The real villain of the piece in Peter Dutton’s failed attempt to move to McPherson is … Peter Dutton himself. He is guilty of a huge misjudgement in giving up on his own seat when there was no guarantee of success in McPherson.

Remarkably, Dutton appears only to have made a token effort to argue against the redistribution of his electorate in favour of the ALP. He made a four-page submission to the Australian Electoral Commission objecting, inter alia, to the removal of the semi-rural areas of Dayboro and Kurwongbah from Dickson. His argument is six paragraphs about the links between those areas and parts of his electorate, and boils down to arguments like “local residents travel to the commercial shopping strips in Petrie and Strathpine”. Dutton provided no supporting documentation or data. He was supported only by the Liberal National Party’s own state-wide submission which made a similar argument in relation to Dickson.

Compared to other MPs, Dutton’s efforts look more than a little paltry. In addition to the Labor Party’s state-wide submission, Treasurer Wayne Swan found time to make a seven-page submission, with extensive enrolment data, on changes to Lilley. Bernie Ripoll prepared a 19-page submission, with maps, demographic and enrolment data, for Oxley. Arch Bevis made a 10-page submission. Dutton’s LNP colleague Paul Neville made a very detailed 10-page submission on several seats including his own. Peter Lindsay made two submissions regarding Herbert, including sending arguments made by local voters.

And what’s being missed in all the talk of Dickson being “unwinnable” is that its current margin is only 0.1% to Dutton. It would become 1.3% to Labor under the redistribution, but Dutton was in for the fight of his life to hold on even before the AEC recast the boundaries. Perhaps Dutton had given up Dickson some time ago before the AEC gave him an excuse to bail out.

LNP members in Dickson are convinced that the seat is far from “unwinnable”. They point to an increasingly unpopular State Labor Government, which would have reversed some of the negative consequences of the redistribution, and in effect made it lineball — and eminently winnable if the incumbent campaigned well. But now they are stuck with having to find a candidate who disagrees with Dutton’s assessment that it can’t be won.

LNP sources also say no polling was done in Dickson to determine whether Dutton’s profile might have been sufficient to keep the seat in the LNP column.

Party figures have also reiterated that the number of ex-National preselectors in McPherson was small and a number actually voted for Dutton. Karen Andrews picked up most of the votes originally cast by ex-Liberals for Minna Knight (both are former Liberals). Dutton’s defeat, they say, was overwhelmingly because local ex-Liberal preselectors didn’t vote for him.

There’s no doubt that some ex-Liberals are using the defeat to cry “I told you so” about the Liberal-National merger, which many opposed (correctly) as a Nationals takeover. Chief among these is George Brandis, the most aggressive opponent of the merger. There are plenty of legitimate grounds for questioning how the merged party is going to function, particularly in next year’s campaign, but the McPherson preselection isn’t one of them.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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