The rise and rise of Peter Dutton, our new security tsar
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The rise and rise of Peter Dutton, our new security tsar

Peter Dutton has achieved what Scott Morrison could not: a super-sized Home Affairs portfolio that will take responsibility for immigration, as well as security and police agencies including ASIO, the federal police and border force.

And his promotion confirms - if any further confirmation was needed - that Dutton has eclipsed Morrison as the leading conservative in the Turnbull government.

Back in 2014-15 Tony Abbott had considered giving the then-ascendant Morrison - who had so successfully stopped the boats for the new Coalition government - a similarly expanded role.

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Eventually, the proposal was dropped and Morrison was promoted to become Social Services Minister; Dutton, who had made a hash of Health, was moved to Immigration.

Australia following in the UK's footsteps: Mr Turnbull said the changes were largely modelled on Britain's Home Office department.

Australia following in the UK's footsteps: Mr Turnbull said the changes were largely modelled on Britain's Home Office department.Credit:Andrew Meares

The majority view among Coalition MPs at the time was that Immigration was a demotion, that Morrison had done all the hard work, and that all Dutton had to do was keep a steady hand on the tiller.

What a difference a couple of years makes.

Fast forward to today and Morrison is still paying the price among conservatives for switching his support from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull.

And Dutton, far from languishing in the Immigration portfolio, has steadily built up his standing; he, along with fellow conservative Mathias Cormann is now a close adviser to and confidante of Turnbull.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who will take on the Home Affairs portfolio.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who will take on the Home Affairs portfolio.Credit:Andrew Meares

Progressive voters loathe Dutton, a hard charging former Queensland copper who has not given an inch on refugee policies that have earned Australia the wrath of asylum seeker advocates and human rights groups the world over.

But Dutton's stint as Immigration Minister has been punctuated by notable successes; after initially being dropped from the National Security Committee of cabinet, Turnbull quickly restored him amid a conservative outcry; he has unveiled sweeping changes to Australia's citizenship laws, kept the boats stopped, and become one of the leading go-to attack dogs, targeting Bill Shorten, on the Coalition frontbench.

Questions of direction remain: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced Peter Dutton will become the Minister for Home Affairs at Parliament House in Canberra with Minister Michael Keenan and Attorney-General George Brandis.

Questions of direction remain: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced Peter Dutton will become the Minister for Home Affairs at Parliament House in Canberra with Minister Michael Keenan and Attorney-General George Brandis.Credit:Andrew Meares

Now he will take charge of significant pieces of the portfolio's of both Attorney-General George Brandis and Justice Minister Michael Keenan.

The policy reasons for the reorganisation of portfolios seem less than clear; Turnbull government advisers emphasise greater co-ordination and clearer reporting lines when, for example, the AFP, ASIO and Border Force all report to the same minister.

The political dividends for Turnbull, and for Dutton, are far clearer.

While the PM was at pains to explain that Brandis, in particular, would gain new powers and assume greater prominence as first law officer, make no mistake: these machinery of government changes are a promotion for Dutton.

The new portfolio will see a much greater concentration of power and control over police and security agencies in the hands of one cabinet minister; it's a thought that many on the left of politics will hate (perhaps in a nod to these fears, Turnbull was careful to promise Australians' civil liberties would not be eroded).

But for Turnbull, promoting Dutton allows him to argue that - contrary to the claims of ministers such as Christopher Pyne - the moderate wing of the party is not in the "winner's circle".

For Dutton, the new Home Affairs Ministry is confirmation that his star is on the rise.

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And he now has a larger platform from which he can be the conservatives' standard bearer.

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James Massola is south-east Asia correspondent, based in Jakarta. He was previously chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in Canberra. He has been a Walkley and Quills finalist on three occasions.

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