Paul Murray, the former editor of The West Australian newspaper who hosts a talkback program on Radio 6PR, advises that One Nation and the Dems are walking the same walk.
“Pauline Hanson has been in WA over the weekend for the WA ON agm and she caused absolute havoc. The party here is completely split into the anti- and pro-Pauline groups. I interviewed her today. She said she wanted to take control of the party again, intends to be appointed to national executive as an adviser and will stand for parliament again. ON is in just as much trouble as the Democrats!”
TODAY’S DEMOCRATS ISSUE
1. Name games by me, Graydon Findlay, Andrew C Taubman, Abbie Worthington, Barrie Stephens and John Clark.
2. The incoming NSW president of the Dems, Cameron Andrews, on positioning
3. Webdiarist Brian Bahnisch considers the options
4. Philippa tries to sort out the Dems’ GST shenanigans
5. Democrats David Harcourt-Norton and Di Pritchard take bitterly-expressed sides.
By Margo Kingston
Who you gunna vote off today? It’s compelling viewing, this Demo-split without script, and interaction is the key. Read the latest email war from the lead players on crikey.com and the latest membership spats on the show’s public/private chatroom. It’s the highest rating reality TV/Radio/Print in town, but will you vote for a new exciting episode?
The directors are spitting Chipps – half the cast is threatening to move to another channel!
Will The Democrats, the 25 year-old soap opera we all love to watch but few will commit to long-term, survive if its threatened replacement gets off the ground?
Some viewers want a replacement now and are already voting for a new name, to be judged by promoter Meg Less, who will donate the red centre photos she took last week while contemplating her departure from the show. The Progressive Party or The Progressive Democrats are early favourites, after The Liberal Democrats was ruled out by the judges because its already taken by another show. It’s never rated though – perhaps a name sale is on the cards?
Other contenders: The Real Democrats, The Original Democrats, The New Democrats, The Democratic Democrats, The Right Democrats, The Social Democrats, Democrats II, The Progressive Liberals, The Democratic Liberals, The Progressive Coalition Party, The Progressive Conservatives, The Democratic New Coalition, The Central Democratic Party, The Pragmatists or Pragmocrats, The Engagement Party, The Social Reform Party, The Australia Reform Party, The Centre Forward Party, The Advancing Australia Party, The Sustainable Option Party, The No Double Disillusions Party, The Leesbians and The Chipp off the Old Block Party.
But hardline fans of the The Democrats are angrily fighting the breakaways with their own suggestions. Contenders include: The NutMegs, The Coward-Lees Party, The OurMeggedon Party, The Lee’s Fleas Party (a bunch of annoying pests that infect larger bodies), The Fleedom Party, The Meg’s Army Party, The Megalomaniacs, The Megolees Maniacs Party, SLees Party, The Lee-st Important Party, The Leest We Forget Party, The Meg Lees and the GSTs. The Meg-a-Lee-Maniacs Party, The Meggots, The MegMassage Party, Meg and the Amazing Technicolour Turncoats Party, The Fleas Flees Party , The Megahertz Party, Shock and Her Absorbers Party, The Natasha-Basha Party, The Crash a Tasha Party and The Stop-Despoja Party,
While many Natasha fans despise her older rival, others hate the new storyline in the current show and want it stopped. They suggest: The Democracks, The Democrass Party, The Democ-Rats Party, The Chippenfails, The Australian Capitulation Party, Howard’s Birthday Party, The Get Into Howard’s Bed Again Party, The Liberal Party, The Leesbral Party, The Leeberals, The Sell Australia Out Party (SAOs), The Spit de Dummy Party, The Dance with the Devil Party, The Selstra Party, The Limelighters Deprivation Party, We Are The Bastards Party, Keep The Bastards Happy Party and The Cream the Dream Team Party.
Then there’s the cynical viewers who couldn’t care either way but really want to win the new name game competition. This category is the most hotly contested, with the critics choice winner likely to be overuled by a people’s choice poll. Candidates include: The Murray’s Darling Party, The Left Right Out Party, The Left-Over Party, The Lees-Way (or Leeway) Party, The Lee Way (or Meg Leaves) Party, The Meg Leaves Party, The Stop-de-Spoiling Party, The Liberal Lite Party, The Part-Lee Party, The Mega Middle Party, The Too Old To Party Party, The Party To Keep The Party To Keep The Bastards Honest Party, The Spot Destroyer Party, The Path of Lees Resistance Party, The Gingerly Meggs Party, The Keep the Lefties Honest Party, The Party’s Over Party, The Fool-Stott Party, The Flankers Party, The That’s What You Get For Voting Democrats Party and Meg’s Middle and Off Party.
But wait. This morning Natasha, shareholders rep, executive producer and worried star of The Democrats, demanded her dwindling support cast turn up in Canberra today to tell her they want her to keep top billing. Say yes, and she’ll expel the support player who’s backing the defector to a more mainstream channel. But Nat, it’s split three three when you include your own vote! It’s all very well to have the shareholders in your pocket, but the show could go broke – while ratings skyrocket no-one’s buying the product!
Stop Press: A late afternoon promo promised a solo episode by the star in Melbourne. Would she resign? Would a dark horse emerge? Would media directors be forced to reopen the name game? Not yet folks. Come back Andrew, Natasha says. I need you.
Late entries from Graydon Findlay (The DODGY Party – Disgruntled Old Democrats Grave Yard), Andrew C Taubman (Meg-a-What-a Suck-on-a Party, Slogan: Lees – The Dregs of the Whine. Or Meg and Cheryl could form the Democrat Leaders’ Party), Abbie Worthington (The Australian Derogates), Barrie Stephens (The AXD Party – (Association of [E]x-Democrats Party)
A new viewer’s faction has emerged. John Clark wants a new name for The Democrats soap opera. He suggests The Bold and the Beautiful.
2. A DEM LOOKING AHEAD
Division in the Democrats is not new
By Cameron Andrews
Disclosure: I’m the incoming NSW president of the Democrats and a former staffer of Senator Vicki Bourne
Some say it goes back to the party’s beginnings. As a party born from the marriage of the Australia Party and New Liberal Movement there has always been an internal tension between traditional left and small l liberal thinking.
That the Democrats have been so successful – despite these internal contradictions – reflects the strength, skill and resolve of a succession of strong and potent leaders over the party’s 25 year history. The clarity of vision shown by Chipp, Haines and Kernot galvanised the party and give it political direction. They were rewarded with the balance of power in the Senate and the opportunity to play a role in shaping the future of the nation.
Now, at a time of weakness, the welding that held the political fault line together has opened up, with very public and potentially disastrous consequences.
The Democrats are not alone in experiencing an internal clash of ideology. A rapidly changing political landscape is calling into question the relevance of all our traditional party structures.
In the Hawke/Keating years Labor forged a highly successful alliance between its working class roots and a new class of urban, tertiary educated social progressives. The Accord with the unions allowed Labor to embrace the economic reforms that attracted the Chardonnay socialists into the fold.
Labor’s recent defeat is conclusive proof that this alliance is unravelling. Labor’s traditional working class support base is rapidly evolving into what Labor frontbencher Mark Latham describes as the aspirational voter – a new breed that more readily identifies with Howard’s portrayal of mainstream Australia than Labor’s brand of a fair go for all.
The Liberal Party, while seemingly unassailable under the politically ruthless stewardship of Howard, also faces an uncertain future. Backbench revolt over issues like changes to media ownership regulation, anti-terrorism legislation and the International Criminal Court point to an internal rupture between the conservatives and the genuine liberals.
The party’s move to the right may have won back the disaffected Hansonites and given Howard a third term, but has left many liberals questioning why they should continue to belong. The party’s failure to hold government in any state in Australia also points to a decay in its party structure.
Even the Greens, currently enjoying a wave of popular support as the protest party of choice, is showing early signs of a conflict between its environmentalist founders and the recent influx of the socialist left. Bob Brown’s recent outburst on Telstra and his subsequent silencing by his party may be a sign of tensions to come now that NSW red Senator Kerry Nettle has joined Senator Brown in the Senate.
If there is to be a future for the Democrats it doesn’t lie in petty bickering over who should be leader. The current turmoil presents the party with the opportunity to finally resolve the crisis of identity that has loomed over the party since its foundation. Going back to Meg or rallying behind Natasha will both lead to political destruction if the underlying root cause of the division is left undiscussed and untreated.
The Democrats have to make a definitive statement as to which stream they will follow. The political landscape is changing in a way which forces the party, even if unwillingly, to reevaluate its identity. As the Greens now firmly occupy the fundamentalist left and both Liberal and Labor have abandoned any pretence of liberalism, the small l liberal course presents an enormous opportunity to take advantage of an emerging political landscape that is leaving the small l liberal voter with no representation. This has been the option pursued by the Liberal Democrats in England which, coupled with excellent campaigning, has led to their recent spectacular rise.
If the Democrats cannot take that decisive step, the only alternative will be to entertain a formal split. The Senators who most closely align with the small l liberal approach have the opportunity to stand as independents. The media attention that such a move would attract would give this group the opportunity to create a new identity and party structure. They would then be free to focus their efforts on developing the policies and vision needed to contest the next election.
The remaining Senators under Stott Despoja, as discussed by political commentators including you, would then face open competition with the Greens.
Times of crisis present opportunity for rebirth and change. With courage and vision the Democrats can embrace the opportunity that the current crisis brings and, with it, the chance to genuinely change politics in Australia.
3. A VOTER LOOKING AHEAD
The Centre Half Forward Party
By Brian Bahnisch in Brisbane
Disclosure: I have commonly voted for the top Democrat on their Senate ticket since the days of Michael Macklin. Then I usually go for the third Labor candidate and vote up the ticket in the hope that if the Dem fails it might help the third Labor candidate. A minor party senator needs to be one that I am convinced is suitable. I can’t remember whether I voted for John Woodley. If I did it was a mistake.
Ideally I’d like to explore the notion of banning party politics in the senate, together with a New Zealand or German MMP style system in the lower house so that significant minority views (as when One Nation got 10% of the national vote!) can be represented. The ‘house of review’ function of the Senate could then be developed, and we might have a system without so much inertia, one that could better accommodate change.
Meg Lees clearly needs lessons on how to lose. Cheryl Kernot had it right when she told the ABC’s Monica Attard that Meg should have got right out. I would not blame Natasha for not giving her enough positive strokes. How do you stroke a porcupine? Do you think Bill Hayden wanted strokes from Bob Hawke after he’d finished bawling in the dunny and said a drover’s dog could have led Labor to victory?
Big Kimbo has shown them all how to do it. He’s the loser par excellence. On election night he even looked as though he enjoyed it!
Meg should give back her seat to the Dems if she has any principle, and Murray has to go. You can’t keep a bloke who has declared a primary allegiance to some one outside the party!
Don Chipp should button up until he’s got both feet on the same side of the electric fence. Yes, he says, Senators should always follow their conscience and Meg was right to do so. Yes, he says, Party members should determine policy (and elect the leader) and Senators should follow Party policy. Well excuse me, Don, stripped of the personality problems I thought that was what the argument was all about.
Aden Ridgeway is a real worry. He has electric fence problems too and I can’t say I was surprised. Some time ago my son showed me the responses to an email he’d sent to all Democrat Senators, from memory when Meg was still leader. He got a sensible and intelligible reply from Natasha. From Aden he got a reply that was garbled, unintelligible and, well, weird!
I don’t have a new name for you, unless you count ‘Centre Half Forward Party’ as original. The ‘half’ is important, as they (Meg, Greg Barns, or whoever) are hardly going to step bravely forward to seize the day!
More seriously, in these days of uncertainty, loss of hope, of ‘endism’ everywhere, voters would like to restore if not the utopian dream at least a sense of movement, even though the precipice may be just around the next bend. In this sense we have only two parties that offer transformative dynamism.
First we have the Liberals. They are primarily about power, but beyond that are fully signed up to the neoliberal agenda, which is still being prosecuted with vigour by George Dubya as part of his war on something or other and by Robert Zoellick, Pascal Lamy and the World Trade Organisation secretariat on behalf of mainly American and European transnational companies.
The Liberals ameliorate this with a concept of ‘a fair go’. The fruits of a fair go have nevertheless been distributed in greater measure to the worthy, who turn out to be niche constituencies whose votes need to be secured.
The Greens also offer a clear transformative program. If you start with the notion of caring for the biosphere it is not a huge step to make sure you include all the primates, including homo sapiens. This is in spite of the fact that Nature’s big brain experiment has unusual capacities for obnoxious behaviour.
The Nationals? A surprising number are also fully signed up neoliberals, but don’t seem to appreciate that trade is not everything. They are terminally addicted to power on the coat tails of the Liberals, who screw them mercilessly. They are probably headed for extinction.
Then there is Labor. They are seriously infected by the neoliberal virus, their main virtue being that they do place greater emphasis on safety nets and on collective action and solidarity as against individualism and individual responsibility. Under them social capital would gradually improve. They are the true conservatives, at least since Paul Keating left, and under them we would experience steady organic growth. They can’t be a true home to the small ‘l’ liberals while they have a fundamental attachment to the unions. We can’t have the workers running the show!
This does leave some space for a genuine small ‘l’ liberal party, but it would have to enunciate its philosophy first and sign up members accordingly. Meg’s right, I suspect. You can’t give leadership if you’re programmed by the troops. That is if that’s what Meg really believes. The trouble with this imaginary party is that few will die in a ditch over its philosophy and it seems fertile territory for opportunistic dealmakers.
Hence ‘The Centre Half Forward Party’ seems about right.
4. DEMS GST MUDDLE
I have been reading for a while, first time writer. I belong to an apparently invisible voting sector. According to politicalcompass.org, I am a right wing libertarian. That makes me overlooked by most political parties, and declared non-existent by the vast majority of political commentators. I majored in politics at university, and was considered odd for selecting Australian politics (instead of exotic courses like such as Post Maoist China or Swedish Labour Industrial Reforms) because I felt it important to understand how our own political system works.
I wanted to comment on the ostriches who have been writing in about Meg Lees. This isn’t to provoke a discussion on whether someone is pro- or anti-GST. Rather, the fact that I’m sick of all the alleged Democrats voters who ‘will never vote for them again because Meg gave us the GST’.
They seem oblivious of the fact – as you pointed out yourself – that it was DEMOCRATS POLICY at the time, not something that Lees did off her own bat but something that, with specific exemptions, the party went into the election supporting. So why then, are so many alleged party members and supporters ignorant of this fact? Or is it a case of ‘I never liked that policy myself so I’m going to pretend it never happened and it was all Lees’ fault’?
Those who didn’t vote Democrats in 1998 are entitled to complain, but to those who voted for them – either knowing or ignoring party policy – I’m sick of the whining and the reinventing of Democrats history.
When it came to the Senate vote all members were allowed a vote of conscience. Those who, like Stott Despoja, voted against it were not publicly reprimanded nor summoned before the ‘compliance committee’ to explain their actions. Nor do I recall Lees castigating them in the media. One’s conclusion could very well be that Lees was more generous to her parliamentary colleagues than her successor.
The inherent contradictions of ‘membership-voted policy’ and ‘parliamentary member conscience vote’ were inevitably going to clash, perhaps over the GST, and to a greater extent over any flagged discussion re Telstra. But the current Democrats leader is the only one I am aware of who has felt the need to enforce her leadership with the modern day equivalent of William Pitt’s 1798 Gag Acts.
I will watch with interest what happens with Lees and the remaining Democrats over the next weeks and months. I remember the current leader from her National Union of Students days, and sadly it appears she hasn’t realised that NUS isn’t like the real world.
Ultimately she didn’t learn from Kerry Chikarovski’s fatal mistake in 1999, namely don’t cause a leadership spill immediately prior to an election. Yes, it worked for Hawke in 1983, but that is the exception. How many other times has the incoming leader improved their position? Stott Despoja, like Chikarovski, should have waited until after the election. That way any fallout from the previous leaders’ decisions wouldn’t have hit her. But I suspect her own ego wouldn’t allow her to wait any longer, and I have to agree with Alan Ramsey’s piece on Saturday that her ‘personal ambitions exceed her competence but not her ego’.
I would prefer minority parties negotiate with the government of the day so that their own policies at least make it to the table. I wish that Bob Brown had been allowed to open negotiations on Telstra, because at least the Greens key environmental policies would have got an airing even if he ultimately rejected a sale.
I thought it was *responsible* for Lees to deal with a government that had campaigned and won on introducing a GST – especially considering it was part of her party’s platform – to get concessions on other matters. Continually block voting ‘no’ to every policy put forward is not improving or changing anything. I have always been a believer in incremental gains rather than ‘all or nothing’ because all too often the result of that *is* nothing.
To those who are pretending that everything wrong with the Democrats today is Meg Lees’ fault – please get your heads out of the sand. It must be getting crowded down there. Instead of reinventing history, perhaps you could ascertain what actually happened. It would make debate so much more interesting if you actually have a clue of what you are talking about.
5. THE BITTERNESS WITHIN
Lees and Murray as hypocrites
By David Harcourt-Norton
I am sick to death of hearing about Andrew Murray’s right to voice his opinion on everything and anything.
Murray, the self-appointed defender of free speech never said a word about star chambers, thought police, intolerance, my right to natural justice or free speech when I was facing the National Compliance Committee after his partner in abuse of members, Lees, used the resources of her public office to attack me with in the party and in the press. Why … because it suited his purposes!
It seems Murray’s idea of Democracy stops when the argument goes against him.
If Murray has no confidence in the National Executive, Compliance Committee, National President, Parliamentary Leader, the policy process, the constitution or the members ability to make decisions for themselves in a party that is based on PARTICIPATORY democracy, then what exactly does he have confidence in other than his own conceited arrogance?
He wants to stay because he knows that morally he has to resign his seat should he resign from the party. I wonder if he has earned his parliamentary pension yet!
In my opinion, Murray is little more than an opportunistic hypocrite and his behaviour to date has been spiteful, deliberately damaging and equates well to the child who changes the rules to suit himself and then takes his bat and ball and goes home when others object. How dare he lay down “TERMS” to a member driven party! Don’t expel him, disendorse him. Deny him our name.
Margo: In The Australian this morning, Glenn Milne wrote that Mr Harcourt-Norton was a member of the national executive during 1999-2000, when he publicly disagreed with the GST deal and helped organise a petition to spill the leadership. Glenn says Lees successfully pressured the executive not to accept the petition, or another one. Harcourt-Norton protested an alleged breach of the constitution, and two people on Lees’ payroll complained to the National Compliance Committee. The NCC banned him from holding any national party positions for a year.
The Walking Dead
By Di Pritchard
Having been a member of the Australian Democrats for almost a decade, a candidate, a staffer and an office bearer it is somewhat saddening to see a once almost great party implode. But the party died a long time ago now.
The party organisation is run by a rag tag group of amateurs and unprofessional wanna-be’s who have lofty ambitions but little if no talent. The entrenched culture of anti-professionalism and rank amateur values has eaten away at the party like a cancer.
In the past twelve months there was a small blip of increased support under the leadership of Natasha. However, as this was primarily based on a cult of personality, it was inevitably short lived. Those who put Natasha on a pedestal soon saw the party for what it was, and either continued as a ‘NSD’ groupie or left the party, bored.
Serious political parties are about substance, policy and compromise, not personalities, media appearances on light entertainment programmes, photo opportunities and obsessive paranoid image making. The leader’s office during and since the 2001 federal election has been run like a playpen for the Gestapo; isolationist, autocratic, and paranoid. A motley crew of loyalist staff members – led by Frank Maguire – constantly give the leader poor advice.
In terms of media, Natasha’s press secretary, Alison Rodgers – who is now widely know for her rudeness and abruptness to almost everyone – is never pro-active. The leader’s staff are constantly fielding media requests, never setting the agenda.
The current leader has twelve months – at most – left. Then NSD will no doubt resign, get married, maybe have kids and then work in the media, or as a political consultant in the US, or making a great deal of money in the private sector, whatever. The Democrats will be left with Aden Ridgeway as leader, which is somewhat tragic, as Aden is a serious under-performer in the Senate and in the media – having been dubbed ‘invisible’ and ‘mute’.
Aden will call for unity and position himself as a consensus leader and as a saviour of the party (just as NSD did). Aden will lead the walking dead party to the next election, but fail to get re-elected in NSW. It will be the worst ever result, with the party being all but wiped out. The Green’s fortunes will continue to soar, becoming the balance of power party.
In March 2003 at the NSW state election the Democrats will field a gaggle of lower house candidates, none of whom will be elected. They run a fractured, divided and bitter upper house ticket of Lantry, Furness, Burridge, Baird, Ferrarah and Zakzewski – all belonging to opposing factions and ideological standpoints. Not a single Democrat will be elected, as the candidates will be viewed as ‘the infighting bastards’, rather than candidates that can ‘keep the bastards honest’ and it will be the final nail in the coffin of an already dead party.
A sad state of affairs maybe. Certainly a pale imitation of the vibrant substance-based party of 1977 founded by Don Chipp.
Ding, dong, the Australian Democrats are dead. Long live democracy. As for me, I’m just another Demo-rat fleeing the Titanic