Australia’s ousted conservatives eye China hawk Peter Dutton as leader

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Australia’s conservatives appear poised to install hardline China hawk Peter Dutton as the country’s new opposition leader, after the party was swept from power at last weekend’s election.

The Liberals, in government for nearly a decade, were decimated in the May 21 vote, abandoned by well-heeled city voters who opted instead for independent candidates focused on climate action.

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Even former treasurer Josh Frydenberg, a moderate widely expected to be the Liberals’ next leader, was dumped from his safe blue-ribbon seat, clearing the path for Dutton to claim the post.

Dutton is now expected to be elected unopposed as opposition leader, an outcome many will see as a lurch to the right for his party.

A former police officer, Dutton made a name for himself in politics with tough talk and a penchant for headline-grabbing commentary.

As defense minister, he likened China’s expansionist ambitions to the 1930s, during the rise of the Nazi party in Germany.

“The only way you can preserve peace is to prepare for war,” he said at the time.

Dutton sparked outrage as immigration minister when he claimed some asylum seekers who said they had been raped in Australia’s offshore detention centers were “trying it on” by seeking an abortion on the mainland.

As immigration minister, he also had to apologize after a quip about the threat climate change poses to the Pacific was picked up by a microphone.

“Time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to be, you know, have water lapping at your door,” he was caught saying.

Earlier in his political career, the Queenslander boycotted anational apology to Aboriginal Australians forcibly separated from their families, a decision for which he later expressed regret.

“I didn’t appreciate the symbolism of it and the importance to Indigenous people,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2017.

Dutton played down his right-wing past on Thursday, telling radio station 2GB that the Liberal party has to get back to “being the broad church and making sure that we represent all Australians”.

“But with a particular focus on people out in the suburbs, people who are doing it tough,” he said.

Newly elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had a better relationship with Dutton than he did with his predecessor, Scott Morrison, who stepped away from the Liberal leadership after the party’s election defeat.

“Peter Dutton has never broken a confidence that I’ve had with him,” Albanese said.

The prime minister added that it had been wrong for one of his ministers to this week liken Dutton’s appearance to that of “Harry Potter” villain Voldemort.

Read more: How Anthony Albanese went from public housing kid to Australia’s new PM

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