It appears that the Australian Democrats efforts to reform the party into 21st century relevance have hit a snag.
The party’s new member-oriented website www.newdemocrats.org.au, which was developed with a view towards building an “online political party” with greater member participation and online voting to modernise and speed up the party’s notoriously cumbersome structures, was unceremoniously pulled offline last week without consultation with the 150 members of the website, just as the members were voting on a resolution regarding constitutional reform of the national executive.
Tensions have been running high in what’s left of the micro-party, with what appears to be a “Christian Centrist” takeover being launched from South Australia, led by supporters of former leader Meg Lees, who notoriously blamed “the gays” for the party’s and her own demise as leader.
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This led to vigorous debate on the newdemocrats.org.au website, particularly about the involvement of paid political consultant Kathryn Crosby in the internal politics of the party.
Though a paid consultant, Crosby made known her sympathies with the Christian Centrist faction and opposed efforts such as the Bastard Watch campaigns (advertised on Crikey) earlier in the year. Since taking effective control of the party in April, Crosby has halted Bastard Watch and argued on National Executive that the Australian Democrats should not advertise themselves as “progressive”.
She even started directing complimentary tweets at Andrew Bolt using the party Twitter account.
Crosby also initiated a recent bout of spamming to Australian Democrats supporters, including the “adopt-a-Dem” program where existing members pay the membership fees of prospective members. In other parties this is called branch stacking, but not in the Australian Democrats.
Remaining and former progressive members of the party have been alarmed, particularly by suggestions that the party should direct its meagre but potentially significant preferences away from the Greens, apparently out of a sense of revenge for being superseded as Australia’s third party.
Meanwhile, the following email is doing the rounds:
From: Luke Miller [email protected]
Subject: New Democrats update
Greetings New Democrats users,
This is the final update regarding the New Democrats website at http://newdemocrats.org.au.
Last Thursday there was an unannounced redirection of the newdemocrats.org.au domain name to democrats.org.au, redirecting users to a broken 404 page on the Democrats website. This made New Democrats inaccessible to people expecting to find it at the original url.
After some investigation it became apparent that the National Executive (NE) of the Australian Democrats had executed the manoeuvre with the aim of shutting down New Democrats permanently.
My initial reaction was to find out what had happened and if possible to restore newdemocrats.org.au
Sadly, NE have been unwilling to engage with us on this issue. I received one perfunctory email from acting National President Julia Melland intimating that at a recent NE meeting, a unanimous vote had been taken to terminate New Democrats. This decision was made “unanimously” because “a small minority was publishing material detrimental to the Australian Democrats” and that “the site was being accessed, clearly, by non members”. This is the only reason, with no specifics of any kind, that has been given for the termination.
It has been impossible to verify any aspect of Julia Melland’s story, as the minutes from the meeting are not available, dates and location details of the meeting are not available, resolutions from the meeting are not available, and indeed even a list of who is on the National Executive post-election (three months after the end date of NE’s 2008-09 term) has not been made available at this time.
Additionally, without access to a National Registrar, we are unable to enter the dispute resolution process as outlined in the Australian Democrats National Constitution. The Constitution itself has been removed from the democrats.org.au website.
Even if the vote took place as indicated by Melland, in my opinion the individuals on the National Executive of the Australian Democrats have acted illegally. They have grossly violated sections 4, 6 and 12 of the Constitution, ignored section 8, and are now operating in an unconstitutional manner. This is probably in violation of the Commonwealth Electoral Act which requires registered political parties to operate by “a written Constitution”. They and the people who assisted in redirecting the domain name should immediately resign. In short, they are off my Christmas card list for the foreseeable future.
On a philosophical level, the National Executive is there to serve the membership of the Australian Democrats, not the other way around.
So what does this mean for everyone’s brilliant contributions to New Democrats?
Until the end of the month (30 September 2009), as long as you have your NewDems password and username, you can access your journals here: http://184.108.40.206/collection/
The results from the seven complete ballots, including the final one regarding reforming the National Constitution (including National Executive), are available here: http://220.127.116.11/votes/
After that date, New Democrats moderators and office holders will cease maintaining the site, and any further requests regarding the site should be made directly to National Executive.
Disgruntled former Democrats are a dime a dozen. I could rant and rave about what I really think of the people who have the party in a death grip, but instead I will say what I think they are not:
They are not democrats.