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Senators agree Andrew Murray and Meg Lees should not leave the Democrats but differ on changing party rules.

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LINDA MOTTRAM: As Senators Meg Lees and Andrew Murray consider their future in the Australian Democrats, their leader, Natasha Stott Despoja, has gone into major damage control mode, rushing back to Australia from leave in London and urging her colleagues to wait and talk to her first before they make any final decision. At the same time, the party’s public convulsions continue with the Acting Leader, Aden Ridgeway, making further criticisms of the way the party operates. He’s also angry with the party president and critical of elements of the membership.


Senator Ridgeway says the party’s current approach is appealing to a dangerously narrow support base, words that are similar to those from Senator Murray earlier this week which led some party members to demand his expulsion. Senator Ridgeway says the party must allow debate and he says he’s frustrated that the party’s National Compliance Committee has failed to heed his call to immediately drop action against Meg Lees. From Canberra, Louise Yaxley reports.


LOUISE YAXLEY: The party is in deep trouble. The former leader, Meg Lees, and Senator Andrew Murray are both considering quitting. Senator Ridgeway is openly extremely supportive of the two.


ADEN RIDGEWAY: And they ought to be encouraged to express their views, not be criticised or condemned or misconstrued as attacking the leader.


LOUISE YAXLEY: He’s continuing to express concern about the party’s direction and challenging the actions of some members who’ve demanded Senators Lees and Murray be expelled.


ADEN RIDGEWAY: They may well be saying that, but I think that they’re misguided and they misunderstand the context in which these things have come about. I think some of them have short memories and have not looked at this in relation to how the party has traditionally dealt with different views being expressed. What it comes down to, at the end of the day, is what I talk about in relation to being a broad-based party, a third political force that’s effective in trying to represent many people, and so far the approach is one that appeals to a narrow support base and I think that that’s a dangerous thing for the future.


LOUISE YAXLEY: He wants the National Compliance Committee, headed by the party president, Liz Oss-Emer, to drop immediately the complaint against Meg Lees.


ADEN RIDGEWAY: The NCC have got it wrong. I think they’ve put other agendas above the interests of the party.


LOUISE YAXLEY: What are those other agendas?


ADEN RIDGEWAY: I think that if you consider some of the things that have led to where we currently find ourselves, there is an unhealthy intolerant climate developing in the party where it becomes difficult to talk about the position of the party or party’s issues without that necessarily being seen as an attack upon the leader. I merely point out the fact that not so long ago on the issue of GST negotiations, there was no difficulty within the party for Senator Stott Despoja and Senator Bartlett to cross the floor and exercise their conscience vote; and now for Senator Lees to talk about issues of Telstra as the former leader with a new leader being in place, all of a sudden we shouldn’t talk about those things.


LOUISE YAXLEY: Democrats Senator, Andrew Bartlett, has spoken out again, but what a difference a day makes. From using words like ‘warped’, ‘juvenile’ and ‘a joke’, on Wednesday morning about Andrew Murray, to this on Thursday night.


ANDREW BARTLETT: If they have been seen by some members or may have been seen by some members as being unnecessary and inflammatory, then I’m quite happy to apologise for that.


LOUISE YAXLEY: His Acting Leader grudgingly welcomed that.


ADEN RIDGEWAY: I’ve got to say that I think it might be a little too late.


LOUISE YAXLEY: Andrew Bartlett and Aden Ridgeway agree Senators Murray and Lees should not quit, but they differ strongly on changing party rules. Senator Ridgeway says: ‘Definitely’.


ADEN RIDGEWAY: ...constitutional reform to ensure that we never ever get to this situation again.


LOUISE YAXLEY: Senator Bartlett is in the opposite camp.


ANDREW BARTLETT: The party has processes under its constitution that they’ve used many times before, including on MPs, asking them to clarify comments. The national executive has done that, the National Compliance Committee has done that. There’s nothing unusual about that process. You can’t criticise a process when it gives outcomes you don’t like, and support it when it does give outcomes you like.


LINDA MOTTRAM: Democrats Senator, Andrew Bartlett, speaking on ABC television’s Lateline last night.