Margin: Liberal National 7.6%
Region: Northern Coastal, Queensland
In a nutshell: Dawson was Labor’s proudest gain in Kevin Rudd’s statewide sweep of 2007, but it promptly reverted to old habits thereafter.
Candidates in ballot paper order
Covering the central Queensland coast from Mackay north through Bowen and Ayr and the Whitsunday Islands to southern Townsville, the electorate of Dawson was a scene of short-lived glory for Labor when it was gained on the back of a 13.2% swing in 2007. The backlash that followed in 2010 returned it to the conservative fold, and a second strong swing in 2013 blew the margin out to its present 7.6%. The electorate was created with the expansion of parliament in 1949, prior to which its current territory was accommodated by Herbert. It has at all times encompassed the sugar capital of Mackay, which serves as a source of Labor strength in an otherwise conservative seat, but it originally had a more southerly orientation, to the extent of including the northern part of Rockhampton. The seat last underwent substantial change when Hinkler was created with the expansion of parliament in 1984, which pushed both Herbert and its southern neighbour, Capricornia, to the north.
Labor’s only wins prior to 2007 were achieved by Rex Patterson, a Whitlam government minister who gained the seat in February 1966 by-election and did remarkably well to retain it amid Labor’s poor performance at the national election the following November. It was lost amid the debacle of 1975, together with every Labor seat in Queensland other than Bill Hayden’s seat of Oxley, and retained by the Nationals throughout the Hawke-Keating years, despite close calls in 1983 (1.2%) and 1990 (0.1%, or 181 votes). Ray Braithwaite was succeeded as member in 1996 by De-Anne Kelly, making her the first woman ever to represent the party in the House of Representatives. Kelly was unseated in 2007 by one of three double-digit swings to Labor across the state, and the only one to be inflicted on a sitting member. Labor’s long-shot victor was James Bidgood, a former Mackay councillor who became noted for linking the global financial crisis to a biblical prophecy involving “a one world bank and a one world monetary system”. Bidgood bowed out at the 2010 election citing health problems, and the seat returned to the conservative fold after a 5.0% swing.
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 with contentious pronouncements on Islamic radicalism, and by describing opponents of the Abbot Point coal terminal expansion as “gutless green grubs” and “eco-terrorists”. Labor’s new candidate for the seat is Frank Gilbert, Mackay regional councillor and husband of of the state member for Mackay, Julieanne Gilbert.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.