The death of Don Chipp this week has had many commentators writing the obituary of a whole party and not just of the man who founded one. The words of praise for a remarkable politician were well earned but the eulogy for the Democrats decidedly premature.

The Don Chipp I remember from my early days in Canberra was a feisty Customs Minister prepared to take on the moralistic restrictions imposed by churches on what people could read. Censorship became sensible as adults were allowed to read an unexpurgated version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Move on nearly 40 years and the liberalism of a Chipp is again needed as the country has slipped back into the restrictive ways where those who think they know best seek to impose their moral views on the rest of us.

The current debate on stem cell research is a prime example where views that a minority of Christians hold as the one true ethical position have been made binding on the majority. Increased censorship again has the imprimatur of government.

Consider the absurdity of the law that Justice Minister Chris Ellison was defending this week. Under this illiberal Liberal Government it is illegal to broadcast electronically, including publishing on the internet, information about suicide.

Senator Ellison was prompted to make his defence because the single remaining Democrat member in the South Australian Parliament, Sandra Kanck, used parliamentary privilege to bypass the Suicide Related Material Offences Act by making a speech in the state’s Upper House on assisted deaths. Under existing rules, a transcript of the speech must also be published on state Parliament’s website although the State Labor Government has shown it too has an authoritarian streak by having it removed.

“Irresponsible”, said Minister Ellison. “What we’ve brought in is legislation which is targeted against people who use the internet to prey upon the vulnerable and in some cases the young, to not only tell them how to commit suicide but to promote it,” he said. “That’s a very different situation to simply discussing the pros and cons of euthanasia.”

What Senator Ellison did not explain, because it is inexplicable, is how the vulnerable young and old are to be prevented from accessing foreign sites with the self same information. And we are still awaiting details of government plans to purge public libraries of books describing chemical and other ways to end your life if you want to. Presumably Labor and Liberal will soon agree to publishing the paper version of Hansard with big sections blacked out. Death recipes first and who knows what next.

Ms Kanck has the same capacity to see through cant and hypocrisy as the founder of her Party had. Having the courage actively to promote euthanasia is helping to give the Democrats relevance again. So too is her South Australian Senate colleague Natasha Stott Despoja with her legislation to repeal the restrictions on stem cell research.

The king is dead. Long live the queens.

Peter Fray

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