Last November, we gave readers a nasty shock by suggesting Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was angling to replace Tony Abbott as leader of conservative Liberal MPs.
In a less fraught political environment, the shuffling of deck chairs among the Liberal Party’s far-right rump would be of only passing interest.
However, the logical extension of this development was that Minister Dutton fancied himself as the man to replace Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister should the Liberals ever find the need to do so.
The Dutton revelation may have dimmed in voters’ minds over the summer break but it has been thrown back into the spotlight in recent weeks.
Mr Dutton has returned to Parliament with a buzz-cut and a tan, and fluffers in the conservative media have begun to fete him as the Liberal Party’s next great white hope.
By the end of this week, the man mostly frequently depicted on social media as a potato was reportedly on the brink of becoming our next PM, having apparently been doing the numbers at “secret meetings” while taking a daily stroll with his long-time walking partner and conservative colleague Mathias Cormann.
To his credit, Mr Dutton has said all the right things, such as “I serve in [Malcolm Turnbull’s] cabinet because I believe in him as leader”, but there is increasing evidence the Immigration Minister is more than willing to play along with this fantasy.
Mr Dutton directly contradicted the PM’s stated assurance that two refugee settlement arrangements struck between the US and Australia were a “people swap” deal, gaining praise from Tony Abbott’s principal cheerleader Peta Credlin for doing so.
Then, after a week in which the government has endured a flurry of blows from Labor over penalty rates (with Tony Abbott throwing peanuts from the sidelines), a story was leaked to the conservatives’ favourite tabloid on Friday, claiming Minister Dutton would save us from the “Enemy at the Gates” by strengthening the law designed to strip dual-national extremists of their Australian citizenship.
Despite the PM calling the manufactured expose “exaggerated”, it gave Minister Dutton the perfect opportunity to brandish a few chest hairs, telling the conservative heartland via talkback radio that “We want the strongest possible response to stop people coming back” and that he had already spoken to the Prime Minister “about ways we can strengthen that legislation”.
The splash on the front page of the Daily Telegraph also gave another Abbott cheerleader, Sharri Markson, the chance to claim Mr Dutton was being urged by colleagues to “accept a suicide mission and lead the party to defeat in the greater interest of the Liberal cause”.
Meanwhile, in another Murdoch publication, former Labor head-kicker and now commentator Graeme Richardson claimed Tony Abbott was among the colleagues urging Mr Dutton to have a go.
— The Australian (@australian) February 28, 2017
Ms Markson, who coincidentally was recipient of the “Enemy at the Gates” story, also pointed out that Mr Dutton was “starting to give the public more insight into his upbringing and personality, weaving personal stories into his policy discussions”.
As an example, she highlighted his mention of having an after-school job in a butcher’s shop.
It is far too early to know whether the Dutton-for-PM campaign is anything other than a last desperate attempt by the ‘delcons’ to find a pathway back to the comfy chairs around the cabinet table.
This is reportedly their all-encompassing obsession, according to yet another leak to the media this week.
There is of course the additional question whether Peter Dutton has the qualities to be prime minister.
However it could be argued that this should not be held against him, given neither the incumbent nor his Labor opponent have performed particularly well on the leadership scale.