The Australian Democrats party has never been a radical alternative. Formed as a split from the Liberals, and claiming to sit between them and the Australian Labor Party (ALP), the Democrats appeal to voter disillusionment with its slogan “Keep the bastards honest.” A frustrating lack of clarity about its nature has weakened attempts to build progressive working class electoral alliances. At the last federal election, both the Greens and the Australian Women’s Party gave preference to the Democrats above the ALP, forcing their Victorian alliance partner, the Progressive Labour Party, to recommend a complicated “below the line” vote in the Senate to prevent PLP supporters’ votes flowing to the Democrats. Now, as a result of the dirty deal to introduce a regressive Goods and Services Tax (GST), the Victorian Greens Party has overturned its policy of automatically allocating preferences to the Democrats.
As Labor moved ever rightward through the ‘80s, there remained no middle ground for the Democrats to occupy, so it courted voters disillusioned by Labor sellouts, repackaging itself as the champion of the environment, women, Aboriginal people and social justice. But the class nature of the Democrats — whose base is small business — never changed. Soon after the election of the Howard government, the Democrats reverted to type, supporting the watering down of unfair dismissal laws and passing the anti-union Workplace Relations Act.
Greed, Stupidity, Treachery. Without the Democrats, there would be no GST to shift the tax burden from the rich to the rest of us. Big business would not get more handouts; diesel fuel, a major pollutant, would not be cheaper; and books would not be taxed. Poor women would not be forced back into the kitchen through unfair imposts on “prepared” foods. The Democrats’ grab for a share of political power is a sellout of the majority of those who voted against the GST in the Senate. It’s also naïve, because Howard will walk away from the deal as soon as he has the numbers.
We prefer a real alternative. As a first step in building a much needed anti-capitalist electoral alliance, it’s time for all radical parties to follow the Victorian Greens and cease giving preferences to the Democrats. Let’s be clear: they’re bastards . . . honest!