NSW Democrats dither into supporting Greiner

Issue 

By Dick Nichols

SYDNEY — After three weeks of indecision, the Australian Democrats' two members of the New South Wales Legislative Council voted on March 21 to support Greiner government legislation for a referendum that would reduce the chamber from 45 to 42 seats.

The two Democrats, Elizabeth Kirkby and former Simply Living publisher Richard Jones, voted with the Liberals, Nationals and Call To Australia's Fred and Elaine Nile to defeat the Labor opposition and dissident Call To Australia MP Marie Bignold. Bignold, along with Labor's Mick Ibbett and the Nationals' Judy Jakins, will lose her seat if — as most observers expect — the referendum is successful.

Within the National camp, sacrificial lamb Judy Jakins threatened to vote against the proposal, then voted in favour after being spoken to by the minders. She now says she will tell the electorate to vote no.

Richard Jones kept everyone on tenterhooks with his gyrations on the issue. Despite early verbal support for a written promise from Kirkby to the Liberals, Jones soon came under pressure from rank-and-file Democrats and Marie Bignold supporters, angry at the alliance with the Niles and Greiner.

A week earlier, he explained his position of the time: "I shall abstain. I will not bend."

But, because the legislation depended on his support, Jones also came under massive pressure from the Greiner government. "They are holding a large cannon at my head. They are going to have to pull the trigger because I am going to stand firm. They have no principles, no ethics and I shall tell the electorate that", Jones stated.

One week of threats, and Jones bent. High on the list of arguments inducing a change of mind was the government's threat to withdraw the sops offered the Democrats by Greiner — putting the names of parties on the ballot paper (worth about 2-3% of the vote) and changes to public funding arrangements (reckoned to be worth $100,000 per election for the Democrats).

Jones explained his about-face by saying that his original position would have meant "the cost to democracy and the Democrats was too great".