Culture

Pacific Island Politicians Are Furious Over Peter Dutton’s “Vulgar” And “Arrogant” #Boomgate Joke

Another day, another Dutton.

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Another day, another trending Abbott Government scandal hashtag to simultaneously laugh and bow our heads in shame at.

In yesterday’s edition, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton were caught by the ABC having a good chuckle at the expense of Pacific Islanders suffering the destruction caused by climate change, literally seconds after a press conference ended.

Abbott commented on a previous conference in Port Moresby running late (or, as Dutton referred to it with lashings of casual racism, on “Cape York Time”), and Dutton responded that “time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to be, you know, have water lapping at your door”. Abbott laughed a lot before Social Services Minister Scott Morrison calmly chimed in to warn them that a “boom” microphone was directly above their heads. The resulting expressions on all three faces was truly something.

The Immigration Minister/internet punchline still hasn’t responded to the ensuing outrage over his comments, except for the simple and blatantly obvious observation that he “had a private conversation with the Prime Minister”. Australia’s leading Zingers expert Bill Shorten said “it was a bad joke by a minister who is a bad joke”, and “the fact that the Prime Minister is laughing along with it reminds me of what Barack Obama said: any leader who doesn’t take climate change seriously is not fit to lead”.

But overnight a more serious outcome from #boomgate surfaced — the inevitable and understandable offence taken by Pacific Islanders, some of whom, via global independent climate action group 350.org, have written a formal letter to Abbott requesting that Dutton resign, and the resulting diplomatic damage between their clearly furious government officials, and ours.

Talking to the ABC, the president of Pacific Island’s Kiribati, Anote Tong, called Dutton morally irresponsible for his “vulgar” joke about the existentially damaging rising sea levels in his home country. “What kind of a person is he? As long as there is this kind of attitude, this kind of arrogance in any position of leadership, we will continue to have a lot of tension,” he said.

“I find that extremely sad, extremely disappointing that we are making jokes about a very serious issue.”

Tong also pointed out that Australia will have a whole lot of climate refugees arriving from nations like Kiribati if sea levels continue to rise, and that the future immigration minister — who will assuredly not be Dutton, for reasons other than just the movement of time — will have to deal with that.

Marshall Islands’ foreign affairs minister Tony de Brum was also unsurprisingly livid over the Dutton/Abbott giggle fest, tweeting “seems insensitivity knows no bounds in the big polluting island down sth”.

And the governor of Oro in PNG, Gary Juffa, called for an apology from Abbott:

Meanwhile, traditional owner from Cape York, Gerhardt Pearson, released an emotional and damning statement, pointing out that Abbott and Dutton’s remarks about Islanders’ time management hold connotations of old racist stereotypes. “In olden Mission days, well-paid managers used ‘Murri time’ to cast Bama as lazy good-for-nothings,” he said.

If Pacific Islanders appear to be taking the ‘joke’ personally, that’s because it is personal: Australia’s enormous contribution to the world’s Co2 emissions, and apparent lack of enthusiasm to change that in the slightest, has been and will continue to affect the slowly disappearing islands in the Pacific. The people who live there will lose their homes and way of life, and potentially their lives. So when Australia’s senior government ministers, who play a large role in that very real, very dangerous reality, are caught snickering at it all, the above responses become acutely reasonable.

Unlike this one, from aggressive climate change denialist and Australian fist-shaker Chris Kenny, who totally gets jokes better than you, you don’t even know jokes:

Surprised? You shouldn’t be.