Margin: Liberal 8.6%
Location: Gold Coast, Queensland
Outgoing member: Margaret May (Liberal)
In a nutshell: This Gold Coast seat turned in a humdinger of a Liberal National Party preselection, in which front-bencher Peter Dutton’s attempt to use the seat as a safe haven from his highly endangered northern Brisbane marginal of Dickson was thwarted by local resistance. With that out of the way, successful nominee Karen Andrews should have no trouble succeededing retiring Liberal Margaret May at the election.
McPherson covers the Gold Coast from Coolangatta on the New South Wales border north through Tugun and Palm Beach to Burleigh Heads, extending inland to Robina and Merrimac in the north and the more lightly developed Tallebudgera and Currumbin river valleys further south. Massive population growth has allowed it to concede 5600 voters further inland to the new seat of Wright without requiring a countervailing transfer. The electorate has included the New South Wales border at the coast since its creation in 1949, originally extending inland to rural Beaudesert and Warwick. It was held for the Country Party by one-time Prime Minister Arthur Fadden (previously member for Darling Downs, which was later renamed Groom) until his retirement in 1958, and henceforth by Charles Barnes. However, the Gold Coast population explosion drew the electorate into the coast over time and thereby strengthened the Liberals, allowing Eric Robinson to gain the seat for them when Barnes retired in 1972.
Margaret May became the member in 1998 when incumbent John Bradford quit the Liberal Party to stand unsuccessfully for the Senate with Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party, winning preselection from a field that included former Brisbane lord mayor Sallyanne Atkinson. May is bowing out at the coming election after a fairly low-key parliamentary career, citing health problems, and is succeeded as Liberal National Party candidate Karen Andrews, a Gold Coast businesswoman and chair of the party’s local federal electorate council.
Margaret May’s retirement brought on the highest profile preselection imbroglio of the current parliament, as senior Liberal front-bencher Peter Dutton attempted sought to move to the safe seat in preference to his ultra-marginal existing seat of Dickson. However, it quickly became apparent that local party operatives who had been jockeying for the succession for some time were not going to be deterred, despite Dutton’s move having the backing of John Howard and then-Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull. The main rivals to emerge were Karen Andrews, said to be a “close ally” of May but who nonetheless supported Dutton; Minna Knight, a former staffer to Joe Hockey and Julie Bishop; Dr Richard Stuckey, husband of Jann Stuckey, state front-bencher and member for the local seat of Currumbin.
Knight gained the support Jann Stuckey after her husband withdrew from the race, and apparently also that of Julie Bishop, which caused some embarrassment within the Liberal Party. There were reportedly offers of a Senate seat for Andrews and a free run for Knight in Wright if they smoothed the path for Dutton by withdrawing, but all three remained in the field when 200 local Liberal National Party voters lodged their preselection votes last October. The result was an embarrassing rebuff for Dutton, who was said to have come within a handful of votes of victory on the first round, but was defeated on the third after the excluded Minna Knight’s supporters moved en bloc to Karen Andrews (although the ABC recorded Andrews’ win on the final round being a reasonably comfortable 75 to 59).
Liberal observers told the media of a “bloc of up to 40 Nationals” accounting for both local branch and state executive delegates voted against Dutton, although Barnaby Joyce (who supported Dutton) gave this the status of “scratching on the back of a public lavatory door”. Jamie Walker of The Australian noted three factors behind the result: a “boots and all” attack on Dutton at the preselection meeting by Judy Gamin, former state Nationals member for Burleigh; the role of Jann Stuckey in shifting votes to Andrews after Knight was excluded; and the absence of Margaret May, who “opted to continue with a scheduled parliamentary visit to Britain”. The prospect of the party’s state executive intervening by refusing to ratify the result was promptly ruled out amid talk of a potential rebellion in the local party, and Dutton has been compelled to try his hand at retaining Dickson.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.