A screaming hangover before the party finally winds up – that may well be the sad and sorry fate of the Australian Democrats.

We talked about their perilous Senate situation earlier this week. Natasha Stott Despoja seems to be the party’s best hope. South Australia has traditionally been the Democrats’ strongest state. But it’s also home to their biggest problem – MLC Sandra Kanck.

Kanck has had her back against the wall since May, when she suggested the base element of ecstasy, MDMA, could be useful for sufferers of post-traumatic stress. She used as her example the victims of the bushfires that left nine dead on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula last year.

Kanck claims her comments were taken out of context, but since then, the party has been in uproar, with Kanck summoned to a special meeting of the state executive.

An already delicate situation was further exacerbated on the weekend when the MLC attended a rave party in Adelaide. Kanck subsequently told local ABC Radio “If I had a choice between being at a rave party and a hotel bar, I’d go to the rave party every time.”

The South Australian Democrat state executive has held an executive meeting this week. A further executive and state council meeting is scheduled to be held next Monday. Senior Democrats say Kanck is unlikely to be expelled from the party – after the Meg Lees experience, they don’t want to gift anyone a parliamentary seat. State and national party president Richard Pascoe, however, is expected to resign from the state presidency and may even leave the party.

But what really worries the local Democrats is the impact of the furore on their state Senator, Stott Despoja.

There are only six Democrat parliamentarians left around the country: Kanck, NSW MLC Arthur Chesterfield-Evans and the four Senators. Chesterfield Evans is set to lose his seat at the NSW poll next March. The Senators are expected to face voters sometime in spring 2007.

With her home division in uproar and facing a concerted media attack – thanks to Kanck’s comments – Stott Despoja’s chances will be considerably diminished. There has never been any love lost between the Senator and Kanck and her husband Ozzie, a former senior party official. Stott-Despoja, indeed, may decide that it’s just all too hard and retire.

Kanck has already announced that this will be her last term. Party insiders hoped she might stand aside and create a casual vacancy. Now, they fear she is determined to be the last Democrat left standing – and bugger the consequences. It would all be great copy for that book she’s been talking about for ages.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey