The Immigration minister was Friday speaking with the country's Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who had just returned from the Pacific Islands Forum Summit in Papua New Guinea, where climate change was a key focus.
Noting that the meeting was running late, Dutton remarked that it was running to “Cape York time”, to which Abbott replied, “We had a bit of that up in Port Moresby.”
Dutton then responded: “Time doesn't mean anything when you're about to have water lapping at your door,” to which both Dutton and Abbott laughed.
The Social Services minister, Scott Morrison, then pointed out that there was a large television microphone directly above them.
The comments have stirred anger from the leaders of low-lying Pacific nations struggling against rising sea levels and intensifying weather systems.
The president of Kiribati, Anote Tong, said the joke showed a sense of moral irresponsibility unbecoming of leadership in any capacity.
He also warned Dutton that a future Australian immigration minister will have to deal with a wave of Pacific refugees from low-lying countries like Kiribati, if sea levels continue to rise.
The foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, Tony de Brum, took to twitter to express his dismay, saying “[it] seems insensitivity knows no bounds in the big polluting island down [south]."
de Brum continued: “Next time waves are battering my home and my grandkids are scared, I'll ask Peter Dutton to come over, and we'll see if he is still laughing,” he said.