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Chief Executive Officer - South Australia
October 9 - 15, 2009
The Independent Weekly
The Democrats will meet
this weekend to choose a
new candidate for the state
election after David Winderlich
quit the party to become an
The party has reacted with
outrage and indignation after
Mr Winderlich announced his
decision this week, following an
ultimatum to the party in July to
improve its membership.
The last Democrat elected in
Australia, Sandra Kanck, quit
halfway through her term, with
the party choosing Mr Winderlich
as her replacement until the
March 2010 election.
Sources close to the Democrats
say after Kanck’s former advisor,
Greg Charter, left shortly after
the 2006 election to take a position
with the Northern Territory
opposition conservative Country
Liberal Party, there were few
choices to replace her.
Under the Democrats’ constitu-
tion, members can vote to replace
a sitting senator or member of the
Upper House. Some urged former
Democrat MLC Kate Reynolds to
contest the position.
“She had made many enemies
within the party and expressed
disinterest bordering on apathy in
contesting the seat,” a source close
to the party said.
The only two candidates likely
to be elected were the former state
president, Yorke Peninsula farmer
Richard Way, or Mr Winderlich,
the party’s candidate for the seat
of Norwood in the 2006 election.
Sources said that since coming
to office, Mr Winderlich had
managed to ostracise or enrage the
remnants of the federal branch
of the party, while state members
have been reluctant to renew their
membership or even recruit new
members. But Mr Winderlich
maintains he has the full support
of the majority of the state party
On July 20, he gave the party
an ultimatum to recruit 1000
members by November or he
would leave the party – a feat that
people inside and outside the party
told him was impossible.
On Wednesday, with fewer
than 100 new members, he had
no choice but to quit, sending a
one-line letter of resignation to the
“I recruited most of these
members myself,” Mr Winderlich
said. “There is no longer the
community support required for
the Democrats to continue, and the
Democrats lack the self-belief to go
out and win that support.”
Democrats national president
Julia Melland said Mr Winderlich
should not be allowed to keep
his Upper House seat until the
“He’s only resigning from our
party,” Ms Melland said. “That is
unethical from our point of view.
He was given that seat, he’s never
been elected by voters in South
Australia, he was given that seat
on a plate by Sandra Kanck and so,
of course, taking it away from us
as a party is unethical.”
Mr Winderlich claimed his
challenge was set in an attempt to
“restore the party’s credibility and
legitimacy as a political party”.
“The challenge has been, as it
has for six or seven years, for them
to define themselves more clearly
and to go back to the grassroots,”
But former MLC Kate Reynolds
said the party could not be revived
by threats or ultimatums.
“Nobody should be surprised
that Mr Winderlich has decided
to keep the Democrats’ seat for
himself,” Ms Reynolds said.
“Don Chipp’s party, as
liberal Democrats knew it,
died at the 2007 federal election
and it was never going to be
revived by anybody’s threats or
Former SA Democrats president
Richard Way said that as the
party’s sole elected member, it
was up to Mr Winderlich to garner
“If you become the leader in
the privileged position as an MP,
it is your job to build the support
and enthusiasm for the party and
pursue new issues that will attract
Mr Way said Mr Winderlich
should have seen out his ter m as a
“You make a commitment to
the people that put you there and
support you in the process. He’s
done the party no real service.”
But former party staffer and
candidate John Schuman said
Mr Winderlich’s decision was
“The Democrats, at their best
– a nd they haven’t been at their
best for a number of years – were
a very important feature on the
Australian political landscape,”
Mr Schuman said.
“It was a foregone conclusion;
the ultimatum was a strategic
out-clause for him.
“There was no real point in him
going to the state election with
the Democrat brand, because the
brand has been trashed.”
Sandra Kanck is now looking
forward. The Democrats’
campaign executive will meet this
weekend to decide a candidate for
the state election.
“It’s good the party now knows
where we stand,” she said. “I’ve
just been speaking to a potential
Ms Kanck, and other Democrats
The Independent Weekly spoke
to, denied they had a role in the
“Ego has played a role,” Ms
Kanck said. “There’s certainly
been a diminution of presence and
power, but it doesn’t mean it’s all
The national branch agrees. Ms
Melland said a rebuilding program
in the easter n states would lead the
party to the next federal election.
“We’re getting a lot of ground
support around the country, so
we’re definitely not dead; in fact
we’re on the path for a very big and
But for now the Democrats
appear doomed to return to
political obscurity. On current
polling, neither Mr Winderlich
nor the Democrats are likely to
be elected at the March 2010 state
election. This will open the way for
the SA Greens, who are now more
likely to win another seat, giving
them two in the Upper House.
I have been fortunate to be elected to
represent my local community in the
I have done the hard yards and the lonely
nights in Opposition. As a minister, I had the
opportunity to make decisions that affected
our future. And my proudest moments came
when I represented our country to the world.
Political life can be exhilarating. It can
also be long hours of drudgery, and worse,
petty attacks from people who have little
understanding of the difficult choices you
have to make.
There is never a good time to exit. There is
always the hope of one more term, one more
budget, one more chance to put things right.
It used to be said it is harder to be dropped
from the Australian cricket team than it is
to break into
is like that.
Once you are
is the hope
of a big score
a flat wicket
I served in
office in government (as it was under the
Coalition) for nearly 12 years, which is
longer than anyone else.
Critics say I didn’t make it to the top office.
I would have liked to. And I tried. But I think
it is fair to be judged on how you discharged
the office you did hold, not on how you
didn’t discharge the office you didn’t hold.
I can be judged against previous treasurers
in Australia, and the perfor mance of
contemporaries overseas. I am proud of the
record. I do not need to recount it. It will
speak for itself.
I decided after the last election that it was
time to stand aside for others in the party. In
my view, Opposition is the time to test people
in the fire, and bond together a team that will
ultimately go on and win gover nment.
But my party has now nominated its
candidate for my seat, Kelly O’Dwyer. She is
part of the next generation.
Organisations which do not plan for the
future die. And I want to see the Liberal
Party return to government.
Why it’s my
time to go
The Australian Democrats must do some soul searching after their last sitting
MP turned his back on the party that put him in office. Melissa Mack reports.
Going it alone: David Winderlich announces his resignation from the
Photo: Kate Elmes
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