The Guardian August 28, 2002

The "gang of five" assassins

"Political assassination" is the only way to describe the moves which 
led to the forced resignation of Natasha Stott Despoja as leader of the 
Australian Democrats. But the press is wrong in writing about the "gang of 
four". It is a "gang of five" and includes Meg Lees.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Natasha Stott Despoja faced a 
premeditated, carefully planned and determined "political assassination".

Almost certainly the mastermind and co-ordinator of the attack is Andrew 
Murray who played the role of provocateur. He made the bullets that were 
ultimately fired by Queenslander, John Cherry. Murray stayed in the 
Democrats (while Meg Lees resigned) for the purpose of retaining his 
membership to do the maximum amount of damage  not just to Natasha Stott 
Despoja but to the Democrats as a Party.

Let's name the other assassins  Aden Ridgeway (NSW) and Lyn Allison 
(Victoria). It is certain that voters will not forget what has been done 
whenever they come up for election again.

The sharp decline in voter support for the Democrats in recent years is a 
direct result of the support of the Democrats for the GST under Meg Lees' 
leadership and their support for the obnoxious industrial legislation of 
Peter Reith.

As The Guardian stated previously, the issues are not ones of 
personality but of policy.

Already some are contemplating a decisive shift in the policies to be 
followed and the role to be played by the Democrats without Stott Despoja 
in the leadership.

The Australian Financial Review (The AFR) speculates that the 
four Senators opposed to Stott Despoja in league with Lees "would be more 
likely to consider constructive engagement with the Coalition on a range of 
issues  including Telstra  if the price were right."

Fred Hilmer, the chief executive of John Fairfax Holdings also speculates 
that the upheavals in the Democrats have "really made a lot of legislation 
that seemed to be off the agenda now potentially back on the agenda..."

One of the charges levelled at Stott Despoja was her alleged "authoritarian 
style", yet those making such charges presented her with a 10-point list of 
"non-negotiable" demands. Such is the democracy of the Party assassins.

One of the points in the 10-point plan was for an "annual performance 
appraisal" of staff. However, no appraisal of the performance of Democrat 
Senators was suggested.

Another point concerned the "right of Senators to speak on policy during 
election campaigns and concerns over the formulation of party policy".

Lurking behind these words is the desire of some Senators to disenfranchise 
the party membership and the elected Party committees so that the 
parliamentarians can make policy without reference to or even against the 
wishes of the party membership.

Some of the elected parliamentarians want to do their own unprincipled 
deals with the Government and behind closed doors, ignoring the membership 
that is still able to influence Party policies.

Another target of the Lees-Murray conspirators is the fact that the leader 
of the Party is elected by the rank and file. Stott Despoja was elected 
twice with the overwhelming support of the membership but that was of no 
concern to the assassins.

The gang of five wants to change the Constitution of the Australian 
Democrats which inscribes membership rights and democratic procedures in 
the Party's organisational structures.

To quote The AFR again: Stott Despoja was "not prepared to accept 
attempts by her colleagues to rewrite the rules to alter the balance 
between parliamentary representatives and the party rank and file."

The Liberal and Labor Parties have already made this transition by 
separating the so-called "parliamentary wing" from the Party membership.

Lip service is played to membership interests but there are many examples 
of conference decisions on policy issues being unceremoniously disregarded 
whenever the Parliamentarians decide that their interests are better served 
by legislating the demands of the real controllers of Australian society  
the big corporations which also fund the major political parties.

It remains to be seen whether the membership of the Australian Democrats 
will insist on their will being carried out and reinstate Stott Despoja as 
Party leader (if she is prepared to stand).

The election of Andrew Greig as interim leader over Aden Ridgeway, is a 
strong indication of the views of the Party membership.

However, the policy stakes are very high and huge sums of money are 
involved in Telstra, cross-media ownership, foreign investment 
restrictions, new industrial legislation, and privatisation of Australia 
Post, to name but a few issues. Those behind the coup can be expected to 
seek "negotiations" with the Howard Government and make agreements "if the 
price is right".

How to contact Democrat Senators

Senator Lyn Allison, Victoria
Tel: (02) 6277 3076 Fax: (02) 6277 3087
Electorate Office: Eastbourne House 62 Wellington Parade East
Melbourne VIC 3002

Senator Andrew Bartlett, Queensland
Tel: (02) 6277 3406 Fax: (02) 6277 3791
Electorate Office:
Suite 14 B 1 7/421 Brunswick Street Fortitude Valley QLD 4006

Senator John Cherry, Queensland
Tel: (02) 6277 3728 Fax: (02) 6277 3725
Electorate Office: Suite 14 B2 7/421 Brunswick Street
Fortitude Valley QLD 4006

Senator Brian Greig, Western Australia
Tel: (02) 6277 3338 Fax: (02) 6277 5703
Electorate Office: Unit 1, 151 Brisbane Street Perth WA 6000

Senator Meg Lees, South Australia
Tel: (02) 6277 3991 Fax: (02) 6277 3996
Electorate Office: 322A The Parade KENSINGTON SA 5068

Senator Andrew Murray, Western Australia
Tel: (02) 6277 3709 Fax: (02) 6277 3767
Electorate Office: 111 Colin Street West Perth WA 6005

Senator Aden Ridgeway, New South Wales
Tel: (02) 6277 3848 Fax: (02) 6277 5727
Electorate Office: 10 Roberts Street Rozelle NSW 2039

Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, South Australia
Tel: (02) 6277 3645 Fax: (02) 6277 3235
Electorate Office: 212 Grenfell Street Adelaide SA 5000

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