Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


The Punisher

  • 24 May 2024
  In March, Quarterly Essay released Lech Blaine’s sharp analysis of the federal Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, in Bad Cop – Peter Dutton’s Strongman Politics. The 93rd edition of the Quarterly Essay makes for sober reading. In this Trumpian era of right-wing populism, post-truth blandishments and pro-‘have at you’ gladiatorial journalism, there seems to be an implicit and near-universal rejection of civility. Yet every and any serious examination of aspiring leaders – and Blaine is in deadly earnest – bears close reading.

Herein lies a fraught tale of a man weighed, weighed and found wanting. ‘This is Peter Dutton,’ intones author Lech Blaine. ‘Tall and strong at first glance. But when you watch him for a long time, you can see that the man is small and scared… clumsy and unconvincing’ when away from ‘his preferred turf [of] tax loopholes for the rich; penalties for the poor [and] hostility to trade unions… this is why he spends most of his time fighting culture wars.’

Small and scared. A fear mongerer and race baiter who ‘swapped Howard’s dog whistle for a foghorn’. This perspective is not quickly secured; nor is it without substantial research and consultation. Blaine is out for blood.

It is, as these kinds of portraits go, a reduction of a complex human being to a one-dimensional representation. It’s shadow boxing, rather than full-contact sparring with a self-declared political gladiator. (Blaine cites Dutton’s 2014 braggadocio with journo Madonna King, wherein he mused that ‘in a different age, we’d be clashing swords. I see myself as a contestant in that battle.’)

However, in this contest of ideas and values, where there is no referee save the reader, it is fair to say that the one-sided nature of the bout is not completely Blaine’s fault or even necessarily his choice.


‘Peter Dutton and his office didn’t respond to interview requests,’ the essay notes, citing many background and off-the-record interviews, as well as attributing interviews with ‘Bridget Archer, Cheryl Kernot, Wyatt Roy, Andrew Bragg, Malcolm Turnbull, George Brandis, Robin Carter, Bob Katter, Matt Kean, Keith Wolohan, Maria Kovacic and Tony Barry’.


Blaine is no punk, rocking up to a training camp to be turned away by the contender’s camp. He is a well-credentialled writer and journalist who hails from Dutton’s Queensland. The man knows his subject, just as he knows the land and lore from which Dutton comes.

And while it is fair to say that the author and