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Australian Democrats: past and future

By Paul Young - posted Monday, 8 August 2011

I am a member of the Australian Democrats and the following does not represent opinions of the Party but are my own.

We all know the story; back in 1977 Don Chipp formed the Australian Democrats and gave birth to the phrase "keep the bastards honest", and for decades enjoyed the benefits of having senators elected in the upper house of the federal government, and members elected in state governments.

If only things were that simple. In fact it wasn't an overnight success, Don Chipp didn't simply just turn up and say a few words and "Boom" there was the Australian Democrats. It did take a lot of work leading up to that moment, it took time, and effort, obstacles to overcome, and a lot of people needed to be convinced that there was a need for another political party. Actually it took over two years of trawling the country, to find out if there was a need for a third party.


Not much has changed today, except the Australian Democrats do not have any elected members of parliament, this is not to say the Australian Democrats are dead or defunct, on the contrary, the Australian Democrats regularly engage in healthy debate, turn up to events and rallies.

At the so called "End of the Australian Democrats" many commentators had an opinion on the demise of the proud party, but the fact is, I don't know one person who admits the real reason why the Australian Democrats find themselves in the wilderness of political void. Some commentators said in-house bickering and turmoil, while others said there was a lack of leadership, and who can forget the GST, the Australian Democrats are constantly reminded of this; but the Australian Democrats had two senators elected on the back of the GST.

The fact is quite simple the public fell out of love with the Australian Democrats, and in love with a new political party, a new, radical environmental party had arrived on the scene. Hold on, this sounds familiar. But the fact is the Greens had been around for a while and a lot of hard work was done to get to where they are, Bob Brown didn't just show up and "Boom" there they are.

There is a reoccurring theme here, that is, there is a lot of work to be done for any party to be successful.

There are some votes to be won by having a name that is marketable to a certain generation, Back in the 70's and 80's The Australian Democrats had a radical name that won some votes, now we have the Greens, and to put credence to this theory look at the results the Sex Party have, or the short lived success of One Nation. Nowadays the word Democrat does not have real marketing strength; as voters can be confused by the number of Parties that use Democrat in their names, break a way's from the major parties use the word Democrat, and don't forget Christian Democrats. I didn't think Christianity was a democracy, or democratic.

The sad, bad, honest truth of the demise of the Australian Democrats cannot be awarded to any one single event, but was a combination of many events and failings. When you start to fail you lose momentum, funding and members, these are pretty important elements in a political party, and without them you find yourself alone.


Sometimes a period in the wilderness does you good, you have time to reflect on the past and plan for the future. The Australian Democrats have been doing this for the past few years and hence the common misconception that the Democrats are dead. Like I mentioned before, the Australian Democrats are active in the community, there are people who are working on mental health issues, men's and woman's health, suicide prevention, taxation reform, science, sustainable population and the environment. Believe it or not, the Australian Democrats were the original environmental party.

So what lies ahead for the Australian Democrats? We are faced with a period where we will be out and about talking to members of the public, hosting forums and joining in public events, which there are many. The Australian Democrats will be going back to basics. Back to our 5 core beliefs and 23 objectives which can be found at

What about policy? All our policies are voted on by our members and that's what makes us the Democrats, all our policies are available on our website. We see a future for the Australian Democrats, we see a need for the Australian Democrats, but to what role we will play; I see the Australian Democrats as being a political umpire, not holding a balance of power, but a position that judges legislation on its own merits, without compromise of other legislation put before it.

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About the Author

Paul Young is Western Australian State Secretary of the Australian Democrat's.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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