OK, OK, we get it; Peter Dutton looks like a potato.

And therefore we, the Australian people have coined the ingenious nickname "Mr Potato Head" for him. Or, in some equally mature cases, Voldemort from Harry Potter.

I call double standards here. I've always backed anyone who has spoken out against the fact that so many female politicians are critiqued for their physical appearance, instead of their policies.

It happens across the board - from Julia Gillard to Hillary Clinton, examples abound. Julie Bishop's haircut or "jogger's physique" seem to warrant as much conversation as her foreign policy.

But suddenly it's OK to attack a man for a physical attribute he has no control over?

Folks, we're better than this.

There may be many, very good reasons to oppose or critique Peter Dutton. His baldness is not one of them.

Whether it's an element of your physical appearance you do have some control over (weight, choice of clothing) or one you don't (pretty much everything else) - it's wholly irrelevant. And it's time we expunged it from political critique - for both genders. Equal standards should apply.

Both Julia Gillard and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been attacked on the basis of their looks and clothing. (Pic: Robert Cianflone/Getty)
Both Julia Gillard and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been attacked on the basis of their looks and clothing. (Pic: Robert Cianflone/Getty)

More to the point, some form of standards should apply. Otherwise, it's just a race to the bottom.

I don't intend to be a buzzkill. When Dutton lost the first ballot against Turnbull, Twitter users came up with the hashtag #PutYourPotatoesOut along with pictures of spuds outside front doors, in mock-gracious sympathy.

This does, admittedly, show the inventive, characteristic larrikin spirit of the Australian people. Mocking an increasingly laughable democratic system.

I also hear the point that for years, women have had to put up with this. It's one of the reasons fewer women put their hand up for political gigs - it's brutal out there, and women get measured by different standards than men, which is clearly unfair.

So there's an argument that shaming a man for his appearance goes some way to redressing the balance. It follows that, if women have had to endure it for centuries, surely men - especially bruisers like Dutton - can take it on the chin.

To that, I quote Michelle Obama: "When they go low, we go high."

What shocks me is, it isn't just some Twitter trolls being nasty or clowns having fun with this. It's those we should be looking up to - media outlets and senior politicians. Labor MP Tim Watt first called Dutton "Potato Head" in parliament in 2016. Junkee calls Dutton "the government's chief potato." These people are supposed to be setting the tone.

Peter Dutton’s policies should be critiqued, not his appearance. (Pic: Kym Smith)
Peter Dutton’s policies should be critiqued, not his appearance. (Pic: Kym Smith)

The similarities with Trump are striking. He's another politician who, like Dutton, has many controversial and potentially damaging policies, in addition to using highly offensive and disparaging language to stigmatise, alienate and demean.

There are, literally, a myriad fair dinkum reasons to criticise him. Yet people aim for the lowest common denominator. It's unnecessary.

I was in the UK during Trump's controversial state visit in July.

During that time, former Labour Party leader and current MP Ed Miliband tweeted a suggested script for the PM: "Suggested press conference words "He and I do disagree on some things: his tearing of babies from their parents, his racist attacks on the London mayor, his lies, his admiration for dictators, and I tend to think his comb-over is an absurdity."

That last line just undermines all the other powerful points he has made. And it flowed through to so many other protesters' signs. Many were very creative ("Go home, wotsit" one read, which is very British - wotsits are orange crisps). They no doubt thought they were responding at the same level that Trump does in his juvenile attacks on people.

I saw attacks on his comb-over, tiny hands, orangeness. It turns the whole thing into a joke, a game not to be taken seriously, playground tactics. It meets him where he's at.

But most importantly, it risks undermining the very serious point that this man groped women and has many damaging policies.

The hairstyle, tan and size of Trump's hands are all utterly irrelevant distractions. But that's what many placards in the crowd seemed to focus on.

Dutton's baldness - something he cannot help - is also irrelevant.

Resorting to these cheap shots just denigrates robust debate - especially when they come from those who should know better.

Comparing Barnaby Joyce to a beetroot applies the same double standards. We'd call out this appearance shaming if it was a woman. We should do the same for a man.

Some Liberal MPs have form here. Scott Morrison infamously attacked Bill Shorten for his "ill-fitting suit" - classist mudslinging at its worst.

Some MPs make their own appearance the subject of their campaign. When Julia Gillard was still Prime Minister, Pauline Hanson branded herself as "the redhead you can trust".

Hillary Clinton has made self-effacing jokes about her fondness for pantsuits and, in her Twitter profile, calls herself a "hair icon".

But that's on their terms.

If you resort to puerile bullying tactics to insult our potential new Prime Minister, nobody will take you seriously when you want to call him out for his policies, or being an actual bully.

Gary Nunn is a freelance writer.