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August 23, 2018 18:14:05

The major challenger to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is former home affairs minister — and Queensland police officer — Peter Dutton.

Key points:

  • Peter Craig Dutton is widely tipped to be Australia’s next Prime Minister
  • He wants to reduce immigration and pursue populist, high-spending policies
  • Even if he becomes leader, he will face an election within the next year

If he does win the Liberal leadership he must flip policies and unite a divided party.

And the clock is ticking before the next election, which must be held in the next 12 months — most likely before mid May 2019.

What would be Dutton’s biggest challenges?

Mr Dutton would be the sixth person to take the prime ministership in just over a decade, and would come to the top job as frustrated voters increasingly give support to minor parties.

Although a senior figure in the Turnbull Government, Mr Dutton is widely unknown in the broader community. To date his image has been defined by his border security policies.

Labor believes Mr Dutton is toxic among mainstream voters, and the Opposition has already begun citing his record as health minister to launch a fresh “Mediscare” campaign against him.

Recent leadership challenges have shown new prime ministers generally call an election soon after coming to the top job, but Liberal figures believe the party is poorly prepared to fight an election campaign. Party finances have dwindled, many supporters have refused to help candidates campaign and morale is low.

Even if he wins a ballot, Mr Dutton may also face internal leadership rivals. Turnbull loyalist Scott Morrison set up the border security policy continued by Mr Dutton and as Treasurer has developed a high profile.

Do we know anything about his policies?

He is best known as the immigration minister who continued Scott Morrison’s work reducing the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by sea.

But soon after resigning this week, Mr Dutton revealed a vision for Australia beyond boat arrivals.

It’s focused on populist policies and spending, including scrapping the GST on energy bills to provide hip-pocket relief following years of escalating prices.

The move would be expensive though — it was costed at more than $7 billion the by Treasurer. And it was exposed as a policy previously championed by the Labor Party’s Simon Crean soon after the GST was introduced.

Mr Dutton wants to reduce immigration. Under his leadership, the Government has actually cut the permanent migration intake by almost 30,000 per year.

Mr Dutton has declared he also wants to pursue a royal commission into energy companies, telling radio station 3AW “there’s something that stinks about these electricity companies and fuel companies”.

Spending on health and education are also earmarked for increases.

How can he unite the party?

As a staunch conservative, Mr Dutton’s supporters believe he is best placed to return disenfranchised rank-and-file members of the Liberal “base” who have deserted the party during Mr Turnbull’s leadership.

Uniting a party that has been torn apart by leadership and ideological tension for over a decade will prove to be a monumentally difficult task, but keeping the Coalition intact may also present difficulties for the new leader. In the past week several Nationals MPs publicly threatened to quit the Government and sit on the crossbench if Mr Dutton becomes Prime Minister.

What would voters think of him?

Mr Dutton’s supporters argue he will shore up support in Queensland, where nine Liberal National Party (LNP) MPs are on margins of 7 per cent or less.

They hope a Dutton government can steal votes back from One Nation on socially conservative issues and immigration.

It’s no guarantee though — in his own seat he is far from popular. He currently holds Dickson, in northern Brisbane, by less than 2 per cent.

Across the country, his appeal is equally difficult to predict.

Conservative leader John Howard led his party to four election wins.

Dutton supporter and fellow conservative Tony Abbott also won one, but dipped in the polls soon after.

Given his profile is so low — he rarely makes regular media appearances outside talkback radio — he has sought to offer a more human side in interviews this week. It’s possible that with greater exposure comes more support.

What makes him vulnerable?

Mr Dutton has consistently polled behind other prominent Liberal Party figures as a preferred leader among voters.

Among Queensland MPs, Mr Dutton is considered their best chance of improving their electoral standing, but many in the southern states fear he will struggle to lift the Government’s fortunes. Victoria is considered a particularly difficult state for Mr Dutton.

He has a potential constitutional crisis hanging over his head: childcare centres he owns through a trust arrangement have received funding from the Commonwealth, potentially disqualifying him from Parliament.

Even if he was to become prime minister, some believe only a referral to the High Court would settle his eligibility.

And he has also been drawn into a controversy about an au pair.

A report from Australian Associated Press in March suggested Mr Dutton used his discretion as immigration minister to grant a visa to an au pair who arrived in Brisbane in 2015 with the wrong visa.

The woman reportedly made a phone call while she was at the airport and was “quickly” granted the necessary visa to enter Australia.

Mr Dutton has claimed it was in the public interest to grant the visa.

Topics:

government-and-politics,

turnbull-malcolm,

liberals,

liberal-national-party-queensland,

australia

First posted

August 23, 2018 17:59:27

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