31 August 2019

The Home Affairs Minister has so regularly been caught crying wolf, what will happen when we face a serious risk to our national security?
The beauty of fables is that even though they are incredibly old, many of their lessons still hold true today.
None more so than Aesop’s The Boy Who Cried Wolf, written in 600BC.
I remember hearing this story as a child, and especially how awful the Shepherd Boy must have felt when he realised the consequences of crying wolf too many times.
Aesop was right then, and he’s still right now.
What worries me deeply is the frequency and ferocity with which Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has been caught crying wolf.
This is a man who holds one of the most powerful positions in Scott Morrison’s cabinet.
What’s more, Dutton has a key leadership role when it comes to keeping our nation safe and is responsible for a department with more than 23,000 public servants across multiple security, intelligence and immigration and border protection agencies.
But how can Australians believe a Minister who routinely manipulates, misrepresents and mischaracterises the truth for political gain as Peter Dutton does?
Take the current debate on medevac, for example.
Since the medevac laws were enacted, only two patients have been transferred to Australia without the approval of Dutton or the Immigration Minister David Coleman. The Ministers didn’t reject these two on security or character concerns, but on medical grounds.
These two individuals were only transferred to Australia after being assessed by an expert panel of doctors that Dutton got to choose. This panel includes some of Australia’s best doctors, including the commonwealth chief medical officer and the surgeon general of Australian Border Force.
This means that every other asylum seeker or refugee that has come to Australia for urgent medical care has been approved by either himself or Coleman.
But despite this, Dutton has been vigorously arguing that “two doctors from Nimbin” can force the Government to bring people from Manus or Nauru to Australia. These claims are simply not true, and Peter Dutton knows it.
At every step of the way, the Government or Government-appointed doctors, control who comes to Australia through medevac.
Dutton also claimed that 1,000 people would flood Australian through medevac. That hasn’t happened at all.
Some 30 people have been approved to come to Australia through medevac – and all of these transfers of people have been explicitly approved by Ministers or ministerial-appointed doctors.
We’ve also seen Dutton claim that some doctors are working to bring refugees on Nauru and Papua New Guinea without the refugee even giving their consent.
Again, this just isn’t true. Refugees must give their consent to be involved in medevac not once, but twice. First when they themselves must ask to be considered for medical evacuation by the Medical Evacuation Response Group. And second, when doctors from the group are assigned to assess the patient’s case, the doctors must also gain their patient’s consent then to access their health records.
I could go on and on. I mean Dutton wilfully claims that the medevac laws stop him from sending patients back to Manus Island or Nauru after they’re treated, or prevent him from mitigating security concerns he may have with bringing patients to Australia, or apply to any new arrivals on Manus and Nauru.
All of this is not true, and he knows it.
Dutton now claims he and the Government will repeal the medevac legislation but is yet to explain why or whether he really will move the bill. Is Mr Dutton crying wolf again with his claims to repeal medevac, or will the Government actually go ahead with his plans?
Among all this bluster from Dutton, I am confident the Australian people support medevac, because they know we can be strong on borders and still provide urgent lifesaving care to people who need it.
I’m also confident the Australian people can see through the mistruths that Dutton is spreading.
But what worries me is that with Dutton so regularly being caught crying wolf, what will happen when we face a serious risk to our national security?
When Dutton stands up and warns Australia about the risks we face, will Australians be willing to listen? Will we trust him?
I also worry about what kind of shadow Peter Dutton’s reputation as the boy who cried wolf will cast on the national security agencies he leads.
ASIO. The Australian Federal Police. Australian Border Force. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. AUSTRAC.
I hold these agencies in high esteem – as I do the thousands of hard-working women and men who commit their professional lives to keeping Australia safe.
What are the ramifications of a lack of trust by the Australian people in the Minister whose leadership is meant to keep us safe?
The Shepherd Boy cried wolf once too often, and endangered his village. For Peter Dutton, the Minister for Home Affairs, the consequences could be far more dire.
This opinion piece was first published in the Guardian on Tuesday, 25 June 2019.