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From minor parties big things grow

By Erica Lewin - posted Tuesday, 10 July 2007

In an article in The Australian Family First’s Steve Fielding claimed that the Greens’ prospect of winning the balance of power in the Senate was “horrifying” (Pro-drugs, anti-business party poses danger, May 19-20).

Green’s Bob Brown responded (Preferential treatment is all part of a political ruse, May 26-27) by putting forward the Greens as Labor’s only option if it wished to win the balance of power from the Coalition and Family First.

It seemed appropriate that the Australian Democrats have the opportunity to respond to these opinions. So, I forwarded the following article to The Australian newspaper but was not given the same opportunity that had been afforded to Senators Steve Fielding and Bob Brown.


Perhaps this had something to do with my novice position as a candidate and the lack of a more prestigious profile and status. Nevertheless, I believe the Democrat’s position has equal worth to those of other minor parties and therefore, a few paragraphs on that position follow.

Senator Brown was right to point to Fielding’s infamous 1.9 per cent that got him into the Senate at the 2004 federal election. Since that time there has been a significant reduction in political brands as a result of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2006. This will have ramifications for the 2007 federal election.

Senator Brown presumed that the votes emanating from deregistered parties would flow to the Greens. In New South Wales these votes made up 7.5 per cent of the Senate vote; in Victoria 4.6 per cent; Queensland 9.3 per cent (4.4 per cent being Pauline Hanson); Western Australia 3.9 per cent; and Tasmania 3.8 per cent. Contrary to Senator Brown’s presumption, both the Nationals and the Greens are in the running for these Senate seats, with the Australian Democrats and Family First being part of the race.

The latest Federal Morgan Poll showed support for the Coalition in the Senate during March/April at 32.5 per cent, the Greens at 9.5 per cent, the Australian Democrats at 4 per cent, Family First at 2 per cent, One Nation at 1 per cent, and support for Other Parties and Independent Candidates at 5.5 per cent.

Despite what Bob Brown stated, the Greens are far from the only option for those not wanting to vote for the major parties in the Senate. These voters will have three main options: the “Christian” parties to the right, the Greens to the left, and the Democrats in the centre.

Steve Fielding was right in saying that Australians deserve a “sensible balance of power” party that votes on issues on their merit. But to have suggested that Family First is the only party who can deliver on this is not accurate. A prime example of this is in the crucial industrial relations debate, where the Australian Democrats have launched a comprehensive policy platform. Historically, the Democrats have sought to restore a fair balance between the rights of employers, employees and unions. For example, in 1996, the Australian Democrats achieved 176 amendments to the Workplace Relations Act, and swung it back to the centre.


The Australian Democrat’s current IR policy positions it clearly one of balance. It incorporates a genuine flexible bargaining system that allows for union and non-union agreements, collective and individual agreements, and statutory and common-law agreements, while clearly rejecting the AWAs as created through WorkChoices.

The composition of the crossbenches in the Senate is vital to parliamentary processes, a situation clearly undermined since the Coalition took control of the Senate in 2005.

No one should underestimate the effect this has had on restraining the excesses of Coalition ideology. The absence of a Senate where all Senators seek to check the Executive, to keep them honest and accountable is a danger to representative democracy. The only solution is to take the Senate out of Government hands.

The issue of preferences therefore will be crucial in the 2007 federal election. Labor will have to decide between the “Christian” parties to the right, the Greens to the left, and the Democrats in the centre.

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About the Author

Dr Erica Lewin is the Australian Democrats Lead Senate Candidate in Western Australia.

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