"Would you rather live in the ascendancy of a civilization, or during its decline?"
- Arnold Poindexter in Revenge Of The Nerds (1984)
I feel I can now comment - in a smallscale way - on that immortal movie quotation. Except what I have experienced is more the ascendency and likely fall of a movement. I am referring to the Australian Democrats that I have discussed on many other ocassions
I say a 'movement' rather than a political party because in its own unique way the party has been the Australian entity wholly and solely dedicated to social-liberalism. Possibly that is an exaggeration - as long as there are persons involved in whatever political parties and pressure groups that are informed by the philosophy of social-liberalism (even unknowingly as many are) then there will always be some form of that movement. But still a distinct and significant change has come upon us in the form of the Australian Democrats loosing - for the first time in just over 30 years - any Federal parliamentary representation.
The party was founded in 1977 from a blend of members of micro-parties (e.g. The Australia Party) that merged to form the new party along with persons who had past involvement in major parties (e.g. Don Chipp) and with those interested citizens who till then lacked any party political experience. I remember as a child in the 80s my mother commenting that she voted for the Labor Party in the House of Representatives but for the ADs in the Senate because of "liking the things Mr Chipp says" (in contrast my Dad who had been born in authoritarian East Germany simply declared that his vote was secret). A lot of voters at that time and since from both the Labor and Liberal Party sides of the fence did likewise.
My own involvement in the party came much further into its history however. From 1990 I was a semi-active supporter or member. During that time I was more busy with finding some kind of a life at uni and also (ocassionally) engaged in uni work. As part of that work I did my Honour thesis on the role of minor parties in the Senate during the 1970s and 1980s. At that time the party had suffered a loss of support resulting in a reduction of senators from eight to seven. It was during that time that I penned the following:Internal differences are a fact of life for any political organization but such contention can have a detrimental effect on the state of that organization and its public image. Public perceptions of internal tensions in the Democrats may have been a factor in their recent loss of electoral support. A reduction in electoral support can keep a major party out of office, but it can destroy a minor party...
- At The Crossbenches: A Comparative Study Of The Role Of Minor Parties In the Australian Senate (1994)
It seems like I was well aware even then of the precarious nature of politics for my chosen party. Those words may well have been written in much more recent times. And yet following the time of my thesis things got a lot better. We went from seven to nine senators and a return to the sole balance of power. We had a growing freshness and energy among the members and it was in that environment that I became very active sometime between 1996-1998 and stayed that way till (say) 2005 at which time I decided that my life needed a bit more sanity and I started to reduce my involvement from the crazy levels of holding three convenor positions at any one time.
Still what this tells you is that I had perceived a party in decline that then had a resurgence. It is hardly any wonder then that I put my all into it even once things started getting difficult and would sometimes comment that "stranger things have happened" than that the ADs would survive.
And the party still exists now. But with the exception of its formative few months back in 77 it has never experienced life as an extra-parliamentary party. We have lots of those. Lots and lots. Life in such a party must be difficult and frustrating and demoralising. Particularly if you have experienced better things. If you are small and lack parliamentary representation then why be a political party at all - better to be a pressure group or think tank or some such thing. That is my inclination anyway. But then "stranger things have happened" than the revival of the ADs. It will take more than a revival however (which to some extent I experienced in the mid-90s). Now it will take something more akin to ressurection with a new composition and identity. Or we may just melt back into the electorate from whence we came.
How does this make me feel? I am saddened. The party did a lot for me. It helped me along with many other very low income Australians simply by mimimising the effects of the cost-of-living on us (whether by removing taxes from necessary items or pushing for better welfare payments and concessions). It gave me something worthwhile to do at a time in which I was at a bit of a loss (and then gave me far too much to do which may have detracted from me developing in other ways). It helped develop skills of logistics and assertiveness (somewhat). It gave me some wonderful friends. And it allowed me to observe political history from the inside - giving more of an athropological than a sociological perspective on the lives of party hacks.
I am also philosophical however. I think that our polity is - in a sense - an organic thing that changes and adapts and it has experienced just one more such change. Some ADs warn that the new Senate of shared crossbenches will be way too volatile. But then if it is that is simply because aspects of the electorate are also volatile. If compromises cannot be made and policy stalls then so be it. That is the end result of our electoral process. And ultimately I say that if we as humans are flawed then our politics too must also be flawed. Live with it.
A few concluding remarks. As much as I seem to be letting go now I still feel a very strong bond to the heritage of the party. So I will make this assertion: No currently existing minor party
will acheive the levels of representation - nine senators in total - that the Australian Democrats have. It was a fantasic feeling while it lasted.
And finally - would I rather live during the ascendency or the decline? Well the ascendency was a lot more fun. But the decline may just allow for new and future changes that may ultimately be for the better. Besides - in the movie the response to that question was this..."Poindexter, do you want to fuck or not?"