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Senate survives demise of the Democrats -

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ELEANOR HALL: Thirty years ago the Australian Democrat Party catapulted itself into Federal
politics with the promise to "keep the bastards honest" and for years the Democrats held the
balance of power in the Senate.

But today marks the official end for the Democrats in Federal politics. The party failed to win a
single seat at the last federal election and when Parliament resumes after its winter break there
will be no Democrats left in the Federal Parliament.

From the 1st of July there will be new players in the Senate and the Government is making a last
minute plea to the Senate to pass its Budget legislation before the break. But the Coalition is
still playing hardball on some Budget measures and not letting up on climate change.

In Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: With the Government committed to introduce a carbon emissions trading scheme in 18
months' time, a CSIRO report commissioned by the Dusseldorp Skills Forum and the Conservation
Foundation warns the Government it needs to move quickly to retrain the nation's "blue collar"
workforce. Its simple and stark message is more than three million workers need to be trained or
re-skilled by 2015.

Greens leader Bob Brown says it's very exciting news.

BOB BROWN: And these are going to be jobs which people are going to enjoy. They're in renewable
energy, they're in saving the planet. I note that there will be a fall-off of jobs in the old
polluting industries.

But you know, aren't workers going to be better off?

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But Liberal Don Randall is urging caution.

DON RANDALL: We shouldn't be selling Australia down the drain before the rest of the world sign on.
We should be really serious about protecting our industries and our economy.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Minister for Climate Change, Penny Wong, says the Government will take the
report seriously.

PENNY WONG: There will be a need for investment in the skills required to make that shift and as
you know the Government is already making substantial investments in skills. I understand the
Deputy Prime Minister will be referring this paper to Skills Australia for their consideration.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: In the meantime the Opposition leader Brendan Nelson is stepping up the pressure on
Kevin Rudd, demanding the Government fully compensate consumers for the price hikes expected from
an emissions trading scheme.

BRENDAN NELSON: He should say as the Prime Minister of Australia, I will protect you. Because that
is the Opposition's position.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But the message for the day from Labor MPs is all good news according to the
script, as parliamentarians prepare to head back to their electorates for the eight-week winter
break.

MARK DREYFUS: My name is Mark Dreyfus and I'm looking forward to going back to my electorate over
the winter recess and talking to people in the electorate about the Budget because it has been a
very, very good Budget for working families.

SHARON JACKSON: Good morning everyone. I just wanted to say how much I'm looking forward to heading
back to my electorate of Hasluck in Western Australia for a couple of months.

I've had lots of positive phone calls to my office from pensioners about the receipt of their
bonus.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well I'm looking forward to getting back to the electorate this week. We're doing
over the break a lot of consultations about the GP super-clinic.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Western Australian Liberal Don Randall, though, is just happy to be leaving
Canberra.

DON RANDALL: I'm going home (laughter) and getting away from this cold hole.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But four Australian Democrats Senators won't be coming back. Today marks the end of
their political careers and the end of their federal political party. Not one Democrats Senator
managed to get elected last November.

Many blame the party's demise on its 1999 GST deal with John Howard, brokered by then leader Meg
Lees. She views today with some sadness.

MEG LEES: Oh, very much so. I put some 25 years into trying to establish a third force in
Australian politics.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: She accepts the GST marked the beginning of the end of the party but still believes
she did the right thing.

MEG LEES: Well if it hadn't been the GST it would have been something else. To now look back in
hindsight, perhaps I could have handled the debate better in terms of convincing the party that
what they'd just balloted was indeed the right result.

But Senator Stott Despoja was very much focused on the leadership and I think it was most
unfortunate what happened when she decided to step aside and Aden Ridgeway wasn't permitted to
simply step into the breach and that's when the party, I felt, really fell apart.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you still think that you did the right thing, backing the GST; that it's better
to have the GST than the Democrats?

MEG LEES: It's better to have a viable tax system that can pay for services rather than an entity
that really at that time was I guess, I think I'd say so structured and so flawed that they
couldn't survive what was a strong, tough political debate.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Natasha Stott Despoja is one of the four who bows out today.

NATASHA STOTT DESPOJA: Oh, I think today is going to be a very sad day. I think last night though
was quite an emotional evening. The valedictories, the support and respect of cross-bench
colleagues.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But unlike most, she thinks the Democrats could re-emerge.

NATASHA STOTT DESPOJA: I think it's very unwise to predict the future when it comes to Australian
politics, let alone any politics, and I haven't given up on the party.

I think that there is a real place in Australian politics for the Australian Democrats. I think the
views and the policies that we represent and reflect - social justice, human rights, democracy, the
environment - those issues are as relevant as ever. So maybe one day you'll see the Democrats come
back as a force. I hope so.

ELEANOR HALL: Outgoing Democrats Senator Natasha Stott Despoja ending Alexandra Kirk's report.