I'm worried about Peter Dutton.
The last time the country saw our Minister for Immigration, he was on Sky News reminding us that immigrants are coming to take our jobs AND leech off welfare.
For some reason, the public didn't react well to this perfectly reasonable self-contradictory xenophobia, with everyone from Karl Stefanovic to Karl Stefanovic (probably others too, but we get all of our news exclusively from Karl) calling him out for these statements. So Dutton went to ground.
And every day we don't hear from him, I get a bit more concerned.
After all, Peter Dutton is the face of Border Protection, and Border Protection is the number one most important issue faced by Australia, when the Coalition's Budget push isn't polling well. So where is he?
Distressed that something may have happened to Dutton, I try to organise an interview—attempting contact via phone and email. His people are responsive at first, but then communication suddenly stops.
Successive follow-ups are ignored. But hey, I want to give the Dutton camp the benefit of the doubt: maybe the copper-wire fibre-to-the-state-border NBN had simply failed to deliver my emails.
However, there's another lead: By far the most exciting part of Dutton's campaign is that he has a caravan. The Dutton Caravan of Courage is his mobile campaign office, a way for him to visit the remote parts of his electorate and really get the word out. But there's no schedule on his website, so I'm not clear on how anyone would know that he was coming over.
"For more information," his website says under the picture of the Duttovan, "please call my office on 3205 9977." So I do. The problem is, they can't tell me any details about the wagon convoy—they don't actually know where he is, where he's going to be, or when he'll get to this undisclosed location. To hell with this, I think. Pete is clearly in trouble. He needs me. There's only one thing for it: I drive to Brisbane to look for him on the ground.
I arrive at Dutton's campaign office in Strathpine and alarm bells go off. Not literally, although the moment I knock on the door I imagine there's some klaxons going off as everyone files down to the concrete bunker.
Every other campaign office I've been to is open and welcoming. People can walk right in, volunteers are keen to answer questions, everyone smiles. Dutton's is different. So unwelcoming, in fact, that I'm convinced I've come to the wrong place.
"The office is OPEN however for security this door is closed. Please PRESS the intercom button for assistance."
I press the button and a voice asks what they can do for me. "Yeah, I'm looking for Peter Dutton's campaign office," I reply, "but I think I'm in the wrong place…"
"No," the voice says, "this is his campaign office. What can we do for you?"
I tell them that I'm on the search for Mr Dutton, and I'd love to come in and have a chat if at all possible. The door doesn't open. "Is he in today?" I ask.
"He's not in today, I'm afraid," says the voice.
"Is he out in the electorate?" I ask.
"Yes, he is," says the voice.
"Do you know where?" I ask. Silence…
"…No," the voice crackles through the intercom. "We don't have access to his diary."
The best bet, the voice tells me, is to send him an email. And they give me the email address I'd been using to unsuccessfully organise an interview, the email address so chronically unresponsive I felt compelled to launch a statewide manhunt for our immigration minister.
This was getting increasingly strange. Not only did no-one outside of Dutton's campaign team know where he was in the middle of an election, it seemed no-one inside the team knew either. A campaign office is supposed to promote the candidate to the community, but this was a high-security gulag. And gulags are not designed to keep people out: they're built to keep people in. Peter Dutton, I reasoned, must be being held against his own will, a brutal attempt to stop him from making any more offensive gaffes before 2 July.
At 6 PM, a Facebook post informs me that he spent today at Kedron Caravans, a mere 2.3 kilometres from his campaign office. Did his office not know he was just around the corner? Was here literally standing there while I was five minutes away talking into an intercom? Also, Pete already had a caravan. Was I really meant to believe he spent the day browsing around "Australia's longest established caravan centre"? Something isn't right.
I figure at this point in an investigation, with leads drying up, a detective would trawl through recent photos of their target—trying to glean some insight into their secret inner life. So I find a recent picture of Dutton, and immediately recognise all the warning signs of a man held captive.
It's all there: the pained, teeth-baring expression, not one I recognise from the normal gamut of human emotions. Beside him stands a suspicious man, imposing menacingly. I make a mental note. Then an actual one in a notepad.
What do you do when someone goes missing? Of course there's only one course of action: put up posters.
I decide Dutton's campaign office is the best place to start, so I stick up some posters featuring the best photo of him I could find, praying it will jog some memories. I find some people and show them the picture. There's a flicker of recognition, but then they all shake their heads. I've stumbled onto something big.
I leave Strathpine, hopeful these signs will do the trick and bring Pete back home to us. The high security at his campaign office suggests that the Dutton campaign is worried about potential threats from the public. Perhaps Pete was so worried about these threats that he felt he had to get out there. Maybe he's seeking refuge somewhere safe.
I imagine him taking off in his campaign caravan, maybe drifting into the waters of a foreign electorate, one where the voters insist that they will determine which candidates come to their electorate and the means by which they arrive. Perhaps Peter Dutton was—at this very moment—being held in an off-electorate processing office.
I've done all I can do. Pete, if you're reading this, please let us know you're okay.
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