Peter Dutton, our Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, had a bit of a roller coaster ride of late.
Just a week ago Mr Dutton was complaining of the government being subjected to a media ‘jihad’ by the ABC and Fairfax Media.
After his ‘jihad’ comments became the subject of public ridicule, Mr Dutton switched to describing the media coverage of the misguided Operation Fortitude proposed for Melbourne by Australian Border Force, which sparked intense media and public criticism, ‘hysterical’ and ideologically driven.
But suddenly things were looking up for Mr Dutton as he was off to Switzerland to discuss Australia’s role in finding a solution to the escalating Syrian refugee crisis.
Upon his return from Geneva, Mr Dutton said he believed people would be ‘proud’ and ‘impressed’ by Australia’s response. And he was right. The government pleasantly surprised the nation by announcing a permanent intake of 12,000 Syrian asylum seekers.
Then, Prime Minister Tony Abbott took Mr Dutton to Papua New Guinea for the South Pacific Forum, and it all went reasonably well, despite our Prime Minister being on the outer over our climate policies, given the effects of climate change on low-lying Pacific islands.
On Friday, back in Australia Mr Dutton was waiting for a community meeting on Syrian refugees to convene, with Tony Abbott and Social Services Minister Scott Morrison, when it all went pear-shaped again.
The meeting was being delayed and Mr Dutton found it fit to quip it was running on ‘Cape York time,’ a reference to the Prime Minister’s recent week spent with indigenous communities in remote Northern Queensland. Tony Abbott responded, ‘we had a bit of that up in Port Moresby.’
Having made an arguably offensive remark about timeliness at remote indigenous communities, Mr Dutton wasn’t quite finished yet. ‘Time doesn’t mean anything when … you’re about to have water lapping at your door,’ said Mr Dutton, in an indisputably tasteless reference to the late starts at the South Pacific Forum, and the climate change plight of low-lying Pacific islands. What a class act!
What did our distinguished Prime Minister think about all this? He thought it was hilarious …
How do we know all this? Well, as Mr Morrison observed to his colleagues at that point in time, ‘there is a boom up there.’
Indeed, every word was captured by a large television microphone hanging over their heads.
This was a breathtakingly amateurish blunder, offensive to our remote indigenous communities, and to those Pacific islands that are being slowly washed away by rising sea levels.
It was also a major diplomatic faux pas, drawing a quick response from the President of Kiribati and the Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands.
Next time waves are battering my home [and] my grandkids are scared, I’ll ask Peter Dutton to come over, and we’ll see if he is still laughing.
Tony de Brum, Marshall Islands Foreign Minister
Pardon my French Mr Dutton, but what a mutton!