In the category of failure to admit to the obvious, a special place
should be reserved for commentators on the Australian Democrats. As one
example among many, witness Penelope Debelle in this morning’s Age following Saturday’s South Australian election: “The long-term future of the Australian Democrats is further in doubt”.

No, sorry, it’s not in doubt at all. They’re dead. Dead as the
proverbial dodo. And we didn’t need Saturday’s result to tell us that;
they’ve been dead for the last three years. Only an excess of caution
has prevented the media from reading the last rites until now.

Since the GST deal of 1999, every election has been a further step
downhill for the Democrats. The 2001 federal election, under Natasha
Stott Despoja’s leadership, was not as bad as it might have been, but
the writing was on the wall even then. Big declines the following year
in South Australia and Victoria did further damage, amid chaos in the
federal leadership.

The make or break election was March 2003 in New South Wales: the NSW
upper house has the lowest quota for election in Australia, and the
Democrats threw all their resources into trying to win a seat. They
failed to even get close. Everything since then has been just
postscript.

In their place, the Greens will most likely win a Legislative Council seat (see Graham Allen’s calculator,
which has been updated with the latest figures). They had a bad day on
Saturday in Tasmania, but they outvoted the Democrats more than two to
one in both houses in South Australia, and ex-Green Kris Hanna may
still hold his lower house seat as an independent.

The Greens have had a run of disappointing results, but they will be
around for a while yet – they are represented in every bicameral
parliament except Victoria, and nobody doubts they will get that in
November. In terms of a third party, they’re now all we’ve got.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW