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Mistaken identity places a 30-year-old Texan at the center of Australia's political crisis

Adam Taylor

By Adam Taylor The Washington Post

Published August 24,2018

Mistaken identity places a 30-year-old Texan at the center of Australia's political crisis
	NAMESAKE: American Peter Dutton's tweet clearing up confusion has been liked, retweeted and shared thousands of times. (Twitter)

Australia is yet again in the midst of political instability, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull widely expected to be forced from office in the coming days.


Much of the pressure is coming from within his own party. Peter Dutton, Turnbull's now-former home affairs minister, is expected to make his own bid to lead the conservative Liberal Party in the coming days. If Dutton wins the leadership contest, he will be the country's sixth prime minister in just over a decade - a level of turnover that worries some analysts.


In the midst of the turmoil, however, some Australians have found an unlikely source of hope: A 30-year-old American who lives in Texas who runs his own popcorn company and has never been to Australia.


His name? Peter Dutton.


A search for the Austin-based Dutton's handle on Twitter - the simple, @PeterDutton5 - show that a number of people had mistaken him for the Australian Dutton. Some had sent insulting messages: One message called him a "loser" who was making "stupid political moves."


In response, Dutton wrote a message on Wednesday that begged Australian social media users to look at his photo before sending him messages.


But one Australian asked Dutton if would be interested in taking over the Australian government, to which he replied, "sign me up!"


This sparked a series of tweets, now shared and liked thousands of times, made him a topic of discussion in Australian politics - with many Twitter users imploring him to come over and take over the prime minister's office himself.


Another American Twitter user with the name Peter Dutton even changed his display name on the website to "Peter From Queens, Not Queensland." This Dutton has apparently been receiving insults intended for his Australian namesake for years.


In 2014, he even received an apology from the man himself (and the offer of a drink, next time he's in Australia).


There's a reason why the Peter Duttons of social media are receiving angry messages. If the Australian Dutton succeeds in his leadership challenge to Turnbull, no Australian prime minister will have served out the full three-year term since John Howard in 2004 to 2007.


The high level of turnover in the country is unusual, given the relatively strong state of the Australian economy. Experts suggest that quirks of the country's parliamentary political system, as well as the dominance of its right-wing media, has led to what the Financial Times describes as "Italian-style political instability."


Dutton - the Australian politician, rather than any of the American counterparts - is a figure from the Liberal Party's right wing, as opposed to the more centrist Turnbull. As home affairs minister, he was a defender of Australia's controversial offshore asylum-seeker facilities and also championed the idea of Canberra offering refugee status to white farmers from South Africa: an issue that President Donald Trump brought up this week.


Many of the messages directed to the Austin-based Dutton asked him for his views on human rights.


Speaking to Australia's ABC News, the Texan Dutton said that while he wasn't an expert on Australian politics, he had been following U.S. politics closely. "A lot of things I thought I'd only ever see again in history books have awakened in our present day since the Trump transition," he said.


After the outpouring of attention from Australia on Wednesday evening, Dutton thanked his well-wishers for support, pledged to bring his popcorn to Australia, but said he had to get back to his 20-week pregnant wife. In a message on Thursday morning, however, he reaffirmed his hope of being Australia's next prime minister.

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