The role of the Australian Democrats as a political force is beginning to recede into history. It is now over six years since the party ceased having representation in the federal Parliament. But I am keen that the very positive legacy of the party is not forgotten and nor should those people who made a major contribution to the party’s success.
One such person is Heather Southcott, who died last week at the age of 86. While she served briefly in the South Australian parliament, her major contribution was in the administrative arm of the party over many years. She was National President of the Democrats for many years across the 1980s and 1990s, along with many more years in other roles on the party’s National Executive. This type of activity has a much lower public profile than that of Parliamentarians, but it is just as critical in its own way in keeping a political party alive and thriving. (It certainly wasn’t the fault of party administrators that the Democrats went into decline.)
Heather was also very active in women’s issues and was very supportive of new and younger members as they became active in the party. I can recall a couple of difficult times in particular where she was of great support and assistance to me.
Whilst Heather only served briefly in the Parliament, this none the less involved its own bit of history. She achieved the extremely difficult task – for third parties – of winning a lower house seat, winning the by-election for the seat of Mitcham in 1982 by 90 votes. Even though she lost it at the subsequent general election later the same year, her victory was the only time the Australian Democrats managed to win a single member lower house seat in any Parliament in Australia (not counting her predecessor in Mitcham, Robin Millhouse, who already held that seat representing the Liberal and Country League for many years before he helped form the Liberal Movement, which later became part of the formation of the Australian Democrats in South Australia).
Some more information about Heather Southcott’s life can be found at this link.
ADDENDUM: Greens South Australian MP Tammy Franks (herself a former Democrat) has informed that there will be a condolence motion for Heather Southcott moved in the SA Parliament at 2:15pm on Tuesday, 2nd December.