Australia’s Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton’s comments that he wanted to prioritise visas for white South African farmers not only caused a diplomatic tiff between the two countries, but were just the latest in a series of controversial moments.
Dutton controversially said: “I think these people deserve special attention and we’re certainly applying that special attention now.”
His comments led to a diplomatic spat between the two countries, and last Thursday International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu issued a diplomatic demarche – or course of action – to the Australian High Commissioner in South Africa, Adam McCarthy, to demand a retraction of the comments by Dutton.
A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Home Affairs previously told News24 that Dutton’s request was to “have a look at options and ways in which Australia can provide some assistance”.
“The department is monitoring the situation of minority groups in South Africa in the context of consideration for potential resettlement under the offshore humanitarian programme,” the spokesperson said.
But who is Dutton?
‘Stitching together an empire’
He has a long history of stepping on toes and making controversial comments as he carries lofty political ambitions of becoming prime minister in Australia, according to some pundits.
Australia’s news.com.au wrote last week that Dutton had the “power which potentially rivals that of Malcolm Turnbull, the man who has the job of prime minister – which Mr Dutton would some day like to have for himself”.
“Mr Dutton, who once told business leaders to ‘stick to their knitting’, is stitching together an empire which has rights to cover a range of ministerial responsibilities,” news.com.au reported.
Dutton has on numerous occasions crossed into other ministers’ territories, having been involved in winning a big military contract for a Queensland company and making controversial claims about the Victorian police service.
He has been described as solid, straightforward, laconic, with a strong sense of self and morality in a profile by The Australian.
Following a “promotion” by Turnbull in 2017, Dutton came to head a “super ministry”.
‘He doesn’t take a backward step’
“One thing beyond dispute is that it propels Dutton into a new league, more powerful than the fellow cabinet colleagues,” an opinion piece carried in The Australian said. The piece was titled: Peter Dutton: the Liberal leader Australia deserves.
The country’s Inside Story said of Dutton: “Most Australians would see Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton as tough and politically incorrect — proudly so — tolerating no nonsense from do-gooders and bleeding hearts. He doesn’t take a backward step; his often bellicose pronouncements about asylum seekers and migrants delight fans and incense opponents.”
The Australian Financial Review wrote that Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop rebuffed Dutton’s attempts to prioritise the resettlement of white South African farmers.
“I believe the humanitarian programme’s credibility comes from the fact that it is non-discriminatory and that each application is assessed on its merits,” Bishop also reportedly told ABC news.
“That’s been the case under the Turnbull government, and as far as I’m aware, there are no plans to change that visa programme,” she said.
And it seems Dutton’s “tough and politically incorrect” approach and stance on assisting white South African farmers has been taken on by Australia’s News Corp newspapers, reportedly pushing the agenda of a “white genocide” and attack on South African farmers.
‘March for South Africa’
A recent opinion piece in The Guardian said that a campaign on the issue included reporting and two crucial columns by Miranda Devine and Caroline Marcus, which argued that the latest moves on land reform put South Africa’s farmers in “grave peril”.
“Earlier, Devine had written about the kinship between Australians and ‘our oppressed white, Christian, industrious, rugby and cricket-playing Commonwealth cousins’, saying that they would ‘integrate seamlessly’,” the piece said.
“The demand for refugee status has also been made in a year-old change.org petition, titled ‘Genocide of whites in South Africa’, which has so far garnered more than 19 000 signatures. For some time that petition has been heavily promoted on far-right websites and podcasts.
“It offers lurid but nonspecific stories of whites being killed ‘in the most sadistic ways imaginable’. It asks that they be prioritised over people from the Middle East. South African whites, it says, are threatened with ‘complete genocide’ and are ‘compatible with our culture and civilisation’,” The Guardian wrote.
A “March for South Africa” has been planned in Brisbane on Sunday.
“Show your support for the Australian Government’s efforts to assist South African’s (sic),” a Facebook page for the event says.
Among other things, the event is scheduled to raise “our concern in regards to the expropriation of land without compensation”, with attendees invited to bring “only current flags” from South Africa and Australia.