IN APRIL the Australian Electoral Commission revoked the party status of the Australian Democrats.
First published in the 24 April 2015 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen. Click here to read the full edition online.
The now-former party had fallen below the required 500 members to maintain party status.
Having formed in 1977, the Democrats registered with the AEC on 5 July 1984.
The Democrats is challenging the decision and has called out to members to re-register to help the group achieve party status.
The party’s representation in federal parliament peaked at nine senators in 1996, before losing all its seats in the 2007 election.
Locally, the party never took a state or federal seat, but was a powerful force when McMillan was a marginal electorate early last decade.
Don Walters was the last Democrats candidate to stand for election in McMillan, attracting 1.5 per cent of the vote in 2007.
Michael Fozard was the party’s last local state candidate, attracting 5.3 per cent of votes in the 1999 election.
Former Baw Baw councillor Julie Grant also stood for the Democrats in McMillan. At the 2004 election she polled 0.85 per cent.
Earlier this week she told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen she was sad to see the Democrats slip out of party status.
“It is sad to see the final demise of what looked like a promising party, an alternative party, and a party that welcomed and supported women voters,” Ms Grant said.
Above: Julie Grant. File image supplied.
“I think the Democrats offered an alternative to the two major parties which a lot of people think have grown too much alike.a
“I think they were too strongly linked to the founder Don Chipp, perhaps, who was seen by most of his contemporaries in politics as a man of integrity and public [note]. And then they continued to be dominated by identities like Cheryl Kernot and Natasha Stott Despoja, so the party never really consolidated as a serious alternative and I guess over time the Greens have moved in to fill that space.”
Ms Grant said the rise of the Greens to replace the Democrats as Australia’s third political force was not an exact replacement for her old party.
“The Greens are too extreme for many who were comfortable with how the Democrats sat at that time,” she said.
“I think the Greens are maturing as time goes by and they have perhaps weeded out some of those more extreme policies and positions, so I think the gap hasn’t completely been filled by the Greens.
“But things are definitely worsening in terms of women in politics and that probably is the greatest loss the Democrats will leave behind.”
The party’s best performance in McMillan was in the year it first stood a candidate – 1977. Candidate Ronald Dent achieved 14.2 per cent of the vote, behind Labor’s Richard Elkington (35.4 per cent) and Liberal Barry Simon (44.5 per cent).
Looking back at her time as a candidate, Ms Grant said the party was well recieved by the electorate.
“I think I felt that we were welcomed as a party by a lot of people that didn’t really fit with the mainstream parties,” she said.
“People who didn’t feel welcome in the more conservative parties, the classical homosexuals and minorities and so on, and people were generally pretty nice to deal with. It was a pleasant experience.
“I have nice memories.”
The party has maintained an active online presence in recent years at australian-democrats.org.au.
Find the author on Twitter
Get free email updates from the Baw Baw Citizen
Read more Baw Baw Features