Democrat Senators are battling for the soul of their party and the rank and file aren’t staying quiet either.

Something’s got to give.

It seems virtually certain that, by the end of the year, either Natasha Stott Despoja will no longer be leader or that a good percentage of its Senators will be in a new party.

This afternoon (Wednesday) a petition demanding the party executive discipline Senators Meg Lees and Andrew Murray was posted on the AusDemocrats discussion site at Yahoo. Other members feel the party should go further and expel the pair.

The Democrat’s structure gives ordinary members power way beyond that enjoyed by rank and file members of other parties. The ADnet is surging with fast and furious postings and, once again, the material is being passed on to Crikey. Here are just a few examples of recent postings:

This e-mail message is a notification to let you know that a file has been uploaded to the Files area of the AusDemocrats group.

File : /PETITIONS/Lees-Murray


Uploaded by : collinwa

[email protected]>

Description : Petition to initiate a ballot to discipline Senators Lees and Murray

You can access this file at the URL:

I kick kids out of my classroom all the time for breaking the rules. It doesn’t mean I don’t like them. It’s their behaviour which is the concern, and it prevents other students from accessing learning.

There are a lot of parallels between schools and the Party on the matter of discipline (aka behaviour management).

1. The party can discipline the members it is what the NCC is for. Since it is in the constitution we would be better off using that process because it will stand up in court.

2. We already know they won’t shut up in the media so the choice is expel or keep them.

3. Expelling someone for breaking the rules is not vindictive. Mind you it is fair to say that these vindictive Senators can’t ethically expect fairness.

4. Expelling them or keeping them will have ramifications. If we expel them and they vote to sell Telstra at least we will not have to wear the electoral consequences of it. If they stay and exercise their “conscience” vote in the way that suits them to allow the sale of Telstra.

At this stage we need to show:

a) that the party CAN discipline its members, particularly its parliamentarians

b) that the MEMBERSHIP is the ultimate jury in this Party

c) that we are not being vindictive in just trying to expel them (Dion has raised good points in favour of discipline over expulsion)

d) that we support the current leadership, as elected by the members (and hopefully Baby Bear will pull his head in too when he says Mamma and Pappa Bear getting wrapped over the knuckles!)

e) that it does not interfere in the parliamentary process (expelling them may have ramifications)

Of course, Meg and Andrew may not take the discipline lightly and may resign from the Party and remain as rogue independents, but that is a consequence we have weighed up. As Terry rightly pointed out:

“Getting rid of them will damage us. Keeping them will damage us. But if we get rid of them the damage will definitely stop after a short time. If we don’t we will bleed to death.”

I propose that we set a tourniquet around the wound (by putting a gag in their mouth) and hope that it heals or that the lack of blood flow will cause the limb to drop off!

Do you offer an alternative that will provide all the above?

Sorry I know i am posting alot but I am trying to keep them short at least.

I am going to argue against this idea of a petition. Why do we want to piss off Lees and Murray even more and keep them in the party where they can do us untold more damage, when they have already shown great willingness to damage the party when basically nothing has actually been done against them … YET! It sounds a bit like kicking a rabid dog and hoping it won’t bite back when you could have just shot the thing in the first place.

Petition mark 2

I have proposed this wording:


We, the undersigned members of the Australian Democrats, hereby request a general postal ballot of the party be held forthwith to allow the membership of the party to determine the following two separate questions:

Question 1:

That Senator Meg Lees, Australian Democrats Senator for South Australia, be immediately relieved of all Australian Democrats portfolio spokesperson roles and all media responsibilities for a period of not less than 12 months from the determination of this party ballot.


Question 2:

That Senator Andrew Murray, Australian Democrats Senator for Western Australia, be immediately relieved of all Australian Democrats portfolio spokesperson roles and all media responsibilities for a period of not less than 12 months from the determination of this party ballot.


The wind was sown in 1993-1995. The inevitable whirlwind is being reaped.

Well, not quite inevitable. There have been 365 full-day opportunities every year since then to face democratic and economic reality, identify the external source of the attack on internal democracy in the Party, attend to fatal structural weaknesses and deprive those behind the attack of their bridge-heads in all our organs of power within the Party. It is the loss of these opportunities which reduces us to near-total impotence once the leader is temporarily absent. Are we so weak that we can’t afford for a leader to go and meet a very important person in her life before he dies? It’s one thing for us to depend on Natasha, but Natasha has the right to be able to depend, in return, on us. Surely we can treat her better than the ALP treated the woman on whose public persona _it_ drew to try to get some of its chestnuts out of the fire.

Andrew Bartlett has spoken up loud and clear, taking them on within the Party and now in the public arena which they chose to enter. As Ian has asked, where the hell are the other senators? Four have taken an open public stand against the Party: Meg Lees, Lyn Allison (canvassing a change in Telstra policy once the rural pork-barrelling is completed) , Aden Ridgeway and Andrew Murray. Two have stood openly for the Party’s values in the issues currently in dispute: Natasha Stott Despoja and Andrew Bartlett. The Press has become the forum in which the main membership of the party can be reached rapidly, the party’s internal enemies have had open slather through it and Andrew Bartlett has now thrown down a clear challenge in the same medium. Rob is right that we can’t leave it to the senators and office-bearers (we are suffering for doing this for too long) but they do have public access (which means access to the members) and the rest of us by and large don’t. We need to hear from John Cherry and Brian Greig.

Yes we need the cuckoos out of the party room in Canberra and the lay Party apparatus. The grabbing classes are as determined to get their acquisitive hands on Australia’s Telstra as they were to dump their tax responsibilities on to the general populace through a GST. But the only way to get rid of the fifth column that is true to our real character as a party is the democratic way. The slow democratic way is disendorsement when each of them comes up un the normal course of events. A quicker democratic way is an early set of preselection ballots based on a possible double dissolution: disendorsement wouldn’t take immediate formal effect but would reduce them to lame ducks in the public eye. The NCC expulsion route is inherently undemocratic and would be represented as such by them, in the public arena. Egg would be on our faces.

A democratic compromise would be expulsion contingent on its confirmation by ballot. This would focus public attention on our democratic processes.

Anyway, ML and AM have one very important vote on their side than NSD doesn’t have: have a look at this link

It is obvious that the Australian Democrats are not functioning in anything resembling the manner in which they are supposed to, and as the saying goes, desparate times call for desparate measures.

(I’ll hasten to add that “desparate times” has nothing to do with our current standing in the polls, but everything to do with how the current state of the Party relates to the ideals of the party.)

Quite frankly, I think that someone who can contact her, should contact Natasha in London and suggest (in reasonably strong terms) that she should use the mandate given to her by the membership (and not a phoney mandate like that claimed by Howard and Lees, either) to take action. My personal preferences would be:

1. To strip Andrew Murray of his portfolios, and ask for his resignation from the party under the threat that all stops will be pulled out for his expulsion if it is not given. This action could bring some clarity of mind to the rest of the party room, and show the electorate that the Democrats can still be elected to the Senate without falling apart at the first tricky issue.

2. To explain to Meg Lees under a similiar threat exactly how party processes work, and to present her with an ultimatum that she should keep internal matters internal and confine all other public comments to her portfolio areas, or she should resign. If Meg has to be expelled as well, then so be it.

That’s what Natasha can do. What about us as members?

Firstly, as Yulia is acepting letters for the National Journal until Saturday, as many people as possible should write and let their rage be known. Just in itself, this could have quite a tempering effect.

Secondly, a replacement of the Deputy Leader wouldn’t be too bad a move. Party Room sources have noted in the media that Aden is somewhat (repeatedly) naive when speaking to the media, and at any rate has done _nothing_ (so far as I have seen) as deputy leader that he should not have already been doing as a NSW Democrat Senator. At least Andrew Bartlett promised to try to improve the communication between the Party Room and the Party.

(As an aside, I have seen and heard a number of signs that lead me to be quite positive that another Senator has their eyes very firmly on the deputy position, though a challenge is a little way off as support still needs to be built up outside the Senator’s home state. The question is, do they want to push Aden up or out to get it? Details offlist if you want them.)

Thirdly, there is the much larger problem of have a meaningful internal democracy. I take the view that in such complex systems, you should push a little way in a direction that seems to take you where you want to go, and if that works, then push some further. As such, I will say yet again, that the first change that needs to be made is to move to a monthly national journal so that:

a) ballots can be held in shorter timeframes, and in smaller chunks

b) there can be increased discussion amonst members.

You don’t treat cancer with cough lollies. And reprimands and other wishy-washy remedies of the party will not treat the cancer here, either.

Hang in there Andrew Bartlett, this kind of nonsense is unfortunately what humans do when they don’t have a common enemy, and we are so scared to call the Australian Green Party our enemy that we wrestle with two big, slippery fish that kind of look the same to most on the ground.

I think if we focus less on what not to do and more on what to do, we might get a breakthrough. We need leadership, strong leadership, visionary leadership. That is by no means an attack on Natasha, as leadership can come from anywhere, and I’d suggest that you AB, have shown us leadership in your consultative consideration of the dramas that are being played out live.

We need a few (not 97) clear and concise objectives. They have to be doable, and they also have to unite the team under one common flight path all pointing at the goal. I suggest a few statements that everyone can utter whenever someone says “What are the Aus Dems about?” It should go something like, “Right now, we are focussed on object 1, 2 and 3. Our members have told us that’s what is important to them right now, so that’s what we are working on.”

If the goals are strong enough, it’ll “hopefully” give idle hands (and mouths) something to do, but also present a very clear position about where we are today. That might even win some new members too!

Most important, this theatre is all a part of Politics, and those over acting will struggle for big parts again. Let’s push forward from the ground up – I hate being an extra on a “B” grade movie!

The timing of Murray and Ridgeway’s comments is no mistake. What they are attempting to do is to place themselves in the same position as Lees in the hope that the party will backdown on Lees because they too will have done the same thing. WE MUST NOT BACKDOWN ON LEES, infact we must make sure she goes now and goes soon, they have left us with no option! It is the ONLY thing that might possibly pull them into line.

Personally I think Murray should go to, and I doubt he would care anyway, UNLESS he wants a third term in the Senate, but even he must realise he would not get presellected again.

Ridgeway, on the other hand would definitely aspire to a second term and I believe would start playing the game the right way if his partners in crime were no longer in the party room.

It is time to face the reality folks. We have lost control of the Senators, they do what thay want because in recet years the unspoken message was that we would do nothing to stop them. Holding the balance of power is pointless if it is going to rip this party apart.

DUMP LEES NOW, and if necessary Murray, and use the rest of this term of parliament to start re-building the party as aMEMBER DRIVEN and controlled party. There is no alternative!

Isn’t Aden on the steering committee for the party review? Where the hell does he get off saying, as paraphrased by Grattan, “[the Democrats] are engaged in too much navel gazing”?

This is the second time that Aden has publicly attacked the membership in this manner. It is obvious where his intentions lie. His election to the deputy position has been shown to be a huge mistake. The man is committed only to his personal political career, not the principles or the membership of this party. We need to get rid of him.

Well I don’t know about you guys but I no longer have even the faintest idea what to do.

Apart from Neil telling us that these articles are all Natasha’s fault even though she’s overseas and leaving the running to her supportive colleagues, does anyone have any ideas at all about what to do and what possible hope there is?

Andrew Bartlett

Whilst I absolutely support Aden’s right to hold this opinion and indeed his right to argue for it, why is it our Parliamentarians feel that they have a right to start these INTERNAL debates via making public statements to the media.

IF ADEN WANTS TO MAKE THESE TYPE OF COMMENTS HE CAN BLOODY WELL TURN UP TO DIVISIONAL MEETINGS AND RUB SHOULDERS WITH THE MEMBERS! I note with great interest that whilst Aden holds a voting position on the NSW State Executive he has made appologies for six meetings and turned up to NONE! Until he choses to turn up to MOST meetings and be readily available to LISTEN to the membership not just give reports he should think about shutting his mouth.

Aden has the potential to be a great politician, but to date his style is not that of a Democrat, I hope it changes because the members are sick of being used to further careers and then being ignored.

We have expressed our various views of where Senator Ridgeway’s comments were made. Senator Ridgeway rightly believes that if we wish to capture the votes of dissident Liberals we must move to the right. His error lies in the assumption that this is a worthwhile objective. By and large these voters are unhappy with some aspects of Liberal policy or government. But they remain at their core Liberal voters who still believe in the base content of conservative philosophy. For most their disaffection is not permanent – they will not continue to vote Democrat once the Liberal Party swings back towards more traditional conservative values rather than right wing/hard line economic ideologies, as they surely will in time.

It is never a good thing in the long term to chase protest votes. If your ideological tent meets their needs in the short term, accept it for what it is, a short term bonus. I can understand Senator Ridgeway feeling nervous for his position with our polls as they are and a re-election campaign looming, but that nervousness of a person in the front line is precisely why they are at best unreliable in determining strategy and at worst intensely self interested.

The best long term strategy for this party to increase vote will be to seek to appeal to the increasing number of unaligned swinging voters rather than chasing protest votes. Protest votes have their use in the short term but are ephemeral. By all means spin our electoral material and statements by presenting the existing policies we have that may be appealing to a particular group of protest voters, but change policy or philosophy for voters who will be here today and gone tomorrow?

Foolhardy use of resources and not to mention risky as we may well alienate consistent core voters in the process.

My gripe is not that Aden said this – but that he said it in the press without consulting the members. This seems to be a common thread with several of our elected officials of late.

The place to have these sort of debates is not in the pages of The Australian or the Sydney Morning Herald, but internal to the party. Then when the MEMBERS decide and ballot a new policy, the MPs spruik that policy to the press.

That’s the fundamental point, not where we are placed in an outdated and inaccurate left-right metaphor.

No, Aden … we DO NOT have to reposition ourselves in any way, fashion or form!

This Party has a constitution developed by the members, a set of policies decided by the members, a number of parliamentarians endorsed by the members and every thing we stand for exists BECAUSE of the members.

The only way this Party should move is in the direction of the members, not following the lead of some secret Liberal sympathisers.

We are Australian Democrats, not supporters of the Labor or Liberal parties,or some centrist mix of the two. We stand in our own right, just as the Greens proudly do, and we are steadfast in our determination to remain Democrats.

Anyone who believes we are merely a compromise that can waver with the winds of political change does this Party a great disservice.

Peter Fray

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