The Monthly : 2018-12-01

FRONT PAGE : 36 : 36


34 Dutton’s lack of name recognitio­n, locally at least, is not entirely his own fault. Dickson is famously known in the psephologi­cal trade as one of the most disengaged electorate­s in the country. Internal Labor polling, reported by during Dutton’s assault on the prime ministersh­ip, tagged Dickson as having “one of the lowest levels of voter engagement in all of Queensland”. It is not just barren ground for aspiring parliament­arians. Australia Council research on community engagement found that the good punters of Dickson were 12.9 per cent less likely than average to buy tickets for arts and sporting events, and that when they did open the wallet they spent 7.3 per cent less in total. The discrepanc­y would be even greater if not for the Eatons Hill pub, an unexpected and weirdly impressive music venue that looks like it materialis­ed five minutes ago in the middle of nowhere. Architectu­rally striking, at least in context, the hotel and resort complex sits over a retail developmen­t, so touring acts like Smash Mouth, Boney M. and Richard Marx can kick back in four-and-a-half-star luxury, confident that the Woolies downstairs has them covered for any last-minute grocery needs. Dickson’s ennui might partly be demographi­c. reading is that many feel they’ve simply been ignored or neglected. “They want more money for health, education and TAFE,” she says. “They want higher wages, a reliable NBN, and an end to the energy crisis which has seen power prices skyrocket. After 17 years, Peter Dutton has lost his way; he’s just not representi­ng people in his electorate.” Both Coyne and Myer bring up one particular point. Solar panels. Coyne says that Dickson has the highest concentrat­ion of PV solar panels in the country. Driving through the electorate, whether in poor suburbs or country estates, it’s impossible to miss the rooftop acres of dark grey photovolta­ics soaking up the rays. “The thing that amazes me about the electorate and how Dutton has managed to hold it for 18 years,” Coyne says, “is he’s been the worst representa­tive, if you look at his voting record. He votes against the interests of his constituen­ts time and time again … He’s continuall­y voted against renewable energy, whereas the market in Dickson has seized on it. His unrepentan­t voting against penalty rates on the weekend punishes all the hospitalit­y workers out here.” The Guardi- an Dutton didn’t seem to have noticed that his chosen local issue no longer existed. It’s not a good look for a man balancing on a razor-thin margin. Young parents, of whom there are thousands in the electorate, don’t have time or energy for much of anything beyond school, home and work. The poor, who are mostly the working poor in Dickson, struggle to pull 10 bucks together for that penny pincher special at the local tavern. Meanwhile, the dotcom ghettos of millionair­e tree changers around Samford don’t necessaril­y vote in line with their perceived interests anyway. Standing by the road out of Samford Village one morning with Myer and Coyne and a handful of volunteers waving placards, I note the surprising volume of sympatheti­c horn action for the Greens candidate from both luxury SUVs and tradies in high-vis. Coyne refutes the idea that the 724-squarekilo­metre electorate is disengaged. “That’s not my experience. Door-knocking in places like Strathpine, which is poor and working class, and what you might typically think of as an ALP stronghold, and Ferny Hills, which you’d think of as a little more progressiv­e … I’ve been really amazed about how engaged people have been. You knock on doors and it might be a pensioner standing back behind a locked security grille. But they’ll still know what’s going on.” They are, Coyne says, critical and mindful. Ali France has door-knocked and phoned thousands of voters over the past six months, and her The most visible sign of the minister listening to the cares of locals might be an actual sign: a billboard near the train terminus at Ferny Grove. An image of Dutton grins a little awkwardly on the billboard, asking constituen­ts whether they would like more parking at the train station, a big park-and-ride hub for the new housing estates salted throughout the bushland in the southern reaches of the electorate. Ferny Grove’s car lot is overcrowde­d, and it’s the sort of problem a diligent local member would make his or her own. And a diligent local member has. The state Labor government announced earlier this year that they had sold the air rights over the station to a private developer who would build a modern, eco-friendly commercial-residentia­l precinct there. The plans for the $750 million project include up to three times as much parking as currently exists. At the time of writing, Dutton didn’t seem to have noticed that his chosen local issue no longer existed. It’s not a good look for a man balancing on a razorthin margin, and the people arguably most responsibl­e for turning his safe seat into a very marginal prospect have no intention of letting anybody forget that. Dutton went into the last federal election holding a comfortabl­e margin of nearly six points. Doubtless the ALP’s Linda Lavarch worked hard to unseat him, but the monthly — essay

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