would be too slow and cumbersome for Dutton – like most authoritarians, he wants instant results, an immediate sugar hit. And such is the scope of his apparently open-ended super-ministry, he is in a position to get it. Which is why we should be afraid – very afraid.

And speaking of fear and despotism, we cannot ignore Fraser Anning, It would be nice to – the man is eminently ignorable. But he has drawn attention to a tendency that cannot be brushed aside.

The thugs and dupes at the St Kilda rally which Anning attended at taxpayers expense were insignificant in themselves, and they were, on the whole, hardly dedicated neo-Nazis; unlike their leader, Anning’s mate Blair Cottrell, they have not pored over Mein Kampf and ranted about a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.

But then, nor were the majority of Germans attracted to Hitler in the 1930s; they were angry, discontented, and looking for scapegoats. Such people are dangerous and must not be regarded as just spectators looking for a noisy and perhaps violent day out. They can be channelled into something far more sinister and infinitely worse.

Anning’s support was unforgiveable, and the fact that an alarming number of letter writers have endorsed his appearance – absurdly in the name of free speech – is a cause for alarm. The man should have been denounced immediately and unequivocally.

Instead our fearless leader refused to mention him for several days, and after doing so seemed to be more concerned with the fact that his office had photo-shopped him into two left shoes. He would have at least preferred right shoes. Peter Dutton would of course favour steel capped bovver boots, while Fraser Anning probably yearns for big shiny black ones.

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