getup! Advance Australia
(Image: GetUp)

A show of hands under a pergola in Jacaranda Park reveals that several people who had come to door knock for GetUp that Saturday had never done it before.

Even fewer actually lived in Dickson, the Queensland electorate Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has held onto for 18 years, and the seat they’re desperate to shift.

This is a campaign for anyone but Dutton.

Dutton accuses GetUp of targeting him over his role in forming Australia’s tough immigration policy. They say it’s much more than that.

“He is one of the most significant blockers to progress on all of the issues our movement is fighting for,” said “Ditch Dutton” campaign director Ruby-Rose O’Halloran. “We believe that a parliament in which he doesn’t sit in government or in opposition is one that will be more progressive and give us a better chance of realising what kind of future we want to see in this country.”

They know they’re in for a fight.

The night before the election was called, the group laid out its “five-week plan to unseat Dutton” at a recruitment meeting in a cavernous room in the Queensland State Library.

The truth is they’ve been working for months on the same goal, holding meetings, knocking on doors, manning phones, asking voters how likely they are to elect Dutton — and attempting to gauge how likely they are to swing.

They’ve procured advice from the US strategists behind Democrat Bernie Sanders’ (ultimately unsuccessful) presidential campaign and are convinced the way they’ll change the vote is by one-to-one, face-to-face conversations. That means door knocking.

“It is the way that we judge that we can best play to our strengths. We have enormous people power behind us where our financial budget is not as significant as Peter Dutton’s,” O’Halloran said.

In Jacaranda Park, as she is every Saturday afternoon, GetUp’s doorknock leader Caitlin Gordon-King runs through the spiel for the 40 or so volunteers in hats and sandals who will spend the next one and a half hours knocking on doors in Dickson.

“We’re going to ask them, on a scale of one to five… how likely are they to vote for Peter Dutton… If someone’s a one, we don’t really want to spend a lot of time with them. We can pretty much assume they’re on our side.”

“If they’re a five, someone who definitely is going to vote for Peter Dutton, that’s also not really worth our time. What I’d advise you to do, if they’re a five, just politely say no worries, thank you for your time, have a great day, and move on,” she said.

Armed with clipboards, survey forms and maps, the volunteers head out in “turf teams.”

The “conversion” rate, as they call it, isn’t high. But that’s not the point. Every vote counts in this marginal seat that Dutton won by just 217 votes in the 2007 election. It wasn’t as close in 2016, when he defeated his Labor rival, Linda Lavarch, by 8750 votes.

This time, he’s up against Labor’s Ali France, who he offended only one day into the campaign by suggesting she was using her disability as an excuse not to live in the electorate. He later apologised in a tweet but not before she’d pointed out he owns nine homes, with just one in the electorate.

Not bad for a former police officer, points out volunteer Margy Parkes, who guesses she’s knocked on about 225 homes in the last few months. Parkes says she joined the GetUp movement a few months ago because the voices of ordinary voters “weren’t being heard”.

Most people aren’t home but those who are have a diverse range of views, mostly spoken through locked security screen doors. There’s one zero (no way in the world would vote Dutton), a few twos and threes (attractive swing voters) and one five (“we’re voting Liberal, not interested”).

Local traffic snarls and costs of childcare are raised as issues, alongside climate change and general dissatisfaction with leadership upheaval in the Liberal Party.

All conversations are polite, but one renders Parkes almost speechless. An 18-year-old man answers the door. He’s eligible to vote but has never heard of Dutton. What issues does he care about? Climate change? Penalty rates? Not much, it turns out. Parkes says thank you and moves on.

“It’s so sad. He doesn’t realise it, that’s what makes it so tragic,” she said. “He’s the future of the country and it just says something about education that somebody could be that disengaged. Very, very tragic.”

Of 23,000 homes in the electorate, which spans more than 700 square kilometres north-west of Brisbane, GetUp says so far it’s knocked on 8500.

There’s still a long way to go, and O’Halloran says she’s “not confident in the slightest” that they’re going to win.

Dutton has a big budget, high profile and reputation as a formidable campaigner.

“I think we’re going to be battling for every last vote in the electorate of Dickson right down to the wire.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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