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The Democrats - a party with punch

By Lyn Allison - posted Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Don Chipp's recent passing is a great loss to Australia and the party he helped create is deeply saddened. But we are also angry that his death generated another round of media reports ringing the death knell of the Australian Democrats.

For one thing, the reasons Don helped form the party have not gone away. Indeed the new Howard-takes-all environment is at least as dire as that in 1977 when Don … wondered if the ordinary voter was not ... becoming sick and tired of the vested interests which unduly influence political parties and …  fed up with the politics of cynicism, character assassination and misleading statements.

For another, the Democrats still offer Don's politics based on three simple virtues that have been badly battered and abused … I speak of honesty, I speak of tolerance, and I speak of compassion.


I'd say Mr Howard's record in acceding to the will of a foreign power in a pre-emptive attack on another country on grounds known to be false, incarcerating asylum seeker families and dog-whistling Australian Muslims in the name of protecting Australian values, show a lot less honesty, tolerance and compassion than the worst that Malcolm Fraser had dished out by the time Don resigned in 1977.

Since sidelining opposition parties with its slender majority, the Coalition has taken an axe to the Senate's capacity for scrutiny. 

Extreme industrial relations and anti-terror laws were pushed through with the most minimal debate. Anything is now possible: big tax cuts for the rich; tax free superannuation for the rich; and ditched responsibility for what's left of public ownership in Telstra with little consumer protection and no guarantee of universal broadband. 

No negotiation beyond Coalition ranks unless Barnaby Joyce threatens to play up, no successful amendments, no legislation knocked back for being too extreme, no more inquiries revealing uncomfortable truths, all committees chaired by government, all but the most benign motions knocked back. This is the new order.

And the ALP is not much of an opposition. Mr Beazley's mob votes mostly with the Coalition, afraid of losing the shock jock debate on the war against terror, biofuels, uranium mining, funding to wealthy schools, anything that just might cost more - the list is long.

Australia, under the major parties, is going backwards on human rights, greenhouse emissions, conserving biodiversity, depleting aquifers, retaining carbon in the soil, affordable housing, affordable mortgages, foreign debt, interest rates and value-adding.


For almost 30 years the Democrats have been drawing attention to these problems and coming up with solutions that are taken up only when our vote matters - which means they are mostly ignored.
Don said we would be a third political force representing middle of the road policies but we've also been ahead of the pack with many firsts: Janine Haines - the first woman in Australian history to lead a political party; Natasha Stott Despoja - the youngest woman to ever take a seat in the Senate; Aden Ridgeway - the first Indigenous deputy leader of a political party and only the second Indigenous Federal parliamentarian.

The work of early Democrats senators transformed the Senate from a rubber stamp into a proper house of review.

We didn't always agree with one another: our differences, fanned by the media, were usually played out in public rather than behind closed doors. Playing balance of power politics is like being on a roller coaster. You need to be bold but prepared to compromise and your enemies are out to get you. Labor told voters we went back on a promise to stop the GST. Not true - we promised to make it fair.

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About the Author

Lyn Allison is a patron of the Peace Organisation of Australia and was leader of the Australian Democrats from 2004 to 2008.

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