Mental illness is not a weapon against your foe, Mr Dutton

The past few weeks in the realm of federal politics has given us little of which to be proud. There's been accusations of bullying and intimidation and an all-round sense the power games inside the walls of Parliament House mean more to our representatives than actual governing.

The slanging match between Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and former Australian Border Force chief Roman Quaedvlieg is yet another incident that fuels the sense of disillusionment.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and former Australian Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg in 2015.

Photo: AAP

Dutton is under deserved pressure over the au pair scandal, where two women were granted visas against the advice of the Australian Border Force. Their claims for ministerial intervention were just a few of the thousands of requests that go to the minister each year, with no transparency around how decisions are made.

It was Quaedvlieg who alleged he was asked to help a "mate" of Mr Dutton in one of the decisions, and access to the minister seems to be a major factor for the two women.

Under scrutiny about the opaque nature of the decisions, and his connections to those involved, the minister has turned to personal attacks rather than engage in the substance of the issue.

Of course, Quaedvlieg is not a lily-white whistleblower in this situation. The reason he is former, and not current, Border Force boss is because he helped his girlfriend get a job within the agency he then led.

It was already ugly and personal, but when Dutton pivoted his statement to Quaedvlieg's mental health, it reached a new low.

Dutton avoided saying outright Quaedvlieg had given evidence against him because of mental health issues, but implied it when he said he had directed the new Border Force boss Michael Outram "to offer Mr Quaedvlieg any support to address his personal or mental health issues".

Whether or not Quaedvlieg has a mental illness is irrelevant to the claims he has made against Dutton, and shouldn't have been used as a way to deflect away from the issue at hand. It's unbecoming conduct of the man who recently tried to become prime minister, and calls his judgement into question.

It's not a new line of attack for Mr Dutton either – he has referred to journalists at the ABC and the Guardian as "crazy lefties" and former Sky News journalist Samantha Maiden as a "mad f---ing witch".

Almost half of Australians will experience a mental illness across their lifetime, and one in five Australians will have had a mental illness in the past year. Many of us would have felt the barb aimed at Quaedvlieg as if it had been aimed at our own situation, or that of a loved one.

As a society, we have made great strides when it comes to addressing mental illnesses and encouraging those experiencing issues to seek help. But stigma around mental illness remains, and when it is used as a weapon by one of the most senior politicians in the country in order to discredit his opponent, that stigma is harder to shake off.

Dutton's decision makes it harder for people experiencing mental illness to seek help, to be honest with their friends and family and even their employers. He should think twice before he uses it as an insult again.

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