21 May 2024

Labor underestimates shameless Dutton at its peril

| Ian Bushnell
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Peter Dutton

Dismissing Peter Dutton as unhinged, as Treasurer Jim Chalmers did, won’t cut it. Photo: Peter Dutton Facebook.

If nothing else, you have to admire Peter Dutton’s chutzpah.

Back on track? His election slogan tryout in the Budget reply speech begs the question: was Australia on track in 2022 under Scott Morrison? Really?

The majority of voters didn’t think so.

It doesn’t really matter. Mr Dutton may as well be saying ‘make Australia great again’ because the tenor is the same as the Trumpian battlecry.

He zeroed in on all the hot-button issues of housing, migration, cost of living and crime, wiping the slate clean for the Coalition to the extent you would think it hadn’t been in power for 22 of the past 28 years, certainly not as a senior minister for nearly decade, including in immigration.

The trick for Mr Dutton is to convince voters that in just two years, the housing crisis is all Labor’s fault, mainly due to runaway migration on their watch.

Forget the time when the Coalition and business were happy with permanent migration levels at 190,000 a year highs to boost the economy and plug skills shortages before the Morrison Government cut it back to 160,000 in 2019, although the net figure remained high.

Labor is trimming levels back to that 190,000 figure, but the net figure will fall to be less than forecast in 2019.

The Coalition also cut funding to universities, forcing them to look to international students to maintain revenue.

The consensus is that the migration bounce back after the reopening of borders is a factor in the housing crisis, but it is just one of many, including entrenched undersupply, insufficient land release, and state and territory planning policies.

There is also the ongoing matter of John Howard’s legacy of capital gains tax concessions, which many economists, even some in the property industry, say need reform to provide structural change.

But instead of a complex policy response, it all comes down to migrants taking homes that should be yours.

Mr Dutton says he’ll slash permanent migration levels to about 140,000 a year and cut the number of international students, and ban foreign investors and temporary residents from purchasing existing homes for two years.

It’s simplistic, dog-whistling, dangerous and devastating politics.

Labor talks about getting the policy right and the politics will sort itself out.

It couldn’t be any more deluded.

Mr Dutton is ready to tap into the politics of grievance, play to base emotions, and not let the facts get in the way of the story.

The noble assumption that elections are won and lost on a contest of ideas and weighing of policies no longer applies in a world of social media trolls, fractured news media and culture wars.

If Labor wants a second term, it will have to fight for it, scrapping all the way. Dismissing him as unhinged, as Treasurer Jim Chalmers did, won’t cut it.

It doesn’t matter that Mr Dutton is dreaming when it comes to the nuclear energy option, or that crime is a state responsibility or that blaming migrants for a housing crisis that has been decades in the making is not only wrong but a dangerous threat to social cohesion.

It doesn’t matter that Labor might be governing well, or how calibrated its Budget or policies may be or that there are forces outside of its control at work, such as the wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

With interest rates not falling, homeowners worried, renters reeling, businesses hurting, and people feeling the pinch at the supermarket and the pump, there is more than enough discontent for Mr Dutton to mine.

So don’t expect nuanced positions and policy detail from him. He will keep it brutally simple, poke the sore spots and build pressure.

It won’t be pretty, but it could be effective if unchallenged.

Original Article published by Ian Bushnell on Riotact.

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