Opinion: Peter Dutton has failed three tests, including treatment of multi-ministry Scott Morrison

Opinion: Peter Dutton has failed three tests, including treatment of multi-ministry Scott Morrison
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay
Wednesday 30 November 2022

By Mark Kenny

A version of this article was originally published by The Canberra Times.

Peter Dutton has faced three questions of principle in the early part of his tenure which will reveal much about his suitability for the national leadership to which he lays claim.

On two of these, he has already failed.

The first went to climate change. The opposition showed it had learned nothing from the May election in which its decade of diddling and denial was bluntly rejected - particularly in its own electoral heartland. Yet given the opportunity of drawing a line under that tawdry dog-paddle, Dutton decided that legislating 2030 and 2050 targets was a stunt.

The second is the decision to oppose a censure motion of then prime minister Scott Morrison for secretly assuming multiple ministerial powers, thereby deceiving the Parliament and his closest Cabinet colleagues, while also breaching public trust.

Enabled by a feckless Cabinet, Morrison's surreptitious power-grab has humiliated former confidants, tarnished the Liberal Party's reputation for steady, no-surprises administration, and destroyed any legacy his premiership may have claimed.

According to comments attributed to his lieutenant Alex Hawke, the then PM had become "addicted to executive power".

But to what end? It was power without story.

So what is the new narrative? Under Dutton's purportedly corrective reign, the Liberal Party claims to be upset and will support the recommendations of the Bell Inquiry to legislate a requirement for all ministerial commissions to be publicly declared.

Hindsight shows Morrison as he was. A non-visionary non-leader to whom Liberal MPs delegated their own moral judgement long after it became clear he was blameless and unaccountable by disposition.

Put this down to ambition, errors of judgement, incuriousness, whatever.

The most telling failure though, is sticking with him now that the full horror of his conniving has been exposed. Dutton can call the censure an "opportunistic swipe" and an act of revenge but consider what message is transmitted by not disapproving of a minister - in this case a PM - wilfully misleading the Parliament.

And how can you support the legislative changes but not condemn the breaches that made them suddenly necessary?

Voting against rebuke shows the Dutton Liberals still bend the knee to an ex-leader before standing tall for the people and their parliament.

Dutton's third decision looms as the most momentous of all - the First Nations Voice referendum. It is a giant historical moment. One that calls for selfless, expansive, inclusive national leadership. So far, the signs are not encouraging.

Mark Kenny is a professor at the ANU Australian Studies Institute and host of the Democracy Sausage podcast.


Updated:  30 November 2022/Responsible Officer:  RSHA Director/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications