The second most powerful man in Australia is hospitalised with Covid-19. In a crowded field, few men have done more to tear at the fabric of the Australian polity than Peter Dutton.
In June 2018, Dutton claimed the cruel and compassion-free asylum seeker policy of his government – designed by Scott Morrison and Jim ‘butcher of Fallujah’ Molan – ‘could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion’. Here is a bloke who aggressively pushed to repeal the law that provided for medical evacuations from our off-shore detention camps. This is race-based denial of medical care. At any given opportunity he promotes racism, particularly by conflating specific ethnic identities with what, on the evidence, would seem to be a vastly over-inflated terror threat.
A former Queensland cop, the Dutton special is to drop an absolute clanger, about migrants from Lebanon, say, or the whole of Africa. After letting his racist messaging spread and fester for maximum impact, the Prime Minister of the day, whoever that is, rolls out the tired line about Australia as the most successful multicultural (Turnbull) or migrant (Morrison) society on earth (an heroic assertion demythologised in Overland here).
Rinse and repeat.
Dutton has been hospitalised for Covid-19 after he returned from the USA. There, he met with the nepotistically elevated Ivanka Trump among others, and achieved nothing – or nothing I can find on the public record – in the national interest. The ABC is now reporting that Ivanka will ‘work’ – whatever she does – from home after exposure to a known infected person, to wit, Peter Dutton.
After Dutton released his Covid-19 confirmation statement at the classic trash-taking time of 5:50pm on a Friday night, the Prime Minister declared that neither he nor any other member of cabinet needs to be tested for the virus, and nor are they required to self-isolate. He tweeted:
In advice provided this evening, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer has reiterated only people who had close contact with the Minister in the preceding 24 hours before he became symptomatic need to self-isolate. That does not include myself or any other members of the Cabinet.
Typically, for Morrison political communication strategy, this statement is hedged by deflecting responsibility away from himself and on to someone else, in this case the Deputy Chief Medical Officer. Earlier this week Morrison, who has ignored increasingly urgent messaging from Reserve Bank Governor Dr Phillip Lowe for his entire prime ministership, claimed that the recent business handouts announcement is informed by advice from, wait for it, RBA Governor Dr Phillip Lowe.
Another example is his aggressive insistence that he would be going to the footy. Morrison carefully spread the responsibility for his poor judgement: I’m very comfortable with that my colleagues are very comfortable with that, he claimed unconvincingly.
At the time of writing, there was no word from the prime minister on why the Deputy CMO rather than the Chief Medical Officer is advising the entire cabinet about direct contact with an infected person. That same CMO has been wheeled out – looking like a hostage from where I sit – blink twice if you have been kidnapped, Dr Murphy – to share the stage with the Prime Minister as he delivers his grandiose announceables like cancelling mass gatherings (over 500 people) from Monday for the cameras.
Does it matter? The nonsensical public denial about whether cabinet should be tested will surely be reversed. Morrison walked back his footy fuckwittery within four hours, on the purported basis that his attendance could be ‘misrepresented’. By who? The press gallery loyally report his every word, rarely criticise his bad decisions, and invariably down-play the risk he poses.
Here is the Morrison comms pattern: make a badly-conceived announcement, like going to the footy on the weekend, be condemned by experts and the public (but not, on the whole, by the press gallery). He then ungraciously and aggressively walks his ill-conceived statements back and lies about lying. He shamelessly tells the press – and via the press the public – look Leigh, he is being completely upfront and perfectly frank or whatever weasel words spring to the prime ministerial mind.
It is worth noting that the things Morrison says are influenced by his deranged and backwards religion. His faith, about which he shamelessly proselytises straight to camera while denying that he is doing so, is populated by deluded and materialistic opportunists with an unwavering devotion to extracting profit from human loneliness and misery.
In sum, on his record, we can assume the prime minister will soon also reverse his dangerously irresponsible position that cabinet ministers do not need to self-isolate or be tested. Not least because the boss does not get to decide personal health service access on behalf of others. No boss has that right, and a boss who tries that is acting in violation of fundamental human and legal rights.
Until that happens: Deconstructing the Dutton diagnosis
Of all the people to find room for in our hearts, I would place Peter Dutton stone fatherless last, alongside Morrison himself.
The diagnosis is not cause for the Australian public to be ‘wishing Peter Dutton the best’ as David Crowe, chief political correspondent at nine/fairfax newspapers, condescendingly told ‘twitter’ – a social media platform, demonstrating his deep misunderstanding of ‘new’ (12-year-old) media – on here.
It is unsurprising to see Crowe joining the likes of Chris coal-spruiking Uhlmann and Michael false-balance Rowland in their disdain for their audiences – and thus for the electorate. It is no coincidence that the worst offenders in the Canberra press gallery belong to the same demographic group, the demographic that holds the most unearned positional power and are most threatened by the expansion of media beyond legacy print and broadcast.
The emergence of social media platforms has created space that include and more widely disseminate the views and experiences and expertise of women of many backgrounds, of First Nations and Black people representing a multitude of communities, from People of Colour. This does not suit the interests of those white males who have enjoyed dominance for so long.
Because the rise of social media and the complicity of the parliamentary press gallery in absolutely horrendous policy outcomes produced by the Morrison and Turnbull and Abbott governments – which the press characterise as ‘no policy’ rather than drastically harmful policy, as I wrote during the 2019 election campaign here – are matters of urgency during a pandemic, I am going to take a closer look at what Crowe, as a typical example of his professional and demographic group, said.
First, the message is designed for maximum outrage-trawling and clicks. We can deduce this from the fact that the tweet links to his article about the Dutton diagnosis.
Bad news. We should all be wishing @PeterDutton_MP the best. Twitter makes it easy for us to turn against each other but it is sickening to see at a time like this.
Bad news. Bad news for who? Certainly not the public. Dutton not only presides over monstrous cruelty and deliberately spreads racist hate, he churns through billions of our dollars with no accountability. Here is a story about mismanaging the transfer of over $1 billion in public moneys to private sector interests. Here is another, about Dutton giving almost half a billion public dollars to a company that subsequent reports demonstrate is wholly unfit to do business. It was the PNG government that eventually stepped in to stop the rot. Dutton is also going full speed ahead on handing visa application ‘services’ over to the private sector despite the fact that the lead bidder, Scott Briggs, is on the Liberal Party donor list. The prime minister claimed his listing is a typo. I have a bridge to sell to whoever believes that.
So, no. Taking Peter Dutton out of the public domain for a fortnight is not bad news for non-citizens seeking asylum or visas, nor for the vast majority of Australians, people whose communities he attacks, whose money he wastes, in whose interests he refuses to act. Crowe’s view may be shared with some professional colleagues, a few senior public servants (but not staff – Home Affairs has the lowest morale among federal government departments), racist haters, and presumably Dutton’s family. That does not translate to the population at large.
We should all be wishing @PeterDutton_MP the best.
It is just so embarrassing to me that a senior gallery journalist would signal what AAVE calls ‘pick me’ posturing like this. The pickme component is tagging the tweet to Dutton’s twitter account, to let the minister know that good ol’ Dave is busy busy, pushing back on Dutton’s behalf, against meanies who say mean things on twitter.
But it is also a wider pattern of certain gallery journalists who deliberately trawl for clicks-via-imagined-outrage. In this, Crowe joins the aforementioned Uhlmann and Rowland and other faves like Peter van Onselen and Joe Hildebrand.
There are two specific components to the method. The first is to pre-empt a response that may or may not materialise. Uhlmann likes to proclaim what ‘leftie twitter’ is saying without checking to see if anyone is in fact saying it. He may be a senior gallery journalist, he also just makes stuff up. Apparently Peta Credlin has adopted this technique too, telling her Sky viewer that progressives are hating on Dutton. None of this is new, of course – tory thinking is never creative or new. Gerard Henderson has been telling whoever will listen what ‘leftists’ think for decades. He never checks, or even defines who these leftists are. Presumably anyone more progressive than himself.
In other words, trolling for ratings has merely migrated stock-standard tory method across platforms. In his tweet, Crowe assumes, without evidence, that there are people who are not wishing Dutton the best. This is a fair bet, not because people are mean, but because Dutton is a monstrous character who causes unspeakable harm.
The second component is to generate outrage for follow-up ‘analysis’ and then more clicks. Joe Hildebrand has elevated this to an art form, sitting up past midnight to diligently retweet every single positive comment, no matter how bot-like the source, for maximum irritation factor. He has doubled his online following – and presumably pay-rise leverage with his employers – with this particular brand of racist hate. It is unbelievably annoying to see his unstoppable bad-faith self-promotion in action. It is not impact-neutral, either. He shouts down and crowds out actual experts on racism as he goes.
The other teeth-grinding aspect of Crowe telling us how to feel about Dutton being diagnosed with coronavirus is the self-righteous superiority of tone. It is laughable to suggest that the Australian public take moral instruction from the parliamentary press gallery. If they want to start dishing out sanctimonious advice, they can start with themselves. It is the gallery who collectively backed Morrison, and Turnbull, and Abbott, all of whom are drastic failures as national leaders, into office.
Twitter makes it easy for us to turn against each other…
Again, the vast ignorance of what social media is and how it works is on embarrassingly bold display here. Twitter is a social media platform. Each account holder curates their own twitter experience. Some block en masse, others follow everyone back, journalists use it to broadcast rather than socialise (except when talking among themselves). And to signal supportive stances to politicians. A well-managed social media account reflects real-world relationships and networks. It does not exist independently of human society, it is not removed from the slings and arrows, the flaws and foibles, of human community.
Twitter makes it ‘easy’ to connect with communities of interest. It also makes it easy for some people to attack others, especially those with existing socio-positional power, like gallery journalists. But Crowe is not even doing that. He is just shadow-boxing, straw-manning, fabricating an imagined community of people ‘turning against each other’. If people were posting gloating comments about the Dutton diagnosis, it is certain sure they were ‘against’ his politics long before he got sick.
For the record, I saw few comments wishing Dutton ill, although I agree with most of the ones I did see. The most common view expressed in my newsfeed was that Dutton should be sent for quarantine on Christmas Island, the policy Dutton implemented for people returning from China. It is a view that strikes me as perfectly reasonable in the circumstances.
but it is sickening to see at a time like this.
This is just wrong, and shows a horribly tin ear. If David Crowe feels ‘sickened’ by people responding to the Dutton diagnosis, he is not actually sick from it. Seeing twitter comments has not made him unwell. At a time when thousands of people are sick and dying from a pandemic, and our leaders are failing us on a national level, projecting his mild discomfort at reading what we really think of the hideously cruel Home Affairs minister as ‘sickening’ is a ridiculous degree of self-centred and dense.
Just my opinion.
As I write, ABC Sydney radio is reporting on precautionary action at the Sydney offices where cabinet met on Tuesday. I can not find the story online yet, but heard it on the 12 noon news, and assume it will appear here soon. There is footage of hazmat workers posted by channel nine news reporter Chris O’Keefe here. The reversal of the current Morrison government position that cabinet need not be tested or self-isolated must surely not be too far away. I give it until the evening news bulletins.