The Minister for Home Affairs

Content note: This piece includes graphic discussion of suicide and reference to abuse

Just as I said I wouldn’t, I forgot them, and their stories got tangled up with all the other distant horrors. In May, last year, two young refugees under Australian care set themselves on fire. Omid Masoumali, an 23 year old held in indefinite detention on Nauru, doused his body in petrol and burnt himself alive. Three days later Hodan Yasin, a 21 year old Somali woman, also set herself alight. Unlike Masoumali, she survived; with burns covering seventy per cent of her body. She lost several fingers in the blaze.

Peter Craig Dutton, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection (previously the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs) declared that Masoumali’s suicide and Yasin’s suicide attempt were efforts “to get to Australia”. Although UN officials had described conditions in the detention centre as intentional and systematic torture, Dutton blamed the self-immolations on those who fought for the human rights of asylum seekers. “Advocates,” he said, “should reflect on their messages of false hope”.

Dutton will now be Australia’s Minister for Home Affairs. Against the advice of security experts, numerous investigations and his own former views, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced that the Australian Border Force, ASIO and AFP will be placed under single department, with Dutton at its helm. So, as we bask in the comfort our newfound safety, let’s revisit the career of the man who will hold unprecedented power over Australia’s security apparatus.

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In 1989, the Fitzgerald Inquiry revealed endemic corruption in the Queensland Police Service (QPS). A former Police Commissioner was sentenced to ten years in prison. A young Dutton graduated the academy a year later. Throughout the nine years he served with the force, the QPS was hounded by claims of institutional racism and violent excess (aspects of this are explored in Chloe Hooper’s seminal exposé The Tall Man).

There have never been claims of brutality or corruption against Dutton himself. But there is a dark logic in the fact that a man who spent his formative years in so authoritarian a culture should show a fondness for power, a penchant for secrecy and a brazen contempt for human rights.

Dutton’s stint as Health Minister was remarkable only for the depth and breadth of his incompetence in a government where incompetence was the norm. He oversaw the rise and fall of the infamous GP co-payment policy. A poll of 1,100 doctors found that 47% believed he was the worst Health Minister in the last 35 years – Tony Abbott won just 13%.

In the Immigration Portfolio, Dutton has made numerous statements that are unambiguously racist. He has told more heinous lies about refugees than are possible to list here. A fellow Liberal front bencher has described him as “a fascist.” Many journalists – such as Crikey’s Bernard Keane – have long considered Dutton one of the Government’s most inept performers. This is not an ideological assessment – his predecessor and fellow right-winger Scott Morrison, who oversaw at least as many cruelties as Dutton, was still widely regarded as a talented political operator.

The Royal Commission into the Institutional Response to Child Sex Abuse found that Peter Dutton deliberately delayed the release of a report detailing 242 allegations of the abuse of child detainees. Fewer than half of those allegations had been adequately responded to.

Peter Dutton is a man whose only apparent outstanding qualities are a voracious personal ambition and an abnormally low regard for the suffering of others. He is a walking embodiment of the banality of evil.

As the creeping powers of our armed and surveillance forces grow each year, let’s remember what it has become politically impossible to admit: that there has never yet been an Islamist terror attack on Australian soil.

Outrage burns hot and quick, but the years tally up like notches on an arm. Apathy builds like plaque on a neuron, and we forget. Each tragedy plays out like a half-remembered pantomime of the last. We, the chorus, wail from the sidelines about how awful it all is, piteously tutting over olives and white wine.

It was more than a year ago now, but I’m going to try harder to remember Omid and Hodan. Their suffering was not anomalous, but the logical end-point of the policy of deliberate deterrence. We tell the oppressed they will not find refuge here, then we prove it. Those bodies, younger than mine, burned and blackened as warning beacons to other innocents like them. Exactly as we intended.

Let’s not forget who throws petrol on those flames.

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Fields of Wheat

“Me and my friends sort of used to run through the fields of wheat…” the Prime Minister says, a gleam of merriment finding her eyes, “the farmers weren’t too pleased about that… Their cries were sort of like those of animals. Gosh, they ran and ran… their filthy, skinny haunches carrying them as best they could. But we were faster, of course – children often are – and because we were quite small they could rarely see us beneath the golden heads of wheat. We laughed a great deal when they swerved or swore or prayed. Blood takes on a different odour when it’s agitated, sort of like… marzipan. My friend April would always reach them first, then myself, then June. Farmers are rather well acquainted with dying. I imagine they learn it from their livestock. Goodness me… Nobody is ever perfectly behaved, are they?”

For UK readers who aren’t volunteering for Labour in today’s election because victory is still a long shot, even with the tightened polls, here’s a short letter from an Australian perspective.
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The Puppeteers

The American Government is compromised. The Trump regime is under the sway of a superpower whose interests do not align with those of the American citizenry, or indeed, most of the people on earth. This global actor has spent years pursuing its agenda by pumping the world’s media with lies; and in doing so has eroded the very foundations of liberal democracy. Every day, it commits human rights abuses on a colossal scale with impunity.

The evidence that it has corrupted the US administration is now beyond dispute. As well as giving millions of dollars in overt and covert assistance to the Republican election campaign, and having a clear influence on foreign and domestic policy, this power has financial ties with the very highest levels of The White House. With grotesque revelations breaking the news every day, it can be easy to forget the outrageous connections we’ve known about all along. For example, the Secretary of State of the United States of America, Rex Tillerson, was the Chief Executive Officer of Exxon-Mobil.

Who did you think I was talking about?

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How to Make a Mediocre Podcast

In celebration of the release of my podcast, Bensplaining, I’m sharing this highly clickable how-too-guide I wrote for another blog.

It’s 2017, so if you don’t have a podcast by now you’re nothing. How do you expect to be relevant and employable in the 21st century if your personal brand has no voice? Automation is coming for us, starting with the stragglers, and you’re still pottering around the house like Sarah Connor’s parents. Frankly, you’re fucked.

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Consider a Notebook

Consider a notebook. Thick parchment, licked yellow by salty air, and brown ink in a grand loopy hand. It sits in the cabin of one James Cook, and specifies, in no uncertain terms, that a “discovered” land may only be claimed in the name of the King under one of two conditions – that it is unoccupied, or “with the Consent of the Natives.” But Cooky’s a boisterous sort, raised on Magellan and St George, and when they’re there and obviously not consenting he decides to seize it anyway with oratory and lead, notebook and orders be damned. This means that even under British law at the time the invasion of Australia was illegal. Continue reading “Consider a Notebook”

Satan Disendorses Trump

LUCIFER, Prince of Darkness and Emperor Apostate of hell, has officially disendorsed Republican presidential nominee Donald Jeronimo Trump.

“His actions comments are beyond the pale,” announced Satan, a key backer of the Reagan and Bush administrations. “On behalf of all of the legions of the damned, I’m cutting all ties to the Trump campaign. I may be the cloven-footed embodiment of evil, but being assosiciated with this blabbering fascist is starting to hurt my brand.”

Lucifer claimed that his stunning denouncement was inspired by Trump’s recent rise in the polls. “We put him up as a bit of a joke, but we never expected it to go this far. He’s facing over a dozen unresolved rape allegations, including from his ex-wife, and is still on the brink of becoming president? How can I support him when  I myself am a father? How could I look the abstract concept of lies in the eyes?”

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