Political commentator and former ALP insider Richard Farmer writes:

The dismal performance of the
Democrats in the South Australian election has some people writing the Party’s
obituary. If they can only get 1.7% of the Legislative Council vote in the state
which is their strongest, the argument goes, there’s no hope of them getting a
quota at the next Senate poll.

There is no doubting that the
Democrat decline in South
Australia has been dramatic. At the Council election of
1997 the Democrat share was 16.9%. In 2002 it fell to 7.3% before Saturday’s
further decline to 1.7%.

Yet things are not necessarily as
bleak as they might appear at a cursory glance. The table below shows that,
while the Democrats might be in decline, so too are the Liberals.

Share of Votes (%) in SA Legislative
Council Elections

Party 2006 2002 1997
25.7 40.1 37.74
Australian Labor
36.5 32.94 30.74
1.7 7.34 16.92
Family First
4.9 4.02
4.1 2.76 1.56
0.8 1.81
Independent Nick Xenophon’s No Pokies
21.5 1.29 2.89
Other 4.8 9.74 10.15
Total for candidates other than
ALP and Liberal
37.8 26.96 31.52

Last Saturday Nick Xenophon was the
major beneficiary from the Liberal Party’s deserters. With the Labor vote going
up it was not a surprise that the Greens vote picked up only

At a Senate poll there will be no
Nick Xenophon so the disenchanted will have to look elsewhere. And who better
than Natasha Stott Despoja who is every bit as well known in South Australia as the No
Pokies independent. She got a great run in the local media with her comments
yesterday that she was thinking about not standing again. Will she, won’t she,
will prove an irresistible story in South Australia for months.

Also working in Senator Stott
Despoja’s favour is the expectation that the solid vote at the last Senate poll
for Liberal and Labor will prove to have been an anomaly. The 17% of the vote
that independents and all the minor parties – Democrats, Greens, Family First
and others – gained in 2004 was a far lower share than at any other upper house election
in the last decade.

Democrat Performance in Upper House
Elections in SA

Year Type Democrat All Non
1996 Senate 10.8 21.9
1997 Leg Co 16.9 31.5
1998 Senate 12.4 26.7
2001 Senate 12.6 21.2
2002 Leg Co 7.3 27.0
2004 Senate 2.4 17.0
2006 Leg Co 1.7 37.8

The biggest problem that the
Democrats will have next time is that their other Senators do not have the public
recognition in the rest of Australia that Stott Despoja has in South Australia. Her
personality may prove sufficient to overcome the decline in her party. Others
will not be so fortunate.