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”.