The Dems have an unfortunate habit of losing leaders, as Hillary Bray reports.

The possibility that Meg Lees (and, maybe, Andrew Murray) will be kicked out of the Australian Democrats and the news that Greg Barns is joining has got all us at Crikey thinking.

No we haven’t come up with the brilliant idea that Barns should speak out in support of Mystic Meg and become the first person to get kicked out of two parties within a matter of weeks in the history of Australian politics. Instead, the Crikey crew has started compiling a list of the Ones Who Got Away the lost Democrats.

The dear old Demmies have never had too much trouble attracting talent. It’s hanging on to them that’s difficult. Indeed, there’s even been the suggestion that the average rank and file member only stays for two years.

Here are some of the more prominent people who have walked out of the party over the years. Democrat watchers say that if you put them in a room together you would have a blood bath but would also have a team far more talented than those still inside.

* Cheryl Kernot, Janet Powell, John Coulter. To lose one leader may be unfortunate We all know what happened to Cheryl, Powell is now a Green and Coulter is disillusioned.

* Tim Costello The much mooted match up with baby brother never eventuated.

* Rick Farley May still be a member, but his disappearance from the Democrat senate ticket (as exclusively covered by Crikey) last year never seems to have been explained.

* Helen Caldicott Joined up shortly after nearly winning the seat of Richmond as an independent.

* John Siddons The former Senator has left and joined again at least twice. Current status uncertain.

* Richard Jones NSW upper house MP quit the party with seven years of his term still to serve.

* Norm Sanders Ex-senator for Tasmania ran as an independent in 1993.

* Jonathon King hailed as star recruit in NSW, ran twice for prominent seats, then disappeared.

* Meg Sampson founding member, stunned the party in 1990 by coming closer to winning a lower house seat than Janine Haines. Ran as an independent in 1993.

* Patsy Harmsen Tasmanian lead senate candidate in 1993. Resigned from the party the day after the election.

* Christine Craik came within three per cent of winning the rock solid Victorian Labor seat of Thomastown at a by-election but left the party before the next state election and ran as an independent. Now a Green.

* Hans Paas long serving Victorian party president, quit with Janet Powell.

* Ken Peak probably the only Democrat to twice score over 20% in parliamentary elections, quit the party not long after the second time.

* John Schumann Redgum singer, almost Member for Mayo but, alas, a Meg Lees supporter.

* Robert Wood had a short career as a Nuclear Disarmament Party Senator before it was discovered he was a Pom, then ran as lead Democrat candidate for Victoria for 1993 then vanished.

* David Vigor – Senator from 1984-1987. Quit the party to run with Siddon’s Unite Australia Party. Rejoined and resigned again.

Peter Collins – the first Local Government Councillor elected as an endorsed Democrat in Queensland (and is a two-term Councillor now) was also number 3 on the Democrats Senate Ticket a few years back, behind Andrew Bartlett (the Goth who walks) and Hetty Johnston. He’s been a member of the Liberal Party for the last two years, resigning from the Dems when the ceaseless march to the left looked unstoppable and the purge of the Uniting Church faction was in full steam.

* Paul McLean one time New South Wales Senator who became a poster boy for the lunar right. McLean set out to write a book on bank gripes. What he ended up with was a rehash of various dotty conspiracies theories that so delighted the LaRouche loops of the CEC that they took up McLean and his cause with great enthusiasm.

* Laurie Levy famous anti duck hunting and whaling campaigner in Victoria. Dems candidate for Higgins in the 84 federal election, now a Green.

There are probably a fair few others, but it really seems an amazing list for a small party. One Nation never attracted the high profile recruits, although they certainly suffered even worse loss of lead candidates and party officials.

The Greens don’t seem to have picked up many high profile figures the sight of eugenics advocate Peter Singer haranguing Cheryl Kernot over her brother’s miseries may have had something to do with this but have not lost anything like the numbers of their leading lights. Maybe someone should start a book on how long Greg Barns will stay.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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