Immigration minister Peter Dutton has become so despised by sections of society that some are questioning if he has a soul or heart.
This could also apply to any Coalition or Labor immigration minister over the past couple of decades.
Watch videos of refugees protests over the past decade and it will not be long before you hear chants such as “Lock up [insert current immigration minister] throw away the keys, we won’t stop till we free the refugees” or “Blood on your hands [insert name]”.
However Dutton has taken “evil” immigration minister to another level. The reactions on social media last year to the photo of his face covered in shadows that he tried to ban, illustrate this. Memes circulated that parodied him as evil power-craving pop culture figures such as Darth Vader and Voldemort.
Putting aside social media commentary, there are genuine reasons to be very concerned about the extra-judicial and often secretive powers Dutton is gathering. These powers, frankly, give him control over life and death for many asylum seekers.
Liberty Victoria’s Rights Advocacy Project released a report on May 4 entitled Playing God that examines the powers the immigration minister has over asylum seekers’ lives and the lack of any accountability or transparency. The report examines how many decisions — such as visa applications, boat turnbacks or people being moved in the dead of night to an offshore detention centre — cannot be appealed or reviewed.
The case of Iranian asylum seeker Mojgan, that has received national attention due to her appearance on the ABC’s Australian Story and a novel recently published about her story, shows this. Dutton has refused to give her the chance to apply for a partner visa and — under public pressure — has only given her three-month temporary visas that are constantly being reviewed.
Or the case of 60-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker Saeed who, despite not speaking English and whose brother’s similar application has been accepted, has been denied the chance to appeal his decision by Dutton.
Dutton is now threatening thousands of people who have been working, studying and living in the community for years with deportation if they do not get their applications for protection in by October 1. This involves filling out a complex 60-page legal document. According to the Guardian the waiting list at asylum seeker support organisations for legal assistance can be up to a year.
While the rest of the world reacted in anger when US President Donald Trump introduced his immigration ban, Dutton supported it. But he did not stop there. He went on to make comparisons between Australia’s immigration policy and Trump’s, as if he had helped inspire it and was proud of the fact.
It would not be hard to imagine Dutton working towards an immigration ban in Australia. He has commented that it was a “mistake to let Lebanese Muslims into the country (in the 1970s)”, claiming it has led to terrorism.
In May last year he said of refugees: "They won't be numerate or literate in their own language let alone English. These people would be taking Australian jobs, there's no question about that. And for many of them that would be unemployed, they would languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare, and the rest of it.”
He has also falsely painted refugees as paedophiles. After the Good Friday shootings, when PNG locals and Navy personnel fired live ammunition into Manus Island detention centre, Dutton said it was because people had seen refugees leading a five-year-old boy into the centre. No evidence has been produced to support this.
There is evidence that several days earlier refugees had given a 10-year-old boy some fruit when he came asking for food. The refugees involved have asked for video footage to be released to show what actually happened but Dutton has refused to release the footage. Many people have labelled Dutton an outright liar and there has been no evidence produced to the contrary.
It is not just his attacks on refugees that have irked people. He has also attacked businesses for supporting marriage equality, boycotted the apology to Aboriginal people in 2008, was voted worst health minister in the last 35 years by Australian Doctor magazine in 2015 and texted a journalist telling her she was a “mad fucking witch”.
The anger towards Dutton is being channelled into campaigns to defeat him. Sydney Refugee Action Coalition has launched a petition calling on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to sack Dutton for his lies about the Manus Island shootings. GetUp! recently raised more than $200,000 in one week to campaign against Dutton in his seat on local issues. There have been numerous occupations of his office by Mums for Refugees, Love Makes a Way and student groups.
Changing one immigration minister for another will not change the policy. But getting rid of Dutton as a result of public pressure would be positive and puts the next immigration minister on watch.
More importantly, anti-Dutton campaigns can shine a light on the immigration minister’s the growing, unchecked and often secretive powers; powers that desperately need to be rolled back. The immigration minister should not have the ability to “play God” with people’s lives.