News National Peter Dutton: The man who would be PM

Peter Dutton: The man who would be PM

Peter Dutton, pictured with his grandmother, served as a police officer in Queensland for nine years. Photo: ABC
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Long before he was seen as a hard-nosed home affairs minister, would-be Liberal leader Peter Dutton was a police officer in Queensland. 

But, for as long as he’s been in politics, he has often been considered the ‘bad cop’ because of his often controversial views on migration, same-sex marriage and history of unsavoury gaffes.

The 47-year-old resigned from the front bench on Tuesday, after he was narrowly beaten by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in a leadership ballot, losing 48-35 in a split of Liberal Party members.

Brisbane born and bred

Born to childcare worker Ailsa Leitch and builder Bruce Dutton on November 18, 1970, Mr Dutton was one of four children raised in the northern Brisbane suburb of Boondall.

Mr Dutton’s great-grandparents started dairy farming near Brisbane in the 1860s. His grandmother, who worked on that farm, was in parliament on the day of his maiden speech in 2001, as were his parents.

Mr Dutton has often spoken of his strong work ethic, even from childhood. He mowed lawns and delivered newspapers before getting a job at a butcher’s shop at 12, which he held throughout his teens.

In 1987, he graduated from St Paul’s College and went on to receive a business degree from the Queensland University of Technology.

His parents separated in 1987, during his final year at school. 

“I was very upset at the time,” he says, “and probably embarrassed in an immature sort of way. Because I think all my friends’ parents’ marriages were still intact, and it was a very different age to what it is now,” Mr Dutton told Fairfax Media last year. 

Personal life

Mr Dutton bought his first property at the age of 18, and married  his first wife at 22. The marriage lasted just a few months.

In 2003, he married his second wife Kirilly. She is the mother of his children: Tom,12, Harry, 14, and Rebecca,16. 

He and his wife have several investments together, including a shopping centre in Townsville and a $2 million beachfront mansion on the Gold Coast.

Early passion for politics

During his younger years, Mr Dutton expressed a passion for diplomacy, including firm views on law and order.

In 1988, he joined the Young Liberals, and was policy vice-chair of the Bayside Young Liberals in 1989. He chaired the branch the following year. 

He ran for the safe Labor seat of Lytton in 1989, but was beaten by Tom Burns.

At 20, he became a police officer, after graduating from the Queensland Police Academy. He served for nine years, working in the sex offenders and drugs squads, in suburbs such as Red Hill, Brisbane, and for the National Crime Authority.

In his maiden speech to parliament, Mr Dutton reflected on his time in the police force, saying it allowed him to experience the “wonderful, kind nature of people willing to offer any assistance to those in their worst hour” while also witnessing the “sickening behaviour displayed by people who, frankly, barely justify their existence in our sometimes over-tolerant society”.

Political career

Mr Dutton entered parliament at the 2001 election, representing the Queensland seat of Dickson. His victory in Dickson ended the political career of Labor member Cheryl Kernot, who was leader of the Australian Democrats before switching to the ALP.

In 2004, Mr Dutton became one of the youngest ministers when he was appointed to the workforce participation portfolio.

He was promoted to revenue minister and assistant treasurer in January 2006.

Following the Coalition’s election loss in November 2007, he took the finance, competition policy and deregulation portfolios in opposition.

peter dutton
Peter Dutton made his mark as Home Affairs Minister.

In September 2008, he was made shadow minister for health and ageing.

As the 2010 election approached, polling showed Mr Dutton was at risk of losing Dickson and he tried to move to a seat on the Gold Coast. But – given he had no plans to move his family to the area – the locals were unhappy and his preselection bid failed.

Nonetheless, he was re-elected in Dickson in 2010. 

Since 2014, Mr Dutton has made his mark as home affairs minister, with a militarised approach to halting asylum-seeker boats and his controversial views on refugees being held in offshore detention.

In 2016, he caused outrage after suggesting it was a mistake to resettle many Lebanese-Muslims in Australia, saying many people charged with terror-related offences came from that background.

Mr Dutton’s gaffes

During a 2015 meeting about Syrian refugees, Mr Dutton, a climate change sceptic, was captured on camera joking about the threat of rising sea levels to Pacific island nations.

He hit headlines again in 2016 after it emerged that he accidentally sent a text message to then News Corp journalist Samantha Maiden in which he referred to her as a “mad f—-ng witch”.

In January, he said Melburnians were “scared to go out to restaurants” because of African gang violence. At the same time, he showed compassion for “persecuted” white South African farmers, proposing a special visa be made available to them. 

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