Electoral Form Guide: Dawson
Margin: Labor 2.4%
Location: Central Coast, Queensland
Outgoing member: James Bidgood (Labor)
In a nutshell: Dawson was one of Labor’s most spectacular gains of the 2007 election, at which little-known Labor candidate James Bidgood unseated long-serving Nationals member De-Anne Kelly. After acquiring a reputation for eccentricity in his brief time in parliament, Bidgood is bowing out at the election, leaving the Liberal National Party confident that the seat will return to the conservative fold.
Two-party vote map
Swing % map
Electorate analysis: Extending along the central Queensland coast from Mackay north through Bowen and Ayr to outer southern Townsville, Dawson was one of three Queensland seats that went into the 2007 election with double-digit Coalition margins and emerged in Labor hands, along with Leichhardt and Forde. These three seats recorded the highest swings in the country, Dawson’s 13.2 per cent comparing with 14.3 per cent in Leichhardt and 14.4 per cent in Forde. The swing in Dawson was perhaps the most remarkable as it was the only one of the three defended by a sitting member: De-Anne Kelly, who had held the seat for the Nationals since 1996. This area was also unusually strong for Labor at the March 2009 state election, when Labor unexpectedly retained the knife-edge marginal of Whitsunday and suffered very weak swings elsewhere in the region.
Dawson was created with the expansion of parliament in 1949, and has consistently been centred on the sugar capital of Mackay. While Mackay has always been an area of strength for Labor, the surrounding rural territory is Nationals heartland and has tended to keep the seat in the conservative fold. Prior to 2007 the only Labor member in the seat’s history was Whitlam government minister Rex Patterson, who won a by-election in February 1967 and kept a tenuous hold on the seat until his defeat in 1975. The Nationals retained the seat throughout the period of the Hawke-Keating government despite close calls in 1983 (1.2 per cent) and 1990 (0.1 per cent, or 181 votes). De-Anne Kelly became the first woman ever to represent the National Party in the House of Representatives when she succeeded Ray Braithwaite in 1996.
Labor’s unxpected victor in 2007 was James Bidgood, a Mackay councillor who had emigrated from England in 1991. Bidgood chiefly became noted in his short time in parliament for providing News Limited with photographs he had taken of a protester at the front of Parliament House who had been threatening to set himself on fire (on the understanding the money paid would be provided to charity), which earned a rebuke from the Prime Minister, and linking the global financial crisis to biblical prophecy. He announced in February that he would bow out of politics at the election for health reasons. Labor’s new candidate is Whitsunday mayor Mike Brunker, who won the nod despite being the subject of a Crime and Misconduct Commission investigation into the activities of property developers. The Liberal National Party has nominated Mackay councillor and former jouralist George Christensen.
Labor’s margin in the seat has been reduced from 3.2 per cent to 2.4 per cent as a result of the redistribution, which has extended the electorate into the southern suburbs of Townsville at Annandale and Wulguru (adding 7400 voters previously in Herbert) while detaching 4300 voters west of Mackay to Capricornia and 1300 voters in Townsville’s southern outskirts to Kennedy.
Mike Brunker’s Labor endorsement was dictated by the party’s national executive without reference to local branches. The Australian reported that this formed part of a factional deal granting Dawson to the Labor Unity sub-faction of the Queensland Right, Herbert to the rival AWU sub-faction and Bowman to the Left. Unsuccessful nominees were Julieanne Gilbert of the Queensland Teachers Union and finance industry worker Louise Mahony.
In the second last week of the campaign, George Christensen was embarrassed by the emergence of a publication he edited in 1998, which came to light courtesy of VexNews. The “official newsletter of the Conservative Students’ Alliance” featured the observation that “women are stupid” (apropos their enthusiasm for Will Smith) and a charming joke about gays and Aids. The publication has generated much discussion about the extent to which one’s “adolescent silliness”, as Tony Abbott would have it, should be visited upon the adult.
Mike Brunker’s turn for unwelcome publicity followed shortly after, when a dispute with Bowen Turf Club president Cyril Vains about the placement of election signs near the racetrack erupted into an altercation. Brunker says Vains “king hit” him on the nose in an “unprovoked assault”, and claims Whitsunday deputy mayor Rogin Taylor as a witness. The turf club says Vains has “scratches and a bruise from being punched in the face”.
Queensland’s regional coastal seats were clearly the target of Tony Abbott’s announcement that they would limit the future expansion of marine parks, by requiring “peer-reviewed scientific evidence of a threat to marine diversity”. The announcement was made in Mackay during the second week of the campaign. Mackay was also the scene of a bidding war over the construction of a new ring road: Wayne Swan promised $10 million for a feasibility study into a new ring road one week into the campaign, and Tony Abbott trumped him two days later by promising $30 million for design and engineering work. Wayne Swan also visited Mackay in the second last week of the campaign to promise $120 million for an upgrade of the Peak Downs Highway.
Late in the second week of the campaign, Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission dismissed 17 allegations of misconduct relating to corporate credit card use against Mike Brunker. The allegations had been the subject of newspaper advertising by the Liberal National Party. Brunker reacted to the news by complaining of “a serial pest out there in the Whitsundays who instigated all this”.
In the middle of the campaign, Newspoll published a survey of Dawson voters which had the two parties deadlocked at 50-50, with the Liberal National Party leading 44 per cent to 42 per cent on the primary vote. After the George Christensen-edited student publication came to light in the second last week of the campaign, The 7:30 Report offered that Labor was “convinced George Christensen can’t win”. A “senior Liberal strategist” quoted shortly after by Patricia Karvelas of The Australian saw it differently, saying the Liberals believed they were “in line” to take the seat. Dawson was targeted by two composite marginal seat polls a week out from the election: by a Newspoll survey of 1600 respondents in eight seats, which showed a collective 3.4 per cent swing against Labor, and a Galaxy survey of 800 respondents in four seats, which had it at 5.4 per cent. The JWS Research-Telereach poll conducted during the final weekend of the campaign, covering 400 respondents in the electorate with a margin of error of about 5 per cent, had the LNP leading 53.6-46.4. Reports late in the final week confirmed the LNP believed they had the set in the bag.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.