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It's time to go: Lees -

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It's time to go: Lees

Michael Bowers, pictorial editor with the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, is talking pictures with
Senator Meg Lees. Senator Lees reflects on the GST deal, saying Treasurer Peter Costello was hard
to negotiate with.

Hi I'm Michael Bowers and I'm Pictorial Editor with the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. I'm
talking pictures this morning with Senator Meg Lees. Welcome to the program.

Meg Lees: Thank you.

Michael Bowers: You've been a member of the Senate since 1990, is there anything you're going to
miss about your life here.

Meg Lees: Yes I thought at the time of losing the election I'd really, really miss it but as the
closer I get to going the more I'm looking forward to time basically. Time to myself, time for my
family. Not having to travel as much. So well yes while I'll look back with many happy memories I
think it's time to go.

Michael Bowers: Now one of the things that you will be remembered for is the GST deal with the
government. And there was a lot of speculation around at the time it was a huge issue. What are
your memories of the time?

Meg Lees: I guess the frustration with the scare-mongering given the hype at the time, I guess one
of the things that I really regret that it was used by others to get rid of me, purely as a wedge
and when it really should have been seen as a key thing Australia and for us economically, to
strengthen us economically.

Michael Bowers: One of the cartoons that captured it rather well was Bill Leak's cartoon because
you effectively sidelined the Opposition at the time, lead by Kim Beazley, and you felt this summed
it up rather well.

Meg Lees: Well I think it does and I think often you find with cartoons that they can get to sort
of the nub of the issue with just in a picture, I've always admired cartoonists, as much as I was
the butt of their humour sometimes I've found them to be really fascinating and really succinct
when it comes to honing in on the issue.

Michael Bowers: Peter Costello here is sort of being the spoilt schoolboy. This was the GST deal.
He's saying I am a smartypants. I am a smartypants and he's got the Prime Minister saying 'And then
clean it off and write 50 times I must not tease Meg Lees'. Any truth to this sort of?

Meg Lees: I found that Mr Costello was not - how can I put this? I found Mr Costello was hard to
negotiate with. I found he wasn't prepared to compromise. He wasn't prepared to sit down and say OK
we can agree on this, let's talk about this. Here's something we disagree on, let's just put it to
one side for a minute. He wanted to focus on the disagreement. And if it had been left to Mr
Costello we never would have got there.

Michael Bowers: Wow. A lot of people said that you had got in bed with the government and Mark
Knight took this very literally in a cartoon, which I find is very, very funny. You're sort of
making a call saying 'he found my GST spot'. Were there any times when you'd open the paper and go
oh god!

Meg Lees: Yes that's one of them (laughs) but look it's all fair. It's all, I guess, part of the
political process in that getting a message across like that. While I may have found it
uncomfortable we had to work with the government if we were going to get change.

Michael Bowers: Sean Leahy from the Courier Mail in Brisbane drew you at the time? your saying 'I
want you to know I've always loved you John' and John's saying 'I know Meg I know' and he's drawn
the GST here as a scorpion. Did it turn out to be a scorpion?

Meg Lees: In the short yes, in that I lost the leadership over it, but in the longer term it was
the best thing that, economically, that I was able to do.

Michael Bowers: Is there anything that you would have done differently if you had your time over?

Meg Lees: Just watching my back a little more closely (laughs).

Michael Bowers: You very much put the Democrats on the map in those times, do you have any regrets
about leaving the Democrats?

Meg Lees: Oh it was absolutely untenable and I actually thought by leaving and getting out of what
was a very intense battle that they'd re-focus start realising the damage that they were doing to
the party by continuing this vendetta against various senators. But when I left they turned the
guns on Aden Ridgeway, so at the end of the day they destroyed themselves.

Michael Bowers: Do you think they're a spent force in politics now?

Meg Lees: Absolutely, unfortunately.

Michael Bowers: The physical move wasn't actually that great. You sort of moved to the side here,
was it hard to sort of sit in with your former neighbours?

Meg Lees: No, by then I was just pleased to be out of it. The pressure was just enormous, from
individuals in the party that just wanted me to go.

Michael Bowers: You sound like you're actually scared from that, was that your most scaring time in
politics?

Meg Lees: It was certainly a very, very hard time and I think it has made me a lot tougher.

Michael Bowers: It's fair to say that when there's a bit of leadership trouble, whatever party
we're talking about, it stirs the cartoonists to great ends.

Meg Lees: Absolutely.

Michael Bowers: And they actually roll around and revel in your pain. And particular one caught my
eye, that you had of Mark Knight and the shadows of the two sort of wolves going at each other. Was
it that bad?

Meg Lees: What really hurt was that we, all of us, all of the senators supported Senator Stott
Despoja to the hilt. Despite her removing our staff, despite her basically destroying a lot of what
we built up but that wasn't good enough we had to go. It wasn't just us - it was actual (sic) us
being that was the problem.

Michael Bowers: Was she just too young for the job, do you think?

Meg Lees: Oh part of it, yes.

Michael Bowers: (on Kernot) Geoff Pryor drew this cartoon and he's got Cheryl in the car with the
leadership, I take it Simon was the leaders at the time, and the radio's saying 'today the Prime
minister called on the Democrats Leader' and she's sort of wide eyed, like dinner plates. Is there
much truth to this do you think?

Meg Lees: Well I guess one of the reasons, by the sound of it, and I haven't spoken to Cheryl since
she left, she just basically went and I've never had a conversation but I understood part of it was
her frustration with the Democrats, as she saw it, not having enough power, not having enough
relevance and we picked that up pretty quickly after she left.

Michael Bowers: Well what's next for Meg Lees, what are you going to do now that you are retired?

Meg Lees: I'm writing a book, Australian history, nothing to do with all of this and having a bit
of a break. And then I want to find a job out there in the other world where hopefully I can still
make a difference, something that is still challenging.

Michael Bowers: Look it's been a great pleasure talking to you this morning thanks very much for
taking the time.

Meg Lees: Thank you.