Lazy Luddite Log


Australian Democrats Turn Thirty

I recently attended the thirtieth anniversary dinner of the Australian Democrats. It was a night to remember in many ways and one thing it did was to remind me of how quickly time passes - during our twenty fifth anniversary dinner it had been my duty to make seating arrangements (a skill all its own) and suddenly now five years have passed.

It was a night of dining with colleagues and getting regalled on some of the past successes of the party, such as our instrumental role in developing the Senate as a house-of-review, our pivotal legislative action to save the Franklin River wilderness, and our getting into superannuation law of recognition of the rights of same sex couples.

I had fun hanging with old friends and meeting some of the newer members who are committed to the party even in its most dire of times. Current Leader and Deputy Leader Lyn Allison and Andrew Bartlett gave moving and informative speeches. It was fantastic to meet once more some of the inspiring figures from our past such as Karin Sowada (who preceeded Natasha Stott Despoja in holding the record of youngest woman in Federal Parliament) and Aden Ridgeway (one of only two Indigenous Australians to be Federal Parliamentarians and the only to hold a leadership position in a Parliamentary party).

A booklet documenting our thirty years was launched that evening and includes interviews with all living current and former ADs parliamentarians (even those who abandoned the party at one time or another). I have since read the booklet, but on the night I let the photos in it tell the story. There were lots of posed group photos and mug shots which are all a bit clinical and contrived...

And then I saw this amazing photo. It jumped off the page at me. It depicts then Senators Janine Haines and Don Chipp at some party and they are so silly-looking. It reminds me that there is life and fun in politics.
Our original Federal Parliamentary Leader was Don Chipp and Janine Haines was his Deputy. Haines became Leader following the retirement of Chipp in 1986 and she was a brilliant leader till her retirement from Parliament following the 1990 Federal Election. It was in that election that I started my association with the party and Haines was an inspirational public figure. It is a pity she lost her bid for the House of Representatives (rather than stay safe in the Senate) and a tragedy that she lost her life in 2004 to a degenerative neurological condition. We never met yet I still kinda miss her...

In reflecting on our three decades, the thing that strikes me most is that we have existed at all. Australian political history is dominated by the hegemony of two-party competition. A whole host of factors, from hereditary voting habits, to media laziness, to electoral laws, to vested interests, serve to keep Labor and the Liberal-Nationals big while keeping any third party small (particularly if that party is constructive rather than controversy-seeking). That we have done as well as we have surprises the political historian in me. For a minor party we hold the record for longest parliamentary representation and the record for largest number of senators. In all that time there has been a fine balance of competing factors serving to both keep us alive yet also keep us small. Any shift in that fine balance can spell disaster for a minor party like ours.

If we falter at the coming election then the wider electorate will miss us only once we are gone. However I feel that politics is full of surprises and that in the few months till the election we may see the Dems defy the vibe of doom that has been cast over us.

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  • Hi Daniel, I'm glad you like the history.

    Good letter too.


    By Blogger Aron, At 30 August, 2007  

  • Thanks Aron. Very interesting book.

    By Blogger Daniel, At 04 September, 2007  

  • The content of the letter I had published in the Australia was as follows. The link now just takes one to the current letters page.


    STEVE Lewis ("Poll plan to restore balance to Senate",
    Opinion, 26/6) reminds us that the "democratic process works best when the government of the day is forced to negotiate its reforms with the Senate", adding that this is "not to sanction blanket opposition to the government" but rather to provide "a steely set of checks and balances" to parliamentary processes.

    This standard has been lost since the Government won the balance of power in its own right.

    The Galaxy poll cited by Lewis shows that the Greens, currently with four senators, look set to gain two extra senators, while the Democrats, also with four senators, are likely to be annihilated. The problem with this is that a total of six Greens and zero Democrats (where once upon a time there were nine) may well fall short of what is needed to deprive the Coalition of its Senate majority. Historically, the
    Democrats have been placed to take votes from both
    sides of politics, while the danger is that the Greens
    will only take support away from Labor.

    Some years ago, the Democrats made some controversial decisions, but in doing so they were simply embodying the process of constructive debate and compromise that many voters are now missing. Voters have since been punishing the Democrats, but if they continue to do so, then ultimately they’ll only be punishing themselves.

    Daniel Berk
    Oakleigh, Vic

    By Blogger Daniel, At 29 November, 2012  

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