Outgoing Australian Democrats leader predicts new party amidst double dissolution

Monday, June 23, 2008

In the 2007 Australian Federal election, the Australian Democrats party lost the last of its Senate seats, and as of June 30 will no longer be represented in parliament. However, its leader, Lyn Allison, has confirmed talks with other small political parties such as the Climate Change Coalition with the aim of forming a new political entity.

The Democrats have held seats in the Senate for 31 years, and operated under the mission statement "to keep the bastards honest" as coined by former leader Don Chipp in 1980. Its loss of three Senate seats in 2004 was instrumental in giving the Liberal/National Coalition an absolute Senate majority in addition to their existing majority in the House of Representatives, which allowed them to pass legislation without the need of minority or Independent Senate votes. In the 2007 election, two of the four remaining Democrat senators chose not to stand for re-election, and the other two lost their seat. However, a swing against the Coalition gives the balance of power to minorities - the Greens, Family First, and Independent senator Nick Xenaphon.

Senator Allison predicted that tensions between the Labor Party - who won a majority in the House of Representatives in the election - and the Greens would result in a double dissolution election. Under Section 57 of the Australian Constitution, if the Senate rejects the same legislation passed up from the House of Representatives twice under certain conditions, the Govenor-General may dissolve both Houses, resulting in elections for all seats. There have been six double dissolutions in Australian parliament, with the most recent in 1987.

Senator Allison said "any Bill which the opposition opposes will require the votes of all five Greens, plus the new senator Xenophon and [Family First] Senator Fielding. Now that's quite a disparate bunch." Of the possibility of forming a new minority party, she said that she thinks "there is a place for the Australian Democrats or a party just like it and we want to still be part of that." A double dissolution "would of course be an ideal election to contest as a new entity," she said, but noted that it would probably not retain the Democrats name, since it "has not attracted any votes."

The new party would not include the Greens, but its leader, Bob Brown, was supportive of plans for a new political entity in Federal politics, as more voices in the Senate would be better for democracy. "I think it's a great idea", he said.


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