14 May 2017
Delusions of grandeur probably enabled Michael Lavarch to enter Federal Parliament thirty years ago. Back then, in July 1987, Bob Hawke was Prime Minister and leading the Labor Party to its third straight election win under his leadership since it went his way in early 1983 – never before had Labor won three Federal elections in a row. But it wasn’t Lavarch having delusions of grandeur at that time.
Instead, having delusions, albeit in the year or so leading up to that July 1987 election, was Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the long-serving Premier of Queensland. Believing neither Labor nor the Liberal-National Coalition to be capable of leading Australia to a better future, Bjelke-Petersen had fantasies about running for Federal Parliament, achieving an election win, and taking over the country. In the end, his fanciful push did nothing but split the Coalition. Although the Coalition had its own problems before he entered the fray, he had more than a small part in the Coalition’s loss of that 1987 election. Months after that election, he resigned as Premier, and was lucky to avoid imprisonment over corruption exposed from the time of his premiership.
The 1987 election saw Labor win four seats from the Coalition in Queensland, as well as two seats elsewhere in Australia, although it lost two seats to the Coalition in New South Wales and Victoria. And one of the new Labor MPs from Queensland was Lavarch.
Gaining the seat of Fisher from the Coalition in 1987, Lavarch held it at the next election, in 1990. But with electoral redistributions occurring in Queensland and other states, ahead of the next election, which came in 1993, Lavarch chose to run for the newly-created seat of Dickson. He ended up winning it.
By now, Hawke had left, after Paul Keating defeated him in a Labor leadership ballot and become Prime Minister in late 1991. Although hugely unpopular among voters, Keating managed to lead Labor to an unlikely election victory in 1993.
But at the next election, in 1996, Labor lost office to the Coalition in a landslide. Among many Labor MPs to lose their seats were thirteen people in the Keating ministry. And among those highly-ranked casualties was Lavarch, who was then Attorney-General.
As for Dickson, which Lavarch lost to the Coalition, it went back to Labor in 1998, but the Coalition regained it in 2001. The successful Coalition candidate was Peter Dutton, who’s held it ever since. He became a minister several years later, remained a frontbencher between when the Coalition lost office in 2007 and returned to office in 2013, and is nowadays the Immigration Minister.
Mind you, Dickson hasn’t been easy for Dutton to hold since he won it. For about a decade after its creation, it was a political graveyard, switching between Labor and the Coalition. In fact, holding Dickson has been like dodging bullets for Dutton, who was a policeman before entering Parliament.
He dodged his first bullet when he held Dickson in 2004, making him the first person to hold that seat since its creation.
He dodged his second bullet at the next election, in 2007, when he narrowly held Dickson in the face of a large swing to Labor, especially in Queensland, the home state of Kevin Rudd, who’d become Labor leader a year earlier. Rudd became very popular among voters all over the country. And because Queenslanders liked the idea of one of their own potentially becoming Prime Minister, Labor won many seats in Queensland as Rudd led Labor to its first win since 1993.
An electoral redistribution in Queensland ahead of the next election, which was due in 2010, made Dickson harder for Dutton to hold. In fact, he tried to leave the seat, seeking preselection for another seat, which he lost – he ended up contesting Dickson again.
But then came June 2010, when Rudd was suddenly dumped in a leadership coup. His popularity had begun falling earlier that year, although he was still quite popular with voters. However, many Labor MPs hated him, and they used his declining popularity as an excuse to dump him as Labor leader, in favour of Julia Gillard.
Queenslanders in particular hated the dumping of Rudd, and Labor almost lost an election later that year. Many of Labor’s Queensland gains from 2007 were lost. This might’ve saved Dutton, as I think that he’d have lost his seat if not for the dumping of Rudd – hence the third bullet that Dutton dodged.
After narrowing losing that 2010 election, the Coalition comfortably won the next election, in 2013. Dutton, therefore, had nothing to worry about.
But the next election, in 2016, saw the Coalition almost lose office. As for Dutton, he almost lost his seat – this was the fourth bullet that he dodged.
In terms of the next election, due in 2019, opinion polls suggest a swing against the Coalition, with Dutton struggling to hold his seat. But an electoral redistribution is also due in Queensland soon, so Dutton’s seat could be different in terms of what areas it covers when the next election comes.
Dodging bullets probably doesn’t faze Dutton, as an ex-cop. But current polling trends and a pending redistribution suggest that, politically, he still has more bullets to dodge yet. History shows him successfully dodging many bullets, as both a cop and a politician, but his future might look clouded.