This is straight from the sealed section to subscribers on Tuesday, July 16, which led to Crikey being called a “rogue” website by The Australian’s Matt Price as he followed up the yarn in Wednesday’s paper.

The Meg Lees’ letter THAT letter was written in response to the “please explain” the Dems executive shot off in her direction. All the Democrat Senators now seem to feel that the national executive overreacted when it sent its bombshell out let alone when Lees’ response was made public.

If this e-mail is accurate, and Natasha’s office has confirmed she sent it on May 31, it suggests they weren’t the only ones. It means that Stott-Despoja overreacted, too and while not directly telling the executive to get Lees, certainly steered them off in that direction. Judge for yourself:

“Dear National Executive —

“I have seen some of the NE comments regarding Telstra and I make the following assessment:

“This morning was our best chance since the election — I believe — to demonstrate our strength; our commitment to maintaining our election promises; and, our unwillingness to cross trade (particularly on the environment or issues relating to social and public infrastructure).

“The Gallery was openly sceptical about Bob Brown’s comments and quite scathing in some interviews and reports about his motives and timing.

“My press conference today was well received and journalists openly and perhaps a little contritely suggested we were clearly the solid ones on this issue while Bob Brown — who went through the campaign suggesting it would be the Democrats who would fold on Telstra while he pledged to “NEVER EVER” sell telstra — was after a headline and prepared to put a For Sale sign on public assets.

“All that changed by the time I boarded an aeroplane this afternoon. I heard Fran Kelly on Richard Glover discussing the issue of Telstra but then proclaiming the real news was not Bob Brown but that Meg Lees was at odds with the Leader of the Democrats on this issue and that the Dems were divided etc etc.

“Yes, one person’s comments managed to change a good news story for us into a negative.

“But believing this was a misquote — hey, I was on a plane surrounded by Liberal politicians after the Gorton memorial (but that’s another story!)

“I tried spinning that it must be wrong/out of context etc. Having heard the news on the hour I know there was no misquote nor any misrepresentation. I heard the comments verbatim.

“As far I am concerned, all Senators signed pledges on this issue at the campaign. Our position is clear. It is non negotiable. The Democrat position is that Telstra is NOT FOR SALE. Any different positions are not Democrat positions.

“Today has hurt us. We were all set to capitalise on Bob’s back flip.

“One person changed that.

“We can not afford for this to happen again.

“We are going up in the polls. Our budget performance has been strong.

“Division and disunity must be a thing of the past.

“I hope Nat Exec recognises our obligations to the membership and the electorate.

“We promised NOT TO SELL TELSTRA.

“I hope NE will reinforce this position.”

Yours, Natasha

AMATEUR HOUR IN THE DEMOCRATS

Hillary Bray writes:

Natasha Stott Despoja has been busy pushing buttons behind the scenes in the Democrats’ recent brawls and Glenn Milne’s column in the Australian yesterday suggests she’s taking a more hands-on role.

Milne’s column opened with a very definite statement of fact:

“Natasha Stott Despoja has offered to resign as leader of the Australian Democrats. The offer was made during the most recent bout of destructive madness gripping the party. Stott Despoja sounded out senate colleagues regarded as unaligned to either her or Lees.

“She told them she was prepared to stand aside and make way for a compromise candidate if they believed that was in the best interests of the party. In what is now seen as a turning point in party sentiment against Meg Lees, Stott Despoja’s gesture was declined by her colleagues.”

It then continued with a strong attack on Lees:

“The verdict among her fellow senators is that they have now had enough of Lees’s divisive press statements. Certainly there are continuing reservations about Stott Despoja, but the sheer scale of the havoc being wreaked by Lees’s statements has now provoked a backlash against the former leader.

“Last Friday Stott Despoja organised a regular partyroom phone hook-up. With debate raging over Lees’s continued push for the Democrats to consider the full privatisation of Telstra, Stott Despoja asked her colleagues whether anybody planned to break their written pledge, made at the time of the last election, to keep Telstra in public ownership.

“Everybody agreed to keep to the pledge. Which raises the question: what then is Lees on about? Most of those on that call reached the obvious conclusion. Lees isn’t on about Telstra at all. They think she’s on about destroying her leader.

“Stott Despoja then asked if anyone intended doing any media on the issue. Deputy leader Aden Ridgeway said he’d been offered an appearance on the Seven Network’s Sunday Sunrise and had declined. Lyn Allison, the Democrats actual communications spokeswoman, said she had nothing planned. Likewise for all the other senators.

“And then there was Lees. She told the hook-up she intended doing the ABC’s Insiders. It was not the fact she was going to do a prominent Sunday morning political interview program which took her colleagues by surprise. After all, Lees had been in the media all week, poisoning Stott Despoja’s well via Telstra. But it was the reason she offered for doing so that left colleagues gobsmacked. She said she was doing Insiders because ‘she needed to clear her name’. She further declared ‘she would not be silenced’. ‘For God’s sake,’ said one Democrat later, ‘she’s the loudest woman in Australia right now.’

“If there was ever evidence that Lees was starting to see the world differently from most other Democrats, that conversation was it. Clear her name of what? Who was it she thought had sullied it in the first place?”

It continued to hammer Lees while portraying Stott-Despoja sympathetically:

“Lees appears to believe that there are people in the party ‘out to get her’. It’s just that the rest of the Democrats don’t know who she’s talking about. Some colleagues are now genuinely worried about her. To them it seems obvious what’s going on: Lees has never got over being voted out of the leadership and she now seems determined to bring down her young successor. ‘She just hates me,’ Stott Despoja has told colleagues privately. ‘She thinks I’ve ruined her life.’

“Lees also complains about Stott Despoja’s allegedly autocratic behaviour. But in the past six months, particularly, Stott Despoja has gone out of her way to keep in touch with Lees, calling her more often in that period than Lees ever consulted Stott Despoja during her entire period of leadership

“‘Scary’ is the way Stott Despoja has described Lees to colleagues when they’re together one on one

“Even one-time Lees supporter John Cherry has told Stott Despoja he has had enough. When she was asked by some colleagues why she’s doing so many interviews, she has offered a lame excuse. ‘They just caught me at the airport.’ and the like”

You get the drift. Over the cornflakes, it appeared pretty obvious where the brief came from Stott-Despoja or one her allies. Then, things got narrowed right down.

Meg Lees told the ABC: “I’ve spoken to probably most of my colleagues over different issues, a couple since the (phone) hook-up on Friday and another one this morning and no-one knows anything about it”.

Well, she would say that, wouldn’t she. She’s the villain, after all. But then Stott Despoja’s closest supporter, Andrew Bartlett, told AAP he was unable to confirm that she offered to resign to unaligned senators. “I couldn’t be sure if she has or hasn’t” he said.

Well, if he couldn’t say, who could?

AAP offered us this fascinating snippet: “The office of Australian Democrats leader Natasha Stott Despoja today refused to confirm or deny a report she offered to resign during the recent bout of party turmoil A spokeswoman for Senator Stott Despoja refused to confirm whether the offer occurred. ‘Senator Stott Despoja is not resigning,’ was the spokeswoman’s only response.”

So that’s all solved then? Well, yes in a way.

It looks as if Stott Despoja and/or her office briefed up Milne in plenty of details but forgot to even tell such a key ally as Bartlett. What did Lees talk about in her letter to the national executive. Yes, that’s right: “the Leader’s managerial ability and capacity to recruit, manage and retain appropriate staff. Co-ordination of lines is a primary function of the Leader’s Office.” Well, it wasn’t happening then and isn’t happening now.

Indeed, this bears all the hallmarks of an amateurish, undergraduate effort. Just the sort of thing a press sec who takes a political job but thinks it will be OK if she stays on air at the ABC as she serves out her time or the sort of boss who would take them on would do.

THE ADEN ON GLENN MILNE

The ADEN the Adult Democrats E-mail Network is up and buzzing again. Here’s just one of yesterday’s offerings:

Dear Stephen

Well, if you had been on the ADEN today, you would have thought everyone’s birthday had come at once. After our leader has been quite unjustly lambasted by almost every senior journalist in the country, Glenn Milne rode across the pages of the OZ today to rescue her. May blessings be upon him, his camels and his sources.

As you would expect, there were grumblings from the ever-dwindling group of Lees’ supporters on the ADEN that Milne didn’t run any of what he wrote past Lees’ office which, they argue, is what journalists of substance do.

Some of the less supportive ADENers were also puzzled that our glorious leader only offered her resignation to the unaligned ones in the Party Room. As one-eyed Natasha supporters we, who are in the majority, are very happy that she was strategically astute enough to confine her offer of resignation to Cherry and Ridgeway only.

One or two ADENers rang around the senators’ offices to see just who did speak to Milne and to what extent his supposed ‘sources’ either spoke to or agreed with his estimate of the current tide of sentiment. Silence.

There was also featured on the ADEN today an email purpporting to have been sent to NE by Natasha uriging them to stand firm on Telstra. As firm allies of our young leader, we all hope that no-one shares this email with Crikey. We know what she meant but in the light of what is transpiring and the push to get that dour Lees out of our party, there are other, less kind interpretations.

Best, ADENer

Peter Fray

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