This paper traces the rise and fall of the Democrats, Australia's longest-surviving minor party, examining the sources of its support and the reasons for its decline.
The Australian Democrats are the longest surviving and most successful minor party in federal politics. The party was created as a ‘centre’ party. Two distinctive features of the party were: adherence to the principle of parliamentary democracy and the ability of parliamentary representatives to vote according to their conscience.
The Democrats won seats at each Senate election from 1977 to 2001. Support for the party mainly came from middle class, urban-based, educated and younger voters who were disillusioned with the major parties. The Democrats held the balance of power in the Senate either solely or with other minor parties or independents from July 1981 to 2004. They were able to influence the legislative agenda. The party led the way in promoting women to leadership positions.
Many factors played a part in the decline of the Democrats. Many commentators point to the Democrats support in the passing of the Goods and Services Tax legislation in 1999 as a key factor. Other issues relate to the turnover of parliamentary leaders, not getting their message heard and the rise of the Australian Greens. From 1 July 2008 no Democrats are represented in the Federal Parliament.