Seat of the week: Dawson

Despite encompassing a strong area for Labor in Mackay, the central Queensland seat of Dawson has only been won by Labor on a handful of occasions, and is currently held on a reasonably secure margin by Liberal National Party firebrand George Christensen.

Covering the central Queensland coast from Mackay north through Bowen and Ayr and the Whitsunday Islands to southern Townsville, Dawson has had a wild ride in recent times, having been gained by Labor at the 2007 election with a 13.2% swing, lost in 2010 after a 5.0% reversal, and consolidated for the Liberal National Party with a 5.1% swing in 2013. It was created with the expansion of parliament in 1949, prior to which its current territory had been accommodated by the seat of Herbert. The sugar capital of Mackay has always been within its boundaries, but it originally had a more southerly orientation, extending as far as Rockhampton. With the next expansion of parliament in 1984, the creation of Hinkler caused both Dawson and its southern neighbour, Capricornia, to be pushed northwards, and it has not been radically changed at the many redistributions since. Mackay has consistently been an area of strength for Labor, but the surrounding rural territory has tended to keep the seat in the conservative fold.




The only Labor member prior to 2007 was Whitlam government minister Rex Patterson, who won the seat at a by-election in February 1966 and established a remarkable electoral record in retaining it until 1975, even picking up a swing amid Labor’s disastrous performance at the election of November 1966. The Nationals retained the seat throughout the Hawke-Keating years, despite close calls in 1983 (1.2%) and 1990 (0.1%, or 181 votes). De-Anne Kelly succeeded Ray Braithwaite as member in 1996, becoming the first woman ever to represent the party in the House of Representatives. The swing that unseated Kelly was one of three double-digit swings to Labor in Queensland at the 2007 election, and the only one to strike a sitting member. Labor’s unexpected victor was James Bidgood, a former Mackay councillor noted for linking the global financial crisis to biblical prophecy. Bidgood bowed out after a single term, citing health problems, and was succeeded as Labor candidate by Whitsunday mayor Mike Brunker, who proved unable to hold back a statewide tide that almost entirely undid the party’s gains of 2007.

Dawson has since been held by George Christensen, a former Mackay councillor and local newspaper publisher who sits in parliament with the Nationals. Christensen made headlines during the 2010 campaign with the emergence of newsletters he had written as a university student, which featured what Tony Abbott conceded were “colourful” views on Jews, gays and women. He has since maintained his reputation as a culture warrior by making contentious pronouncements on Islamic radicalism, and describing opponents of the Abbot Point coal terminal expansion as “gutless green grubs” and “eco-terrorists”.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

5 comments on “Seat of the week: Dawson”

  1. William

    The Dawson by election that elected Rex Patterson was in 1966 not 1967. Capricornia in 1967.After the Dawson by election it was said that Gough Whitlam always treated Rex Patterson as a bit of a talisman.

  2. William

    The by election win in Dawson largely saved Whitlam as he was under threat of expulsion after referring to the National executive as the ’12 witless men’. I have read, that at the time, Whitlam believed he had a special connection with Qld as he had campaigned extensively in 1961 and almost brought Labor home. I am not sure why Labor did so well though Rex Patterson was obviously a very good candidate.

  3. Dawson is possible for Labor to regain this seat back at the next election. North Queensland is hunting ground for Labor at the next election which includes other seats such as Capricornia, Herbert, and Leichhardt. I tend to think those three seats are more likely then Dawson and also Flynn.

    But the seat has changed alot in terms of demographics with alot more coal miners moved up there. It’s not as safe for the LNP as has been in the past.

  4. Some local knowledge would be useful but it is fairly likely that the area has been hard hit by the mining downturn. In Mackay there were a lot of DIDO (Drive In Drive Out) miners. As the general numbers have gone backwards, either unemployment will be an issue or the extra miners won’t be politically important.

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