Australian Democrats

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The Australian Democrats is an Australian political party espousing a social liberal ideology. It was formed in 1977, by a merger of the Australia Party and the New LM, after principals of those minor parties secured the commitment of former Liberal minister Don Chipp, as a high profile leader.[1] The party's 30-year representation in the Parliament of Australia ended on 30 June 2008, after the loss of its four remaining Senate seats; two of the senators had retired from politics and the other two were defeated at the 2007 election, in which the party polled only 1.29% of the national Senate vote.[2]

The party is based on the principles of honesty, tolerance, compassion and direct democracy through postal ballots of all members, so that "there should be no hierarchical structure ... by which a carefully engineered elite could make decisions for the members."[3]:p187 From the outset, members' participation was fiercely protected in national and divisional constitutions prescribing internal elections, regular meeting protocols, annual conferences—and monthly journals for open discussion and balloting. Dispute resolution procedures were established, with final recourse to a party ombudsman and membership ballot.

Policies determined by the unique participatory method promoted environmental awareness and sustainability, opposition to the primacy of economic rationalism (Australian neoliberalism), preventative approaches to human health and welfare, animal rights, rejection of nuclear technology and weapons.

The Australian Democrats were the first representatives of green politics at the federal level in Australia. They played a key role in the cause célèbre of the Franklin River Dam.

The party's centrist role makes it subject to criticism from both the right and left of the political spectrum. In particular, Chipp's former conservative affiliation was frequently recalled by opponents on the left.[n 1] This problem was to torment later leaders and strategists who, by 1991, were proclaiming "the electoral objective" as a higher priority than the rigorous participatory democracy espoused by the party's founders.[n 2]

Over three decades, the Australian Democrats achieved representation in the legislatures of the ACT, South Australia, New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania as well as Senate seats in all six states. However, at the 2004 and 2007 elections, all seven of its Senate seats were lost.[2]

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