In a last ditch attempt to save the sinking ship, the Democrats decided to direct their preferences to the Family First party ahead of the Greens. While the final Senate results will not be known for some time it seems likely that the result of this deal will be to scuttle the chances of a number of Greens senate candidates and deliver one, possibly two, Senate seats to the new conservative Christian party.
While an at times bitter rivalry has existed between the Greens and the Democrats as they jostled for similar supporters, on a fundamental level the two like-minded political parties had, until this election, worked constructively to achieve similar goals. Not any more. Not only have the Democrats harmed their own political prospects by facilitating the emergence of Family First, they have weakened the potential voice of Greens in a Coalition-dominated Senate.
It should not of course come as a surprise that the Democrats have once again made a decision that harms their own interests and their supporters. The GST deal and their refusal to unite behind Natasha Stott Despoja are clear evidence of a self-destructive tendency that, by definition, cannot last for long in politics.
In 2001 the Democrats managed to win four seats under Stott Despoja's leadership. At the weekend's election they won none; it was their worst-ever result. When the four senators elected in 2001 face the voters again in 2007 the party, except perhaps for Stott Despoja, will in all likelihood vanish. It is time for the progressive voices in Australian politics to unite.
This should happen. The Democrats would lose their conservative wing but that wing has delivered little in terms of either votes or policy. The Gang of Four coup against Stott Despoja's leadership achieved nothing except the prompt and utter destruction of the Democrats' electoral chances. The Democrats would benefit from the Greens' passion. The Greens' would benefit from the Democrats' superior understanding of the importance of process.
When the Senate results are finalised it will be interesting to add together the votes of the Greens and Democrats and see what a single party might have achieved.