David Bell’s history with the Democrats goes back to the very beginnings of the party so it was wonderful to have him join recently and take a very active role from his home in Birchip in north-west Victoria – the wheat belt.
Here’s his story, just published in the local paper. In case you are wondering, the picture of David, looking splendid with Democrats mask, is alongside the legendary Mallee Bull.
While studying engineering at Swinburne College in the early 1970’s I began a series of student forums with invited speakers such as the football identity Harry Beitzel. I also hosted a forum where Don Chipp was the guest speaker.
At the time Chipp was the minister for customs and excise in the Gorton government, and he was gaining national attention for his decision to dramatically loosen censorship. Banned books like Lady Chatterley’s Lover were now unbanned and films that once shocked the blue rinse brigade were now at least welcome at film festivals.
Not enough credit is given to the Gorton government for ushering in the new cultural era in Australia, post Menzies. Following the dismissal of the Whitlam Government Chipp found himself serving under Malcolm Fraser, but the two men did not get along.
In 1977 Don Chipp once again gained national attention when he announced that he was leaving the Liberal Party to form a new centrist party called the Australian Democrats.
Australia was hungry for such a party that was neither left nor right, and the Australian Democrats had immediate electoral success in 1977 with the election of Don Chipp and Colin Mason to the Senate.
Support for the party grew during the 80’s and in the 1990 election the Democrats held 9 seats in the Senate.This turned out to be the turning point for the party and from then on there was a not so slow decline.
There were two main reasons for this decline.
Firstly, there were leadership tensions that were publicly aired,not least being Cheryl Kernot’s defection to the Labor Party. Secondly, the Greens and their environmental concerns were winning lots of support particularly among young voters.
2004 was the last time that the Australian Democrats won a seat in the Senate and the last senators ended their time in office in 2008. All the while the Greens were growing into a formidable electoral force and now have 9 seats in the Senate.
It seemed that time was up for the Democrats and in 2015 they lost their registration as a party.
However there was a faithful remnant who believed in the value of the party and they began a rebuild so that 3 days before the 2019 election they regained party registration and contested that election.
I had lost faith in the major parties; I was appalled by some of the things happening in the National Party, and it was clear that the Greens were at war with each other. For example, prior to the 2019 election more than 3000 Victorian Greens members resigned the party in disgust over factional infighting.
So I decided to vote Australian Democrats; I also decided to join the Democrats during that election, and now I am heavily involved in the rebuild of the party.
I am the national fundraising coordinator, and also primary coordinator of the Arts Campaign Group.
Believe me, the new Australian Democrats are an exciting group to be with. There is passion, enthusiasm and energy under the leadership of former senator Lyn Allison.
It is a united party which is in the process of developing policies for the next election.
If you take the trouble to read the principles which govern the party (which you will find at www.australian-democrats.org.au) you will quickly agree that these principles are exactly what should determine our political conduct.