The end of the Democrats

If the Australian Democrats weren’t already doomed, the apparently alcohol-fuelled fracas involving Andrew Bartlett is surely the last straw. Rather than rake over the coals of the last few years, I thought it might be worth assessing their contribution.

The biggest single thing the Democrats have done is to give the Senate a constructive role when it seemed, after 1975, that this was impossible. After 1975 Senate without a government majority seemed like a guarantee of chaos with the axe poised to fall the moment the government’s popularity slipped. And a Senate with a government majority would be waste of space (not to mention money).

Although they didn’t always get it right, the Democrats used the balance of power well, both in their initial phase as a centrist party and subsequently when they became, on most issues, a left alternative to Labor. With luck, the Greens will succeed them in the balance of power and will follow this tradition, driving tougher bargains than the Democrats have done, but still being willing to make the system work.

The pity is that they didn’t merge with the Greens ten years ago. A merger would have been good for both sides. I believe it was considered but was derailed by personal rivalries and party bickering.