On 29 September 1942, Janet Powell AM, former leader of The Australian Democrats, was born in Nhill, Victoria. She became the third leader of The Australian Democrats.
Janet Frances McDonald, was born in Nhill, Victoria, then educated at Ballarat Grammar School and Nhill High School. She graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Arts and a Diploma of Education.
She then worked as a secondary school teacher at Kerang High School and Nhill High School.
Powell was active in the Australian Democrats the 1980s, serving as the party’s Victorian state president (1983–85) and a national deputy president (1984–86). In 1986, she was appointed a Democrat senator for Victoria, upon the resignation of the party’s founder, Don Chipp. She was elected the following year.
Following the announcement of the 1987 Senate election results, Powell was one of four senators who received a six-year term as a consequence of which method was chosen to allocate the seats. She became the third elected leader of the party, from 1 July 1990 to 19 August 1991.
After internal disagreements related to her loss of the leadership, she resigned from the party in 1992 and continued as an independent senator until her defeat at the 1993 election. After quitting the Democrats, she reminded the Senate of her non-partisan approach in pursuit of reforms, including a successful private senator’s bill:
“In the six years that I have been in this place I have valued most highly the cooperative work that I have been able to do with colleagues on all sides of the chamber…for example, I reflect on the magnificent work done by former Senator Peter Baume which played a large part in enabling the passage, unopposed, through the Parliament of my private member’s Bill which banned the print advertising of tobacco products.
On the other side, I look forward to a successful result on the question of discrimination against homosexuals in the armed forces as a result of important strategic cooperation between myself, Senator Margaret Reynolds and other Labor Party backbenchers.”
In 1996, she campaigned for Greens leader Bob Brown and, in 2004, she joined the Australian Greens, citing that they were more capable of achieving the function of a third force in Australian politics. In the 2006 Victorian state election she unsuccessfully stood for the Greens in the Eastern Metropolitan Region.
Janet Powell was a member of the Patrons Council of the Epilepsy Foundation of Victoria, a Life Member of YWCA Victoria, and also an inaugural appointee to the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in 2000 “for services to the community”.
In the 2012 Queen’s Birthday Honours list, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia, in recognition of her service to the Parliament and people of Australia, “particularly through leadership of YWCA Victoria”.
She died on 20 September 2013 from complications arising from pancreatic cancer.