By Courtney Lynch
“Gosh I really hope they’ve chosen the right seat, because these people are aspirational.” That’s what Michael Lavarch, the first elected Member for Dickson, said to Cheryl Kernot ahead of her 1998 election campaign while giving the new Labor candidate a tour of the area. “They may be, or may not be, more likely to be Liberal voters,” Mr Lavarch said.
More than 20 years later, these comments are still an accurate depiction of the region’s uncertain political inclination. Even though Peter Dutton has held the seat since 2001, it has been on a slim margin, and is again in play in 2019.
Dickson is an outer metropolitan location where urban bushland suburbs align with the area’s industries of farming, retail and manufacturing. It is characterised as a typical mortgage belt seat, with more than 70 per cent of properties in the area owned. The median age of the region is 37, with 21.7 per cent of the population being children. The seat is populated by families, according to the 2016 Census.
Moreton Bay Division 8 Councillor Mick Gillam said the region offers “the best of both worlds” with proximity to “both the beach and the mountains”. He said families commonly buy their forever homes within Dickson as they were close to the city while being able to enjoy more spacious living. “The parks are better…and have a more relaxed lifestyle,” he said.
Mr Lavarch, who held the seat from 1996-1998, described Dickson’s residents as “working-class people”. “Most people who live in Dickson are commuters, so they’re catching the trains or driving their cars in to the city for work,” he said.
Today the division totals an area of 724 sq km consisting of parts of the Brisbane City Council and Moreton Bay Regional Council. Suburbs within the division boundaries include Kurwongbah, Petrie, Strathpine, Albany Creek, Ferny Hills, Everton Hills, Murrumba Downs and parts of Kallangur. The most recent redistribution saw the division lose parts of Ashgrove and Enoggera west of Wardell Street to Ryan.
The electorate of Dickson was formed in 1992, deriving its name from Sir James Dickson (1832–1901). Dickson was a leading national advocate for Federation, the 13th Premier of Queensland, and Minister for Defence in the first Federal Ministry.
The seat was first contested in 1993, making it one of the most recently formed in Queensland. Fisher, on the Sunshine Coast, historically encompassed Dickson, but a redistribution separated it from many urban areas, including a large portion of the Brisbane region. The changed boundaries meant that the MP for Fisher at the time, Mr Lavarch, was a sensible and natural choice to transfer to the new division.
This election was historic for Dickson. Not only was it the first contested in the electorate, but it was unique and controversial due to a one-month voting suspension following the death of an independent candidate. In the second of only three supplementary elections held in the history of Australian politics, Mr Lavarch triumphed to secure the seat. He was finally appointed to the position of Attorney-General on April 27, 1993 – six weeks after the rest of the country had voted.
Since then the electorate has been held by a further three MPs. Liberal member Anthony (Tony) Smith defeated Lavarch in 1996. However, Smith lost Liberal support in 1998 and contested as an independent to avoid preselection defeat. Labor’s Ms Kernot, who had switched from the Democrats, went on to succeed Smith, winning by 276 votes. Kernot failed to defend the seat in 2001 after a 6.1 per cent swing, the largest in the state at that election, losing to Mr Dutton.
Mr Dutton has successfully held on since 2001 and is the only Dickson MP to serve more than one term. Prior to Dutton’s entry to Parliament he worked as a Queensland police officer in the National Crime Authority and Drug and Sex Offenders’ Squad. During his time as Member for Dickson he served as Minister for Revenue in 2006, Minister for Health and Sport in 2013, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, and most recently Minister for Home Affairs since 2017.
Mr Dutton will contest the 2019 election in the hope of a seventh term. Mr Dutton currently holds the seat on a slim margin of 1.7 per cent but is at risk of defeat.
Ms Kernot said the “people of Dickson have always been aspirational” and believed recent boundary changes combined with Dutton’s speculated attempt to move to the safer Gold Coast seat of Moncrieff could see a change of guard. The 2016 election results saw Dutton win by a narrow margin following a 5.1 per cent swing. If Labor maintains its predicted lead of the two-party-preferred during polling, as predicted by the latest NewsPoll results, Labor candidate Ali France is in the best position to claim the seat.
Stephen Austin (United Australia Party)
Benedict Coyne (The Greens)
Peter Dutton (Liberal National Party)
Ali France (Labor)
Thor Prohaska (Independent)