Australian Democrats in "continuous downward spiral": Founder

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Australian Democrats founder, Don Chipp has told patrons at the party's national conference in Melbourne that "the party is not only in a low position in the public esteem but it seems to be in a continuous downward spiral". Chipp helped found the party in 1977 after becoming discontent with the Liberal Party.

Mr Chipp told patrons at the conference that the party has suffered recently due to public personality clashes and a lack of unity and that the 2007 election would determine the party's future.

Mr Chipp said that the party had deteriorated over the past few years and that the party could have capitalised on public dissatisfaction with both the government and opposition, which he says is at its highest level in 30 years. "Why has this wonderful creation … deteriorated to such an extent that almost all political commentators forecast its death at the election to be held next year," he said.

"The voters' disgust and resentment of the two major parties is infinitely greater than 30 years ago." Mr Chipp told the conference.

The party has been in steady political decline since 1998. Under the Senate electoral system in Australia, at each general election only half the Senate is elected. At the 2004 election, no Democrats were elected, leaving only the four members elected in 2001 and the lowest number of Democrat members since 1977.

Mr Chipp urged the party to embrace change. He said that those who do not believe they could successfully contest their seat at the next election or who were considering retiring from politics should "resign immediately".

"Perhaps all the current senators should ask themselves if they think they can personally retain their seat at the next election," he said.

"If they believe they cannot win, or if they decide they will not stand for the next re-election, they should give consideration to resigning from the Senate immediately," said Mr Chipp.

"The Democrats are a fragile institution with few members and limited resources, (and) one must ask, 'Is it moral that a senator be allowed to sit out their term in comfort while the party disintegrates around them?'" Mr Chipp said.