Peter Dutton is no great loss to the Liberal Party, and he wasn’t blocked by the Nats in McPherson.
Apart from that, everything you’ve read about his preselection failure is true …
A couple of weeks ago Crikey “exclusively revealed“, as they say in the mainstream media, that Dutton was in heaps of trouble in McPherson and had alienated more than a few of his members in Dickson. His problem in McPherson was simple — he didn’t live there. That’s a problem both because there’s this modern notion that members should live in their electorates — a peculiar philosophy that would have deprived Britain of the services of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher — and because it meant he was starting from well behind local candidates who had spent years locking in local support.
And as things turned out, that’s why he lost, and lost to the best-connected Liberal woman in the electorate. There was no plot by Nationals preselectors to do over Dutton and, therefore, Malcolm Turnbull. Some Liberal Party commentators have identified former National state MP Judy Gamin as the leader of some sort of Nationals coup to thwart Dutton. In fact, Gamin wrote to LNP President Bruce McIver at the end of August, well before the preselection process, criticising Dutton’s “opportunistic jump to McPherson” but accepting that if he won preselection fairly then “no one should complain”. Her real concern was the possibility of executive interference to either impose Dutton directly on McPherson or overturn the result of the preselection process, and the possibility that a non-local like Dutton might narrow the margin of the seat significantly.
Gamin’s “tearing Dutton to shreds” at the preselection meeting, as Glenn Milne terms it, was no more than what she said in her letter to McIver back in August, a copy of which has been freely circulating among LNP members. The observations she makes in that letter are difficult to refute.
Barnaby Joyce, who had backed Dutton, also emerged this morning to explicitly reject the claim that ex-Nationals preselectors bloc-voted for Karen Andrews. Apart from anything else, it ain’t much of a Nationals plot if the de facto leader of the party explicitly backed Dutton.
The other furphy is that Dutton is somehow a leader-in-waiting. Now, Mal Brough was a future leader, who absence will be sorely felt by conservatives for years to come. Peter Dutton, while superior to a number of his Queensland colleagues (in fact, most of them), is a pale imitation. He has no charisma and his vaunted “ministerial experience” amounts to being a junior minister for three years. He also walked out of the chamber during the Stolen Generations Apology, something you can be sure Labor will point out should he ever attract serious fire from them.
And despite a wealth of opportunities to score points off Nicola Roxon, he has struggled to make a mark in the health portfolio. He comes across as surly at best, and often angry.
Dutton’s dilemma is a reflection of the Opposition’s broader problem. Governments are supposed to go backwards in their first attempt at re-election. Labor candidate Fiona McNamara, a teacher’s union official, is a walking Labor cliché. On such grounds, Dickson should be winnable next year even on its new boundaries. The fact that Dutton wanted to bail out says a great deal about how Opposition MPs feel about their prospects in 2010.
Political journalists are a funny breed. They rail against factional deals, criticise those they see as party hacks, deplore “head office interference” in political parties and aver that all political parties need greater grassroots involvement to stop the long-term decline in party membership. Plenty also agree that we need more women in politics.
But when the preselectors in McPherson went for a local woman rather than a blow-in bloke endorsed by the party leadership, it was, according to many commentators, an unmitigated disaster and evidence that the Opposition is dysfunctional.
Well, the Opposition may indeed be dysfunctional, but that’s quite unrelated to events on the Gold Coast on the weekend.