To Oz: Is the Australian Democratic Party dead?

In the last few months, I’ve noticed a large amount of in-fighting with the Australian Democratic Party (which, for those who don’t know about it, is a center-left party), and I’m wondering: will the party survive, or will it collaspe?

(The same question goes for One Nation.)

Also, does anyone know in detail why the Democratic Labor Party collasped in the 1974 elections?

I’m a member of the Australian Labor Party and very interested in politics, so I’ll try field this one.

The Democrats have basically self destructed. I think that this started when Ceryl Kernot defected to the ALP and Meg Lees succeeded to the leadership. She made some bad choices in relation to the GST and eventually lost the confidence of the federal party and the party members. Natasha S-D took over and provided some spunk, but that’s about it. The federal party became disillusioned with her, Meg Lees quit the party but not the senate which pissed off a lot of people, and Andrew Murry (I think it was him) came close to doing the same. Four out of the remaining 7 (I think) Democrat senators also talked publically about splitting unless Natasha stood down and allowed them to elect a new leader. She did so, and despite being still popular with the grass roots members of the party declined to stand again.

If she had done so and won, her leadership would have been solidified, however the ‘gang of four’ would have split and the Democrats would have been consigned to political oblivion. If she had lost, then her political career would be over. By standing down she kept the party together, but all the turmoil has taken it’s toll. The rise of the Greens at around the same time (victory in the Cunningham by-election, Bob Brown being a ‘moral voice’ in the senate) provided a refuge for many of the Democrat rank and file members who were pissed off with the people they had elected to the Senate.

In my opinion, the Democrats will collapse and the Greens will rise in power, possibly enough to challenge the Labor Party to their traditional left-centre left base, especially in the upper house. Preferential voting will keep the ALP stronger in the lower house, Cunningham not withstanding. That Green victory was particular to the circumstances surrounding the by-election
The DLP is another mater entirely. I’m not too up on party history, but IIRC the reason they collapsed is related to the reason that they came into being. The unions of Australia have always been close to/part of the ALP and have a say in policy and cadnidates. In the 1920s-40s the Australian Communist Party was still quite strong, and many of it’s people had reached high positions in these unions. This meant that the Communists were able to dictate party policy to a degree. Factions of pro-Communist and anti-Communist sprung up in a bid to control the unions. In the 1950s both these factions were purged from the party, and the anti-communists split to become the DLP.

The main aim of the DLP was to keep the ALP out of power. The Australia preferential voting system allowed them to do this quite effectively. However, as time went on they got older and started dying off. In the ALP the old guard died off too, and Whitlam took over in the late 60s. By the early 70s the splits of the 50s were fading from the public memory, and the ALP was no longer associated so closely with Communism (although it did maintain some of it’s socialist roots), and the DLP was politically redundant. The 1974 double dissolution completely emptied both houses and the DLP never recovered.

I think that’s right, it’s all from memory so there might be a few things incorrect.

By the way, are you Australian or from elsewhere and interested in Australian politics?

I don’t think the Dems will collapse, but whereas they had been gaining in clout and popularity before they self destructed (particularly amongst younger voters thanks to Natasha), they have now been rendered somewhat of a joke. It will take them a long time to recover. Interestingly, the Greens seem to have stepped into the void, they did suprisingly well in the last Victorian election for example, with many Democrat voters voting Green instead - How long their popularity will last is anyone’s guess. They’ll survive, but at least for the next several years, they won’t be much of a force, and the balance of power that they enjoy at present at a federal level will be lost.

I’m from elsewhere, and I’m interested in the politics of many nations.

Also, I’m under the impression that the DLP did a bad job at recruiting new leaders, which resulted in the middle-age men of the 1950’s (Gair, Kane, McManus) being in their 60’s by the early '70’s. This helped the party seem irrelevant. In addition, Vince Gair accepting the appointment to be Ambassador to Ireland (from Gough Whitlam, no less) didn’t help the party either.

Still, why was 1974 the year it all ended (even with double dissolution) for the DLP?

A party rotting from within

Note that the “party rotting from within” that the article’s title refers to is the Australian Democrats, not the DLP.

The double disolution had more to do with it than just emptying the benches. It also forced people to make a choice, really, between Labor and the Coalition. Only two independent senators were elected that year, and they held the balance of power (both Labor and the Coalition had 29 senators each).

Finally, the goal of the DLP was to keep Labor out of power by presenting themselves as an ‘alternative’. Labor was suddenly in power and implementing policy. The role of the DLP as an ‘alternative’ Labor party was redundent. I think that DLP supporters were faced with the choice of supporting the government for their established policy, or joining the Liberal opposition.

Today’s Newspoll indicates the Democrats only have about 2% following at the moment. Since this poll was taken over the big anti-war weekend and the 2 anti-war parties are the Greens and Democrats, I think the fact that they couldn’t increase their share even now shows how limited their potential share is.

Another take on the collapse of the DLP. The Spoilers and the Split

The Democrats represent a case study in the notion that power corrupts. Originally a party for disaffected Liberal Wets, they found their niche, particularly in South Australia as a centralist left party. In this role they were almost bullet proof minor party, but condemmed to a political life on the margins.

Through the Hawke era they found considerable influence and when they won the balance of power in the Senate when the Howard government came to power, they were faced with the make or break dilemma. Do they maintain the rage and become perpetual obstructionists or assume real power by joining the political process and wheeling and dealing. Lees tried for relevance and was supported by the majority of the pariamentary wing in this. However the Democrat membership preferred ideological purity.

Leadership spills in the Democrats are great theatre. They can be called at the drop of a hat and usually about half the parliamentary wing nominate as leader. The other half either nominate as deputy leader or are ex leaders.

Eventually the destabilisation lead to the leadership change to the flibbertigibbet with great sound bites, Natasha Stott Despioa. She turned the Democrats into a left fringe party. Unfortunately from this position they lost their “moderate voice of reason” position and have been monstered by the Greens. Against this the centralist Democrats revolted in an exercise in utterly indisciplined, self indulgent emasculation that condems the party to either extinction or being absorbed into the Greens.

The DLP were a movement based on personalities like Santamaria and Mannix and feverent anti-communism. The DLP’s power was their ability to deliver a solid stream of preferances from predominantly blue collar voters to the Liberals. As to why '74 was the end, as well as the points above you need also to include the demise of their key Liberal allies, in particular long serving Victorian Premier Henry Bolte and Prime Minister Menzies who always gave them sufficient oxygen.

When the DLP formed Australia was a sectarian society. As the sectarian divide crumbled [ triggered in no small part by a strike over a disfunctional toilet block in a Goulburn (NSW) school that lead to the extension of state aid] and as the communist threat faltered the DLP simply lost the causes that maintained it’s supporter base.

One Nation was a lightening rod for discontented conservatives who didn’t like economic rationalism, [I know that doesn’t make much sense, but that’s One Nation] plus any number of right, nationalist and ultra right fringe groups. They were attracted, if not lusted for a straight talking woman with simple cures to complex problems and bigiotted, if not white supremist views who likened herself to an Antipodean Boadicea. Most of the mainstream segments have been resumed back into the Liberal/National camps, though at a price far too high IMHO. I fear they will rise again from the backblocks of Queensland and northern NSW when the breeding conditions reoccur.

The Democrats are not dead yet; they still control a significant proportion of the senate. However, come the next election they will officially be an irrelevancy.

They may have purported themselves to be a centre-left party, but I don’t really see it that way. In my view, they mostly seemed to spend their time [unfounded generalisation]opposing the policy of whatever party was in power at the time[/unfounded generalisation] and did not seem to stand for anything at all.

They served as a lightning rod for those disappointed with the two major parties, but did not formulate any meaningful position on anything whatsoever. I always thought that however much people complained of ‘single-issue’ parties, these were better than the Democrats who were a ‘no-issue’ party.

As Labor veered closer to the Liberal government, I think that the Democrats got squeezed out, a process helped by the self-destruction within the party.

This in turn explains the rise of the Greens; they picked up a substantial number of voters dissatisfied with the major parties and they collected the Labor left who felt left out by the party’s move to the right.

As for One Nation, I thought they were dead. It will be interesting to see how many seats they pick up in the NSW election in March. Given there’s only about 4 weeks to go, and I haven’t heard anything out of them, I wouldn’t be surprised if they fail to get any seats.

I don’t think the Democrats will fare quite so badly, but I do think they will lose any power. In the Federal election after the next, they may have collapsed completely.

Not dead yet. One Nation heads split on Hanson candidacy