The Poll Bludger
Margin: Liberal National 6.7%
Region: Northern Brisbane, Queensland
In a nutshell: Peter Dutton’s parliamentary career began when he unseated Cheryl Kernot in 2001, and he was doubtful enough of his capacity to retain the seat that he sought refuge elsewhere in 2010.
Candidates in ballot paper order
Held for the Liberal National Party by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, the outer northern Brisbane electorate of Dickson was created in 1993, becoming one of six seats created to accommodate Queensland’s population boom since the expansion of parliament in 1984. From south to north, it 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 area was mostly covered prior to 1993 by Fisher, which then assumed its present orientation around southern Sunshine Coast.
Dickson was won for Labor at its inaugural election by Michael Lavarach, who had previously held Fisher since unseating its then Nationals member, Peter Slipper, in 1987. 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 successful Liberal candidate was Tony Smith (not to be confused with the current member for Casey in Melbourne), whose career would shortly implode when police questioned him after he was 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 went on to do with little success.
By this time Labor had pulled off an apparent coup by recruiting the then leader of the Australian Democrats, Cheryl Kernot, but her performance at the 1998 election fell short of expectations. When it appeared on election night that she had failed to carry the seat, Kernot complained to a television interviewer about “those who chose it for me”, and later accused factional interests thwarted by her preselection of starving her campaign of resources. She in fact went 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, and was ended by a 6.1% swing against her in 2001.
The victorious Liberal candidate 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 Dickson 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 in 2007 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 with the redistribution that preceded the 2010 election, in which Dickson exchanged upper Brisbane River valley territory for suburban areas around Murrumba Downs. This gave the seat a notional Labor margin at a time when few foresaw the problems that would engulf the government towards the end of the term. Dutton sought a lifeline in the safe Gold Coast seat of McPherson, which was being vacated by the retirement of Margaret May. When well-organised locals who had long had their eyes on the succession were not of a mind to accommodate him, Dutton unwisely sought to raise the stakes by declaring he would not fall back on Dickson if thwarted in McPherson. 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 from those who had been in the Nationals before the newly effected Liberal National Party merger.
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 Kevin Rudd’s dumping that he suffered no harm at the ballot box, easily retaining the seat with a 5.9% swing that was well in line with the statewide average. 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%. Meanwhile, Dutton maintained the health polio in the shadow ministry from September 2008 and then in government after September 2013, before being reassigned to immigration and border protection in December 2014. He retained the position in the reshuffle that followed Malcolm Turnbull’s ascent to the prime ministership in September 2015, despite being one of only a handful of Queensland Liberals who had supported Tony Abbott in the leadership challenge.
Dutton faces a high-profile opponent at the election in Labor candidate Linda Lavarch, member for the state seat of Kurwongbah from 1997 to 2009, and the wife of former Labor member Michael Lavarch. Labor had originally preselected local high school teacher Michael Gilliver, but he stepped down in February citing family health concerns.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.