Last week a disgruntled LNP member from Peter Dutton’s seat of Dickson wrote to Crikey venting their spleen at Dutton’s decision to abandon the seat for Margaret May’s seat of McPherson. We’ve reproduced most of their comments below.
It’s fair to say that there are some members in Dutton’s electorate deeply unhappy at his abandonment of them following a redistribution that turned his wafer-thin, monsieur, margin into a notional Labor seat. But the contrary view, put by senior Liberals in the seat, is that while members wish he was staying, and that it could have been handled better given the impression that Dickson has been abandoned, no one begrudges Dutton moving seats or the party for trying to keep him in Parliament.
Dutton is mooted as a possible future leader. I’ve no idea why — if anything he reminds me a bit of Alexander Downer — but each to their own. His retention is thus a priority: any party that is keeping Andrew Laming and Peter Slipper but losing a young frontbencher hasn’t got its priorities right. McPherson — the first seat in Australia named after a model* — was once a Liberal stronghold; in 2007 it reduced to a margin of around 8%, but that still looks safe as houses compared to Dutton’s current predicament in his own electorate.
Problematically, however, his party is a new entity, with new rules, and McPherson will be the first federal preselection, given sitting MPs are grandfathered under the Liberal-National merger deal (McPherson incumbent Margaret May is retiring). There’s also the problem that while the LNP executive might want to retain Dutton by parachuting him straight in McPherson, McPherson preselectors might have entirely different ideas and be hostile to having anyone imposed on them by the party. Former local state MP Judy Gamin has already given Dutton a serve.
Last Friday, the LNP executive squared that particular circle by deciding there would be a preselection for McPherson — but with the twist that potential candidates had about five minutes to get their nominations in. Nominations close this Friday, precisely one week after the announcement. The zoom-zoom process is expected to reduce the field for the seat considerably, strengthening Dutton’s chances.
As our Dickson correspondent below notes, Dutton is potentially vulnerable to the criticism that he doesn’t live anywhere near McPherson. Dutton has countered that by noting his grandfather built a weekender at Tallebudgera nearly fifty years ago. That’s about the longest bow you’ll see drawn in politics this year.
A Dickson LNP member writes:
Peter Dutton MP — The Conquistador of Queensland
In 1519, Capitan Hernando Cortes and a small army left the Spanish held island of Cuba and set out on one of the greatest conquests in the history of the world. Cortes was going to accomplish his goals no matter the consequences.
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He put to death some of those who opposed him, got himself appointed Capitan-General, and on arriving ashore gave the order to burn his fleet of ships in an attempt to motivate his men to adapt to his at-all-costs attitude. By doing so, legend has it; he raised his men’s commitment level to new and astounding heights!
Peter Dutton, Federal Liberal MP for Dickson has taken a leaf out of the Cortes play book and burnt his own boats in the seat of Dickson!
Peter Dutton’s decision to walk away from his now marginal federal seat of Dickson in Brisbane to contest Liberal pre-selection for the safe seat of McPherson on the Gold Coast is akin to the burning of the boats. If he loses the pre-selection then there is little chance of his successful return to contest Dickson at the next Federal election. The abandoning of a seat by a sitting MP halfway through a parliamentary term to contest pre-selection in a seat over 100 kilometres to the south is not looked upon favourably by those constituents abandoned in the first place. Nor is Dutton’s sudden pronouncement of his desire to become McPherson’s next MP is not sitting well with McPherson LNP eligible pre-selectors.
So why is Dutton so sure of himself that he decided to burn his boats?
Statements coming out of LNP HQ are an exquisite example of weasel-words, not once using the term ‘pre-selection’ leading many party members to believe that the LNP constitution will somehow be usurped, allowing northern LNP powerbrokers to parachute Dutton into the safe Gold Coast seat. While LNP HQ is trying to keep a lid on the simmering suspicions of local LNP members, an awakening is occurring in other LNP branches throughout the State: if Dutton gets plonked into McPherson, the LNP HQ can skip over a pesky pre-selection in any seat in Queensland.
Oddly enough it was Peter Dutton in 2001 that battled and ultimately defeated Cheryl Kernot when she was parachuted into Dickson by the ALP, whipping up a grassroots campaign based around the fact that she didn’t live anywhere near the electorate as one of the main attack points on his opponent.
What many local LNP members can’t fathom is the support for Dutton’s ‘appointment’ from retiring McPherson MP Margaret May. If Ms. May is truly sailing off into the political sunset why is she working so hard to get Dutton anointed? Has some ‘post federal politics’ deal been struck by Ms. May?
One thing is for sure. If McPherson does go to a normal pre-selection before the end of the year, Dutton is no chance given the mood of local LNP members. Maybe this was the genius of Dutton in burning his boats. The pressure on LNP HQ from factional allies in Canberra ‘not to lose Peter Dutton outright’ must be intense and by announcing his intention to move seats early, Peter Dutton has ensured that everybody in the party knows there is no going back to Dickson for him. While Dickson was marginal, by leaving Dickson, Peter Dutton has 100% guaranteed Dickson goes into the ALP column at the next election.
*that’s a joke.