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Federal Election 2016

Jul 5, 2014

Seat of the week: Dickson

Peter Dutton's parliamentary career began when he unseated Cheryl Kernot in 2001, and he was doubtful enough of his capacity to keep his seat out of Labor hands that he sought refuge elsewhere before the 2010 election.


Located at the western edge of Brisbane’s northern suburban corridor, Dickson is one of six seats which have been created to deal with Queensland’s population boom since the expansion of parliament in 1984. From south to north, it presently encompasses the marginal hills district suburbs of Ferny Hills, Arana Hills and Everton Hills; a strongly conservative area around Pine River including Albany Creek and Eatons Hill; and Labor-leaning suburbs along Gympie Road and the Caboolture rail line including Strathpine, Bray Park, Lawnton and Petrie (that latter being confusingly located outside the electorate that bears its name). It also extends westwards beyond the metropolitan area to Lake Samsonvale and the interior edge of the D’Aguilar Range, including the townships of Dayboro and Samford. The populous part of the electorate had hitherto been accommodate mostly by Fisher after 1984, Petrie after 1949, and Lilley beforehand.

Teal and red numbers respectively indicate size of two-party majorities for the LNP and Labor. Click for larger image. Map boundaries courtesy of Ben Raue at The Tally Room.

Dickson was won for Labor on its creation in 1993 by Michael Lavarch, who had previously been the member for Fisher. Lavarch went on to serve as Attorney-General in the second term of the Keating government, before becoming one of its highest profile casualties of the 1996 election. The Liberal candidate who defeated him was Tony Smith (not to be confused with the current member for Casey in Melbourne), whose career imploded when he was questioned by police after being seen leaving a building that housed a brothel. Smith forestalled preselection defeat by quitting the Liberal Party and declaring his intention to run as an independent, which he did with little success. By this time it had emerged that the Labor candidate for the 1998 election would be defecting Democrats leader Cheryl Kernot, who had announced her determination to win a marginal seat for Labor. At first it appeared that her bid had failed, prompting her to lash out on election night at an ALP network that had deprived her campaign of resources. She would in fact go on to win the seat by a margin of 276 votes, but her career as a Labor MP was limited to a single disastrous term, after which she was unseated by a 6.1% swing at the 2001 election.

The new Liberal member was Peter Dutton, owner of a Brisbane child care centre who had earlier worked for the National Crime Authority, the Queensland Police sex offender squad and the Department of Corrective Services. Dutton consolidated his hold on the seat with a 1.8% swing in 2004 and was subsequently admitted to the outer ministry as Workforce Participation Minister, going on to a minor promotion to Revenue Minister and Assistant Treasurer in January 2006. After surviving the heavy statewide swing to Labor at the 2007 election by a margin of 217 votes, Dutton was promoted to shadow cabinet in the finance, competition policy and deregulation portfolios, and then to health and ageing after he backed Malcolm Turbull’s successful leadership challenge against Brendan Nelson in September 2008.

Dutton’s career hit a speed bump when the redistribution ahead of the 2010 election saw Dickson exchange upper Brisbane River valley territory for suburban areas around Murrumba Downs, making it a notionally Labor seat at a time when few foresaw the problems that would engulf the government at the end of its term. Dutton believed he saw a lifeline in Margaret May’s retirement as member for the safe Gold Coast seat of McPherson, for which he nominated for preselection. However, well-organised locals had long had their eyes on the succession and were not of a mind to accommodate Dutton, being readily able to draw on the argument that he would serve his party better by fighting for his crucial marginal seat. Dutton unwisely sought to raise the stakes by declaring he would not fall back on Dickson if thwarted in McPherson, evidently hoping preselectors would baulk at the prospect of depriving the party of his services. Despite backing from Malcolm Turnbull and John Howard, this proved to be a miscalculation: the local preselection vote was won by local favourite Karen Andrews, with Dutton reportedly meeting opposition in the branches of the newly merged Liberal National Party from those who had formerly been with the Nationals.

After alternative options failed to emerge, Dutton went back on his word and ran again in Dickson. However, such was the statewide backlash against Labor after the dumping of Kevin Rudd that he went untroubled, his 5.9% swing being well in line with the state average and enough to secure him a margin of 5.1%. Dickson again closely matched the state trend in recording a further 1.8% swing to the LNP in 2013, putting Dutton’s present margin at 6.7%. Dutton meanwhile has maintained the health portfolio since September 2008, serving as Minister for Health and Minister for Sport since the election of the Abbott government in September 2013.


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