Don Chipp: reflections on a life well lived

Growing up in the Democrats, there were two Don Chipps. There was the Don Chipp of historical record: the great warrior who founded the party, and with it a new way of practicing politics in Australia. And there was the Don Chipp of the present day: a scatterbrained duffer who had to be kept on a tight leash and with a proclivity for young and attractive female staffers. They were always two very different people.

I met Don Chipp only once. During the 2001 Federal election, I was invited to MC a small media event to launch the House of Representatives campaign for Don's son Greg in the seat of Melbourne Ports. So on a weekday afternoon a few weeks from polling day, Greg and Don Chipp, Senator Allison and myself gathered before a throng of half a dozen or so media at the Catani Gardens in St Kilda. I called upon Don to say a few words, and with great gusto he launched into a stinging rebuke of the political leadership of the two major parties. Not just the current leaders, mind you: this was a rebuke of Hawke and Fraser as well. Clearly Don had a long memory.

There was a lot to admire about Don Chipp. His decision to leave the Liberal Party, and with it his chances of regaining a government ministry after being dumped by Malcolm Fraser, was a brave one. Earlier today Senator Allison commented that Chipp's greatest legacy was the example he set by voting with his conscience. She's right, and this description could be broadened to include acting with his conscience. Chipp's decision to leave the Liberal Party and form a new fledgling party was a risky one, and shows the strengths of his beliefs. It also showed some canny political judgment, capturing the mood of voters who were thoroughly dissatisfied with both parties.

In more recent time, Don has been a mixed blessing for the party. He would only occasionally make an appearance at party functions. It was well known within the party that he could be rather unpredictable. Sometimes Don would be wise and insightful, but sometimes he would be prickly and abrasive. As as mentioned, he had a habit of refighting old battles long after they had been won and lost, often with little grace or good humour. He was also known to behave inappropriately with some women at party functions, making many women in the party weary of him, up to and including at least one Senator.

I owe a lot of thanks to Don. It was his vision and determination that led to the formation of the Democrats, which has left a indellable mark on the Australian political landscape, as well as giving me a political education like no other. I suspect he was saddened at the decline of the party. It's ironic that his actions in founding the party were ones of principle, whilst it was petty personal bickering that was the biggest influence in its downfall. Chipp was a man of integrity, and so was the party he founded. It really was Don's Party.

Any other Dems or ex-Dems who drop by the site are encouraged to leave their stories etc in the comments.

A Chipp off the old block.
Vale, Don Chipp 1925-2006

UPDATE, 30/8, 12:33am: Fellow Dem Polly Morgan has published some of her thoughts on The Don.

UPDATE, 26/9, 1:10am: My attention has been drawn to a possible misunderstanding regarding what I wrote about Don, this phrase here in particular:

He was also known to behave inappropriately with some women at party functions, making many women in the party weary of him, up to and including at least one Senator.

I writing this, I didn't mean to suggest that I was aware of specific examples of inappropriate behaviour, only that there were strong whispers - unsubstantiated, it's true - about such behaviour. As to my suggestion that weariness of Don's actions extended high up in the party, my claim is a little crazy/brave. More likely it was "perharps one Senator" rather than "at least one Senator".


Anonymous said…
S-dawg, surely you can go with something more hardball than the thinly-veiled imputation that DC was a (mild) sexual miscreant.

To heck with defo concerns, the Don is dead, so let's dish some dirt!

What other value is there in being a former insider ?!?

Oh yeah, First Post bitches!

666 LC 666

(sorry couldn't make it to trivia).
Anonymous said…
I grew up in the Democrats also, coming in at around the peak (9 Senators) and leaving 3 months ago.

Don was always a large part of the Party's history, so much so that we often forget that Haines was the party's first Senator, not Chippy. I imagine this is more so for those actively involved with the Victorian Division (as opposed to the WA Division).

I've never had the chance to meet him but have always been inspired by his convictions and in the movement that he started. Despite his obvious decline in later years and, as Ari said, his inappropriate behaviour on occasion.

He will be sadly missed by many - but especially those who have ever been (or remain) a Democrat.
Anonymous said…
Keep the bastard's honest, Ari.

Love Aunty

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