Immigration Minister Peter Dutton may have sparked outrage among opponents of Australia’s tough asylum seeker policies, but he seems set to comfortably hold the once-marginal Queensland seat of Dickson.
The former policeman who tried to switch to the safe Liberal seat of McPherson after proposed boundary changes put Dickson at risk in 2009 is expected to retain the seat he won in 2001.
Like successive immigration ministers in recent decades, Dutton has courted controversy. Labor and The Greens condemned recent comments by Dutton that “illiterate and innumerate” refugees would take Australian jobs or “languish” on the dole if Australia was to significantly increase its humanitarian intake. The comment provoked upset in the community.
Weeks earlier, protesters at his Strathpine electoral office made the local news. They were demanding rights for asylum seekers likely to be sent from Australia to Nauru.
But Southern Cross University politics lecturer, Bryan Cranston said “the electoral profile of Dickson is actually not unfavourable to the Turnbull (and Abbott) Government’s immigration policies, so the attacks may not have the desired outcome.”
The Immigration Minister, who succeeded Treasurer Scott Morrison in the portfolio, has sought to emulate his predecessor’s uncompromising stance. He recently told the ABC: “If you think that I’m going to allow people… men, women and children to drown at sea again, then you well and truly underestimate how determined I am”.
Dutton has held the seat of Dickson since the 2001 federal election, in which he beat Cheryl Kernot. The former Australian Democrats Party leader, who defected to Labor and won the Dickson seat in 1998.
Dutton has held Dickson comfortably since, except for the 2007 election in which ALP candidate, Fiona McNamara, lost by just 217 votes after gaining an 8.76 per cent swing.
Before holding the seat for Dickson, Dutton had a career as a Queensland police officer for nine years, being involved in the Drug Squad, Sex Offenders Squad and National Crime Authority across his service. His time in the police has shaped his views. “I have seen the wonderful, kind nature of people” he said. “I have seen the sickening behaviour displayed by people who… barely justify their existence in our sometimes over-tolerant society.”
Dutton has always had a strong interest in politics, even before his career in the police force. At age 19 he ran for the seat Lytton in the 1989 Queensland state election against Labor’s Tom Burns. He entered Federal politics in 2001, after a vitriolic campaign.
In 1999, Dutton graduated from the Queensland University of Technology with a Bachelor of business, which he returned to after losing the election in Lytton. He ran businesses with his father, Bruce, before running for Dickson. The Duttons owned two childcare centres with plans to buy another.
The Immigration Minister has made headlines over his comments about Australian jobs being taken by “illiterate and innumerate” refugees.
“They won’t be numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English” he said. “These people would be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that.”
Dutton’s outrage was in response to The Greens’ proposal to increase the Australian refugee intake from 14,000 to 50,000 per year.
Dutton is constantly in the media on issues of human rights, including Manus Island’s detention centre. He had to explain why the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea could rule that the detention centre was illegal and why there was so little transparency about its funding and operations.
Dutton also had to defend mocking comments about Indigenous communities, which were caught on microphone at a conference in September 2015. “It’s like Cape York time”, he said, referencing the lateness of the Aboriginal attendees. Dutton then joked about climate change, saying “time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to … have water lapping at your door”.
Dutton routinely asserts the government is “absolutely adamant” that asylum seekers won’t be settling in this country.
Bebe Sinclair, a resident of Murrumba Downs for 20 years claims that she feels “neglected” by Dutton’s party, saying that people in the electorate “have not benefitted from him being our voice in Canberra.” Although Sinclair voted for Dutton in 2013, she now says she feels “patronised” by him.
As Immigration Minister, Dutton has one of the most difficult jobs in the government. He has to be secretive and sound tough for the Government’s policies on deterring people smugglers to work. But he often looks inhumane and almost everything he says about this complex issue is unpopular with large sections of the community.
As Sinclair says “These poor desperate people are the victims of politics and war. I understand processing but indefinite detention is not the answer.”