30 years of Democrats

The Democrats had a function in Melbourne on Friday night to mark the 30th anniversary of the party. Apart from the usual interest in catching up with people one hasn’t seen for a while, there was some interesting old video footage of Don Chipp and others from the 70s and early 80s. It was good to see Democrats from the 80s talking just as strongly then about issues like refugee detention and nuclear proliferation, although it was also a bit sobering given how much worse some of these things have since become. Mind you, there were a couple of other positions people took in those earlier days which I wasn’t so keen on.

The difference in the style of media presentation was quite marked, but even taking that into account, Chipp’s spark was still quite apparent. But whilst Chipp always gets a fair bit of focus, seeing some of the others who have faded from public awareness since then was good – especially the late Janine Haines, who actually achieved greater electoral success than Don Chipp, but disappeared very quickly from public view after she left Parliament in 1990.

For one example, check out this old election advertisement on YouTube from the 1990 election featuring Janine Haines.


The party also compiled a booklet featuring all the past and present MPs, almost all of who were interviewed for the purpose. Some of those MPs had some fairly major fall outs with party over the years, so it was good to have them reflecting on the positives of their experiences and the many achievements of the party over so many years.

I should emphasise that the night was not just about noting past achievements, and it was good to see a large number of young people amongst the crowd, including Don Chipp’s two youngest daughters, one of whom, Laura Chipp, will be standing as a candidate at this year’s election.

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  1. if we put aside the improvement in cuisine that new ozzies brought with them, it’s hard to see any improvements in oz since the dems said they’d save us.

    perhaps you will content yourself with arguing things would be even worse without the dems, but that is an empty argument. to paraphrase pyrrhus: “any more victories like this and we all will be rooned.”

    political gangs are the problem, not the solution. in dealing with humanity, there are no solutions, only improvements: real democracy will improve oz life. unfortunate that the australian democrat party couldn’t figure that out.

  2. It’s a pity you don’t actually inform yourself sometimes before mouthing off with cheap shots, al – it would give your comments much more value.

    I won’t list all the Democrats’ achievements and positive impacts here – I would quickly run afoul of the word limit, it’s not the main purpose of this blog, and I doubt you’re genuinely interested anyway.

    However, to pick just a few:
    – there are far stronger environment protection laws now than ever before due solely to the Democrats’ work; laws which have led directly to many improved environmental outcomes
    – tobacco advertising bans in Australia came about because of the Democrats
    – our electoral laws are much fairer and more transparent than they used to be (even following some of the rorting rollbacks done by the coalition in the last year or so).

    The Democrats have also been the only party in federal parliament who have continually supported direct democracy, including citizens initiated referenda, introducing legislation a number of times aimed at achieving this. It is unfortnate, although hardly surprising, that we weren’t successful in this – even the simple act of letting our party’s members choose who leads their party in the Paliament is regularly derided not just by other parties but also by the political commentariat.

    And if you genuinely think that the only improvements that came with migrants to Australia in the last 30 years was the cuisine, you’re paying even less atttention than I thought.

  3. mr b, as i said- things could be worse is not a compelling argument.

    on your watch, the “never ever” gst was instituted. that put in your mob in the pollies category, with me.

    you’ve never had a word to say about actual democracy, apparently you think it’s too good for the common people. that may have some bearing on why the common people are drifting to, just about anyone else.

    but most important, fascist laws have been instituted by the libs and backed by the labs. and there is nothing ordinary people can do, because you have acquiesced in the disenfranchisement of the electorate.

    perhaps ozzies would not respond to an offer to share power with direct elections and cir, but the party that calls itself democrat should have made the offer. i think your mob has discredited itself and any reaction to the liblab autocrats will probably be led by the greens. they have a central policy, an important one second only to democracy. you don’t have any, just “trust me, i’m not one of them.” except, you are.

  4. Al, as I said, it’s a pity you don’t actually inform yourself before mouthing off.

    the party that calls itself Democrat has repeatedly “made the offer” about CIR, as do I. The fact you have no idea what I or the Democrats have done just indicates that you appear to be yet another partisan advocate with a pre-determined view to spruik, rather than a genuine democrat.

  5. “you’ve never had a word to say about actual democracy, apparently you think it’s too good for the common people. ”

    And if you knew anything about the party you would know it was founded on participatory democracy where members have a vote on policy, on party leadership in both the administrative and political wings. Uniquely amongst Australian political parties the Democrats have not just advocated for democracy but have it is in its constitutional DNA.

    In fact the party has gone out of its way (often to its own disadvantage when the media have criticised ‘drawn out’ balloting processes). “Democracy” is a core reason why a majority of members join the Australian Democrats.

  6. Janine was great. I miss her. Don was great on Enough Rope, but I’m slightly too young to appreciate his early contribution. My parents raved about him, but that’s all I remember.

    From where I sit, one of the greatest contributions of the Dems has been that they (mostly) come across as human beings first, politicians later. Should be more of it.

  7. Al Loomis is OK Senator! Most of us,including you,go through periods of being really disillusioned.If AL has still got his critical faculties without drug support,it really is his sense of powerlessness speaking.I suffer that with a sense of dignity,and the amount of time the Democrats have been around surely means Al wants something,and knows the problem of dependency with representative government.His short wick is therefore real to me,and well he could still be a member of the Democrats couldnt he!? I think the Democrats have to remember its long conversation with voters and not forget life has its own tides outside of the paper blowing away at election time.As a person who could make a critical statement about almost anything,I have no problem with the exercise of the mind,but, hope Al sees that you are exercising yours!?

  8. It was a really good dinner. I think the focus on Don Chipp and Janine Haines was appropriate, as they were clearly the best leaders we have had in the party’s history (no offense :-) ), and I was really happy that all the current and past senators were acknowledged – particularly Sid Spindler, who is a great man.

  9. Yes! And his son the great socialist, when I asked the son a question about, what car to buy if faced with a choice between a Sydney shark..a allwelded aerodynamically Australian design where all the design regulations for cars then would need thorough revision to allow it to run on the road driven by a petrol motor.Or a fully imported Mazda that could run on hydrogen,if I was buying for the long term out of respect for the environment.The answer from the old chip of the block Spindler..was buy the best!?Having not found the question at all relevant to his socialism he compounded my belief he was complete sharp phoney as a socialist by not even thinking that the question was as pertinent today, as then, and always for socialism.Where some control of the means of production would be local as it would be with the shark.Victoria the home of car building had a cuckoo socialist amongst it s lot. Spindlerthe elder was a much more astute and reasonable fellow.The shark a completely Australian design was mentioned on ABC radio in the Late 80s these matters of design and production dog the theorists of socialism,but not a country s citizenry.There was no best buy solution,and I do not like being dismissed in that manner because someone cannot think,but acts positively.Be careful about that Senator.

  10. Congratulations on the 30th anniversary of the Democrats. I wish the Party well and I wish the Party regain it’s credibility in the electorate.
    Any democratic government needs strong opposition which can monitor all it’s happy doings. Opposition is a safeguard of proper process and governace.
    Since the Labor Party became a very right -wing and basically, as such, cannot properly monitor the government, there should be a strong left-winged opposition. However, the impression lingering in the electorate is that the Democrats lost their left -wing character by siding with the government-of-the-day in some very critical issues like education or GST; whether the current, quite good team, can bring the Party back to have 7 senators back in Canberra remains to be seen. I wish they could.
    There is nothing wrong to be ‘progressive’, libertarian, or ‘lefty’ providing that the Party is seen as ‘trying to keep the bastards honest’.
    Senator Bartlett is doing a great job; let’s hope he will get all the support he needs.

  11. Yes, I hope you liked the little history – there’s so much more one could write! I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to see it launched.

    All the best,


  12. the dems should be recognised for what they have done mostly good.they must have something to have lasted this long.
    i think that if they are to keep gowing and mabe do some more good they all need to find don chips bottle of angry pills and become a lot more vocal and get off the fence.

  13. It amazes me how some of these commentators think they own the Democrats. It is one thing to have a difference of opinion or make criticisms of paticular actions but the vehenence and emotionalism with which some harp on at us is – well – indicative of too much time spent on the Internet I suspect…

  14. One thing I’d have to agree with ‘al loomis’ on: the GST issue slaughtered The Dems. Lefties have long memories when it comes to perceived betrayal and they punished them big-time at the next election. Then came the Gang of Four debacle, ousting Natasha, sealing the deal.

    As bad as that all was, The Dems will still pick up my second prefs behind The Greens, as you’re the only other (sane) Leftwing political party around. The ALP’s so far to the Right these days, it just about makes Fraser’s Liberals look like the Red Brigade.

  15. BTW, Polly you are right about Sid. He is a great man. It was a great honour to speak with him. A great activist as well as parliamentarian.

  16. I am not yet a member Daniel!? In the flesh,I havent been tested lately to see if peoples ears go red when I opine.Al isnt insulting or owning the Senator,because it is plainly evident by reading here,that Al and the Senator are independent minded persons..as it should be..no spiritual path of enlightenment is the essential qualities of blogging.

  17. Can’t say I agree with everything the Dems have done, but I do get the impression that you lot are far more “human” than “politician”, a trait mostly missing from the Liblabs. Here’s to another 30 years!

  18. Hey Andrew – can you post any other old Democrat election ads – eg the witches and wizards or falling angels ones (or were they the same – can’t remember now)?

  19. Of all the leaders, I really liked Janine Haines.

    The last time I saw Don Chipp on the TV, I thought he had learned some sick attitudes.

  20. I concur with Coral’s comments on Janine Haines. In my view, Haines was an admirable politician.

    She first reached parliament when Don Dunstan appointed her to fill the casual Senate vacancy that arose when Steele Hall retired – in retrospect a striking conjunction of 3 of the most outstanding SA political figures of the postwar era. Was Dunstan merely indulging in Joh-style politicking by replacing a Liberal senator (albeit one elected as a Liberal Movement member) with a Democrat, or did he also foresee Haines’ potential?

  21. I used to be an ADs member and I’ll still first preference them, but realistically they are gone this election.

    They never ever got a remotely fair run in the media, and were consistently misrepresented on so many issues.

    By the way, the GST deal was fine, didn’t make me change my mind one way or another. The Democrats supported tax reform and we’re mostly all pretty happy with the GST these days. One of the highlights was that the deal allowed for the nice modern euro diesels to be run here, coz the fuel standards were cleaned up. Pity about the tax on books, but otherwise a great deal was done.

  22. Hi Wilful. Yep, I’ve heard of a number of Dems members supporting the GST deal, and it seems the membership were well informed of the ‘make a deal’ policy. Personally, I still feel it’s a regressive tax which takes proportionally more from the poor than the rich and deserves the dustbin.

    The problem for the Dems was the electorate of ordinary voters had very different expectations and expected the Dems to block it outright. Whether that was misrepresentation on the part of the media or poor communication on the part of the Dems leadership, I don’t know.

    Either way, I think you’re right: It’s going to be an up-hill battle at the next election and I wish Andrew and his team all the very best of luck. The Dems have, for 30 years, been a positive force in Australian politics. May they continue to keep the bastards honest for at least another 30.

  23. Did you say that dinner was a wake Andrew?

    Pity about Don, and Janine was the last Leader of the good ol’ Democrats, after her Kernot’s pseudo Labor took over and now they have aGreen Senator disguised as a Democrat. When you going over BTW Andrew?

    I quite liked Meg too… pity about the disunity. Oh and I agree, the GST is way overdone as an excuse for where the Dems find themselves today.

    Unfortunately for Australian polity, you’ve done yourselves in. I don’t expect you to have anyone after the next election.

    How do you see it going Andrew?

  24. Geoff, you obviously know very little of the Democrats’ record in the last 11 years and how it contrasts with the Greens – otherwise you wouldn’t made such silly comments.

    As for how I see it going, I’m really only focussing on Queensland. I think I have a credible chance – my seat is the one every other party, and a couple of independents, are targetting, but we have a strong branch in Qld, a good team of local candidates, a lot of wider community support. In addition I have extra personal support based on my work in a range of areas of ten years in the Senate, plus there should be greater awareness of the importance of the Senate vote this time around now that people have seen what damage can be done when it falls into the hands of the government and of extremists. However, as always it is hard to predict and there are plenty of things outside my control – not least of which is the preferences of other parties.

    As for the GST – Pete from Perth (#14 & #23) says the GST hurt the Democrats because ‘lefties have long memories’. I think lefties have very selective memories and plenty in the left have always taken every chance to hack into the Democrats, while ignoring the flaws and errors of the Greens and Labor. That’s the nature of tribalism I suppose, but it still doesn’t make it accurate.

    I also don’t think it was just lefties that were peeved at the GST decision – indeed I expect there were a number of Liberal leaning voters who took out ‘insurance’ in the Senate with the Democrats and were very peeved when they felt the insurance didn’t pay up.

    I also wouldn’t agree with your assumption that party members were “well informed of the ‘make a deal’ policy” – not least because there wasn’t one until a week or two before it happened.

    The GST had and has it flaws, but it was never the font of evil it was portrayed as. The breaking of promises that didn’t need to be and the refusal to accept any public criticism about it was worse than the actual policy outcome.

  25. I know a lot about the Democrats thanks Andrew. I also know how you continually twist what people actually say.

    I never said the Dems and the Greens were the same.

  26. The GST had and has it flaws, but it was never the font of evil it was portrayed as. The breaking of promises that didn’t need to be and the refusal to accept any public criticism about it was worse than the actual policy outcome.

    you are correct andrew but have missed the point
    howard after stating that gst was a dead issue used the dems and made it apear that they had betrayed the country in regards that the ppl did not want the g.s.t. i was happy with the thought that we didnt have a labor govt and had the dems there to control the howard govt in the senate .
    the perseption is that they let us down.
    i think thats what gave howard the oppitunity to get control of the senate in the last election .

  27. Argh! Can we stop talking about the GST already? No one else talks about it anymore – not Liberal or Labor anyway. I think Dems can stop beating themselves up over it – and Andrew voted against it anyway, as was his right as a member of the Dems where conscience votes are allowed. End of story really.

    I wonder how the joint National-Liberal ticket will effect AB’s prospects?

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