Seat du jour: Dickson

Inside the northern Brisbane seat where popular Liberal incumbent Peter Dutton faces the fight of his political career against Labor’s Ali France.

Welcome to the second of what will be 18 instalments of Seat du Jour from now until election day, providing forums for discussion of individual seats, and also an opportunity to promote my federal election guide. Yesterday we went to Gilmore on the New South Wales south coast, the thread for which can be found here; today’s journey takes us to the northern Brisbane seat of Dickson, the election guide entry for which can be found here.

Dickson has the potential to be the biggest election night deal since John Howard lost Bennelong in 2007, as its 1.7% margin is being defended by Peter Dutton, prime ministerial aspirant and conservative hero/progressive villain. The seat was created in 1993 and has twice been won by Labor – on its inauguration by Michael Lavarch, who had previously held Fisher since 1987, which provided the new seat with much of its territory; and in 1998 by Cheryl Kernot, the former Australian Democrats leader, whose recruitment by Labor looked for all the world like a game-changing political coup. However, Kernot’s debut electoral performance in Dickson fell short of expectations, and she had harsh words for the Labor organisation on the night of the election, at which time she appeared to be facing defeat. Kernot in fact went on to win by 276 votes, but her single term as a Labor MP proved unprofitable, and her tiny margin was erased at the 2001 election by a 6.1% to Peter Dutton.

After a comfortable re-election in 2004, Dutton came within 217 votes of defeat after an 8.8% swing to Labor amid Kevin Rudd’s sweep through Queensland. His slim margin was then wiped out altogether by a redistribution, prompting an unsuccessful preselection bid in the safe Gold Coast seat of McPherson. Dutton turned out to have less to fear from Labor than he might have thought at the time, and he was returned in Dickson with a 5.9% swing, consistent with the statewide trend. The seat’s precariousness reasserted itself with a 5.1% swing in 2016, reducing the margin to 1.6%, which has been revised fractionally in his favour by the redistribution.

With his already precarious position in Dickson undermined by a redistribution, and Labor under Kevin Rudd appearing in the ascendant, Dutton sought a lifeline in 2009 in the safe Gold Coast seat of McPherson, which was being vacated by the retirement of Margaret May. However, well-organised locals who had long had their eyes on the succession were not of a mind to accommodate him, despite him unwisely raising the stakes by declaring he would not fall back on Dickson if thwarted in McPherson. He went on to be defeated in the preselection by local favourite Karen Andrews, and to renege on his commitment not to return to Dickson, where in the event he was comfortably re-elected in 2010, and again at the two elections since.

Labor’s candidate is Ali France, a motivational speaker and former television producer who lost a leg in a car accident in 2011. Her father, Peter Lawlor, was a minister in Anna Bligh’s state government. Dutton spent the early part of the campaign engulfed in controversy after he accused France of “using her disability as an excuse” for not moving into the electorate. France lives a short distance outside it, and points to the $100,000 of her compensation money she has spent making her existing home fully wheelchair accessible. Labor were naturally quick to remind Dutton of his failed bid to move his political operation to the Gold Coast, where he owns a $2.3 million beachside holiday home, and by all accounts spends a great deal of his time. Dutton at first refused to apologise, leaving Scott Morrison to baselessly asserted that his comments were taken out of context. He then changed his mind, apologising first through Twitter and then in person during a radio interview.

Intelligence from both sides of the fence suggests that Dutton has, at a bare minimum, a fight on his hands. The weekend before last, David Crowe of the Sydney Morning Herald related that Labor was “confident”, and Annika Smethurst of the Sunday Telegraph reported that both sides believed him to be in “serious strife”.

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.

7 comments on “Seat du jour: Dickson”

  1. I feel that this seat is a little like Warringah. A very polarising conservative who is on the nose with his own local branches and up against a very personable empathetic woman. I may be wrong in saying this but just as there is a real “let’s get rid of Tony” movement in Warringah there seems to be a similar dissatisfaction in Dickson where Liberals feel uncomfortable with such an arch conservative. After all Dickson is a relatively cosmopolitan area. In other words would the LNP have a better chance with a bog standard candidate instead of Dutton?

  2. Agree Notahorse, however the margin in Dickson is far far lower than in Warringah.

    I feel the swing in Dickson will be far smaller than Warringah, however the chance of Dutton losing is far higher than Abbott.

  3. The Queensland LNP seem to be throwing everything they have at retaining Dickson. I live in the neighbouring seat of Ryan, and I’ve been seeing a lot of corflutes and ads for Dutton, including a big electronic banner ad at an intersection in Enoggera (probably at least a twenty minute drive from Dickson.) I’ve noticed a lot when driving through Lilley too – though, oddly enough, very little for the actual LNP candidate in that seat.

  4. I really like these seat profiles, William. Good read.

    I feel it could be enhanced by some info about the Greens candidate…


    Hi, I’m Benna [Benedict Coyne]. I’m a father, a fiance, a muso, a poet, history buff, and an international business and human rights lawyer, and now your Australian Greens candidate for the seat of Dickson.

    Throughout my career I have represented a wide range of communities from around our country: farmers, small business owners, children, young people, people with a disability, traditional owners, and more.

    I have taken on the biggest companies in the world to protect the rights of Australians. I have fought for Queenslanders to protect their land and properties from big multinational companies, fought hard for the rights of children in the education system, and stood up for entire communities whose land had been polluted by toxic pollution.

    I am here to offer you a fresh change, and am standing to promote economic justice and improve the health of our democracy.

    I’m here to reinvigorate the concept of ‘fair go’ and protect the rights of us all. I’m here to give a voice to you, and to stand up for a future for all of us.

    I am standing with the Australian Greens, the only party fighting to fix our broken political system and put integrity, decency and dignity back into our democracy. The Australian Greens are the only party fighting for positive economic and social change, that benefits you and your community. The Australian Greens are the only party thinking about our kids’ future, and their kids’ future, as well as the here and now.

    Join our movement. Do it for Dickson.

  5. As things stand, apart from Herbert and maybe Longman, there are not many realistic chances for the LNP to pick up further seats in Queensland.
    While Swan is retiring in Lilley and even urban Brisbane is much more conservative than any of the other capital cities (even Perth), it’s not really the right demographic for the platform the LNP is currently running on.

  6. Hard to see any other result here than a Labor win. Dutton is surely a liability unless he has some very weird personal following in the electorate.

  7. Obviously Dutton is a ‘very polarising conservative’ but Dickson itself is really nothing like Warringah. Tally Room’s electorate profile gives a general outline of the political divisions. The short version is that one part (or two parts, as they say) of the electorate is lower-middle class suburbia (barring Albany Creek and surrounds, which I guess you might call upper-middle class) that is generally Labor leaning (again, with the exception of Albany Creek), whereas everything else from Samford onwards is semirural telegraph country and solidly Liberal. Overall it’s not unusually progressive in a social sense like Warringah is, or even neighboring Ryan and Brisbane. The Greens are lucky to pull 10% of the primary vote. That’s not to say it’s unwinnable for Labor and the recent construction might even favor them demographically, but the issues that play in Mosman don’t resonate nearly so much in Arana Hills, let alone Dayboro. Dutton’s support is very, very firmly entrenched in a large section of the electorate and he’s been absolutely carpet bombing the entire northside with political advertising. Ali France on the other hand is getting far less media attention than Zali Steggall, barring the crass comments he made about her disability, and the media’s already basically forgotten about it. It’s going to come down to the wire, if it comes down at all. Personally I expect Peter will retain it.

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