The Democrats have a future
Stop that laughter at once! The Australian Democrats do have a future, just not at this election.
The Dems tend to do best when a government changes, and people hedged their bets with them rather than giving a new government carte blanche. Thanks to Kim Beazley there won't be a change of government at the next election, and their leader Lyn Allison has hardly established much of a profile for them.
The next election will see the last four Democrats go to election. There are six places in each state at every half-Senate election, and the major parties take two places each. The other two will be contested by the majors, as well as Family First and the Greens, which will push the Dems to the sidelines if not offstage altogether:
- Natasha Stott Despoja (SA) and Andrew Murray (WA) are retiring. Murray was a conscientious reviewer of the workings of government, and example of how a house of review should work. Stott Despoja was their showiest show-pony with no achievements beyond the personal after eleven years. Neither will be replaced by a candidate with a remote chance of winning.
- Lyn Allison (Victoria): Family First will take the anti-pokies message away from Stephen Mayne. The Liberals do a better job of making the moderates feel involved than in any other state. The strength of the Labor left in Victoria will mean they won't try and shut out the Greens. Bye-bye Lyn.
- Andrew Bartlett (Queensland): I wish him well but his chances are dim. Labor are on the nose at state level. The Liberals and Nationals are unlikely to repeat the four-card trick they pulled last time, especially if the Nats go with Boswell, and as changes to rural media and telecommunications become apparent over the coming year. This is the worst state for the Greens, and the state where anti-Green reactionaries are strongest; as Christian Kerr pointed out in Crikey today, Bartlett can persuade the majors that they could do worse than preference him. He has nothing to offer them in return but better-the-devil-you-know. Call the ambulance but keep the hearse warmed up.
The only chance the Democrats have for the future is if moderate liberals grow tired of waiting for scraps off Howard's plate and overwhelm the Democrats' small and unappealing membership. This will render the Howard Government stale and flat-footed in the face of a more vigorous ALP led by Gillard or Rudd. This environment of change will see moderates step forward in their own right as Democrats - provided they don't choose stupid candidates like Greg Barns or Sandra Kanck they should come back into Parliament to work with, but not for, the next Labor government. It will be a sign of success if they can go on to rack up sufficient achievements that Stott Despoja couldn't come back even if she wanted to.