Peter Dutton 2.0 – The re-imagining

by John Frew

From the very start of his time as leader of the opposition Dutton’s faith in right-wing politics is undeniable. Image: Wikimedia Commons Peter Dutton and more importantly Murdoch understand that for Dutton to succeed he must radically change his public persona to reveal the real Peter; one who lives in a ‘wonderful family environment’ where his ‘self-deprecating sense of humour’ is witness to his true character.  And there has been plenty of support for this make-over with Sky News and their ‘after-dark’ crowd of sycophants giving him every opportunity to sell this new image. Sure, he has a tough side but he has a ‘softer side’ that people would see if he became PM.
Unfortunately, on one of his first appearances with Australia’s version of Sean Hannity, Andrew Bolt, Dutton revealed how that ‘soft’ side will dictate his behaviour. Taking a leaf out of the play-book of the absurd Republicans such as Sarah Palin and Marjorie Taylor Greene he unveiled his first target in his quest to win-back the sensible middle. That is to attack teachers using the treatment of LGBTIQA+ students as his weapon of choice. The assault in the US on these children is obscene and the right wing of our Liberal Party has its own history using teachers as the focus of their dog-whistle tactics.
In 2010, a group from La Trobe university created a program to improve the inclusivity of students whose gender expression was different from the simplistic, binary division supported by religious groups, primarily the Christian Right. The La Trobe research revealed that 80% of LGBTIQA+ students experienced homophobic abuse or bullying and that these children were more likely to not complete their studies when compared to the overall population. The pain these students experienced because of the genetic make-up results in 50% attempting suicide some time in their life.
A program was prepared to address this issue and was well received with Melbourne’s Methodist Ladies’ College and St Joseph’s College being part of the eleven founding schools. The program attracted support from all sides of the political divide with prominent Liberals Warren Entsch and Simon Birmingham being very encouraging with the latter declaring “the program was reasonable and supported inclusivity and tolerance in schools”. Even Tony Abbott, the then PM launched the program nation-wide declaring “it’s simply the right thing to do”. The program had support from the other-side of politics with Penny Wong lobbying for the funding of the program. Other community bodies such as Beyond Blue, Headspace and the Australian Secondary Principals Association endorse the program. Even the Salvation Army was onboard.
This inclusivity, just ‘doing the right thing’ was too much for the religious right led by the former Senator Bill O’Chee of the Australian Christian Lobby. Their champions in parliament, Cory Bernardi and George Christensen conducted a full attack on the program implying that by exposing children to the reality of LGBTIQA+ students, claiming the program was changing all students’ behaviour. Christensen likened the program to a “paedophile grooming a victim”. In classic strategy, a scape goat was identified and this was La Trobe’s Gary Dowsett who was subjected to relentless attacks particularly by Christensen.
Predictably support was progressively withdrawn. Federal funding was ceased, it was no longer ‘the right thing to do’ and all States dropped the program.
The use of the issue surrounding the existence of transgender children was re-ignited in the last election when Morrison’s captain’s pick Katherine Deves attempted to use this topic to attack Zali Steggall in Tony Abbott’s old seat. Morrison refused to condemn her false claims that teenagers were under-going gender confirming surgery. He was hoping that this proven dog-whistle might have made a difference in his election fortunes. It would do Dutton some good to understand that Deves’ stance resulted in a further swing of 6.6% away from the level Abbott had enjoyed in recent history.
The constant rejection by the right wing of the coalition of any support for the transgender and LGBTIQA+ community is evidenced in by Senator Claire Chandler’s Save Women’s Sports Bill that sought to exclude trans women from single-sex sports and separate attempts to pass the Religious Discrimination Bills, which is widely considered to be a sword with which to attack LGBTIQA+ community.
So we come to the present situation. Dutton has not mentioned directly issues around transgender but he is getting all the talking points in line. With the enthusiastic encouragement of Bolt he made is initial gambit in presenting what will be his friendly, softer side. He firstly attacked those radical teachers who, as part of the Union movement, control the ALP, uninterested in the fact that the Teachers Union is not affiliated with the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
His questioning of the National Curriculum which he claims is extremist and not being factual is straight out of the US Republican Parties tactics that attack transgender people. Fox and their ‘friends’ are outraged by public schools teaching that transgender people deserve even acceptance. Dutton has embraced this right-wing diatribe questioning the values of the National Curriculum and parroting almost word for word Florida’s Republican Governor, Ron DeSanto’s views that parents are excluded from the teaching of their children. Dutton’s articulation of this right-wing position is that he ‘wants to shine a light on (the exclusion of parent’s rights) and let parents be the judges on what is being taught in schools’.
How far away are we from the condemnation of critical race theory? Not far when you consider the Ramsay Centre’s history curriculum based on the premise that the civilisation of western values are superior to those in non-western cultures. Tony Abbott, after all, has insisted on the need for the Ramsay Centre to be explicitly “right-wing”.
From the very start of his time as leader of the opposition Dutton’s faith in right-wing politics is undeniable. It is perhaps ironic that the Nationals under David Littleproud who is committed to finding the “sensible centre” in policy will be stymied by the Liberals.
The question is, will Murdoch’s strangle-hold on the popular press be enough to carry Dutton and the coalition back into power. Right now this seems improbable but history has shown just how quickly things can change when powerful forces work against popular governments. Dutton 1.0 was the perfect mouth-piece for such an attack, I don’t believe Dutton 2.0 will be any different.
As for the compared similarities to the Harry Potter villain Voldemort who terrorised the students at Hogwarts, Dutton has form in terrorising children in off-shore detention, how long before trans LGBTIQA+ students suffer the same anguish a result of his quest for power!