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Meg Lees reflects on Senate career -

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Meg Lees reflects on Senate career

AM - Saturday, 30 October , 2004 08:12:00

Reporter: Geraldine Doogue

HAMISH ROBERTSON: After spending the past 15 years as a Senator for South Australia, Meg Lees is
now winding up her time in the Upper House, after losing her seat at the last election.

She spent much of that time as a powerful head of the Democrats, and then as one of four
cross-benchers. She told Geraldine Doogue that, after next July, the Senate will be a waste of
time.

MEG LEES: With the Government in control of the Senate, it's largely going to be a waste of time to
even go. And in some ways I'm not all that disappointed that I'm not going to be there, because
they can even stop debate - they can simply move that no more debate be heard, so you may not even
get a chance in the new Senate to talk, let alone to make your vote count.

So I think it's going to be very disappointing, and I think if they really do put through
everything that we've stopped over the last 10 or so years, particularly in the area of industrial
relations, then I think the Labor Party will have a much easier chance of winning the next
election, because we will see the balance well and truly gone with industrial relations, and, I
suspect, on a number of other issues as well.

If the Government particularly puts through things like the unfair dismissal laws, which will give
small business the ability to dismiss anyone at any time, there will be a lot of ramifications,
including the ability for individuals to actually even get a loan if they work in small business,
if the Government really does go to those extremes. And obviously the unions are not going to wear
those sorts of changes, and I think more people will join unions if that's where the Government
goes.

GERALDINE DOOGUE: Now, you must have reflected on whether you could have foreseen this yourself
back in 2002, in one form or other. Do you reflect on any of your decisions as to whether in its
own way you've played a part in this?

MEG LEES: Oh, I think it goes back within the Democrats to, initially, the resistance when Cheryl
Kernot worked with the Government on industrial relations, and we were able to get a balance there
that, going back into the party, we were able to work through with members, and things restabilised
and settled down.

I then worked on tax reform, which I knew would be contentious, but we actually had to wait for a
party ballot to do that, and the ballot came back yes, we agree with the tax on services.

But the difference when I worked with the Government on something contentious was that there was
someone else there who was keen on the leadership, and that's where the focus diverted to.

So I guess, for me, I've always done - and this is one thing I'm proud of now as I leave the Senate
- what I believe was in the best interests of this country. It may not have been in my political
interests, but I did, at the time, what was, I believed, in the best interests of everyone.

But what happened within the party was that there was greater dissent within the party internally
than there really was out in the wider community, and while everything else settled down in the
community it began to work well - it still was a major issue internally.

And perhaps that's something, looking back, that I could have handled better, but I'm just not sure
how, when there was another player there, very keen on the leadership.

GERALDINE DOOGUE: I suppose you could have stepped back, maybe, for a while, and then re-emerged,
couldn't you?

MEG LEES: But we knew that the person who wanted the leadership could not work, and did not work in
the party room, and was not focused as I thought the party should be focused, on actually getting
results in Parliament.

And the group supporting a change of leadership wanted that - they basically wanted us to go back
to being a lobby group - and so that group within the party, I saw eventually destroying the party,
and that's basically what's happened.

HAMISH ROBERTSON: Progressive Alliance Senator Meg Lees, speaking to Geraldine Doogue. And you can
hear the full interview with Meg Lees on Sunday Profile tomorrow evening on ABC local radio.

(c) 2006 ABC