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Issue #1732      May 25, 2016


Dutton’s desperate race card

The Coalition is feeling the pressure. As the long election campaign drags on, the Turnbull government is looking more and more vulnerable. Police raids called on the office of Labor Senator Stephen Conroy and the home of staffer Andrew Byrne in connection with leaks about the troubled National Broadband Network have the whiff of political motivation. Another sign of desperation was the claim by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton that refugees would simultaneously be dependent on the dole and taking jobs off Australians.

Mr Dutton defended the claims in an interview with Sydney 2GB radio host Ray Hadley last week. “These people would be taking Australian jobs. There’s no doubt about that. For many of them that would be unemployed, they would languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare and the rest of it, so there would be a huge cost and there’s no sense in sugar-coating that, that’s the scenario,” the minister said. Hadley backed Dutton up by saying that Australia already has enough “home-grown bludgers.”

Turnbull was uncomfortable with the tone of the Immigration Minister’s comments and sought to turn the commentary around. He stuck to the Coalition’s self-proclaimed “success” in stopping boat arrivals and the ALP’s supposed failure while in office. The PM went to great lengths to appear compassionate. He pointed out that many refugees were fleeing war-torn countries. He didn’t touch upon Australia’s role alongside the US in creating or exacerbating the strife at issue. There was no mention of the appalling track record of abuse in offshore detention camps. In the end, Turnbull stood squarely with Dutton, who he described as “outstanding” as immigration minister.

The Liberals are trying to walk both sides of the street. Turnbull dresses up his government’s record as caring and tolerant so as to appeal to the bulk of Australian voters. Dutton is pitching to the intolerant and xenophobic voters who might drift to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation or the Australian Liberty Alliance.

Condemnation of Dutton’s provocative remarks was quick in coming. Paul Power of the Refugee Council of Australia noted Treasury figures showing that migrants, including refugees, put much more into the economy than they drew out despite the initial support provided. “Mr Dutton’s comments are not only incoherent, they contravene the evidence substantiated by the contributions of hundreds of thousands of refugees who have contributed to our country,” Mr Power said. “The fact that this political attack is coming from the minister responsible for Australia’s refugee program makes it even more offensive.”

Labor and the Greens both called the minister on his xenophobic attitude. Labor’s track record on mandatory detention and offshore processing of asylum seekers is a disgrace in its own right, frequently tailing the Coalition and seeking to keep anti-refugee sentiment onside. Nonetheless they are promising to double Australia’s refugee intake, which currently stands at around 13,700. The Greens support lifting the figure to 50,000.

Dutton is a controversial figure. The ex-policeman from Queensland was the only Coalition front-bencher not to applaud then-PM Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal people. He accidentally sent a text to Murdoch journalist Samantha Maiden calling her a “Mad f*****ng witch”. His insensitive comments about Pacific Island nations threatened by climate change and rising sea levels almost sparked a diplomatic incident.

The outbursts from Dutton and subsequent smoothing of ruffled feathers engaged in by Turnbull are more than a difference of personal style. They are seeking another term at managing affairs for the capitalist class. Privileges and power are at stake. They are using different tactics to the same end. Dutton’s crude effort at dividing workers and the exploited and vulnerable is a traditional pro-boss approach. So is Turnbull’s attempt to make vicious anti-refugee, anti-worker policies sound reasonable and caring. The Coalition deserves its place at the bottom of the ballot paper. Australians are fed up with the main choices on offer. An anti-monopoly, anti-imperialist, pro-people alternative has to be built. Cynicism won’t fix the many problems facing Australians or turn around the drift to corporate dictatorship. Unity in action will.

Next article – Action on 7-Eleven pay scam

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