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Democrats Leader calls for a national policy on gun laws and reaffirms party policy on public asset sales despite Don Chipp's support for the partial sale of Telstra

ELLEN FANNING: Australian Democrats Leader, Cheryl Kernot, has shrugged off calls from her party's founder, Don Chipp, not to block the partial sale of Telstra. The Democrats went to the March Federal election promising to vote against the sale in the Senate. But Don Chipp says despite the increased Democrat vote, the party can't claim a mandate on Telstra.

Catherine Job spoke to Senator Kernot last night.

CHERYL KERNOT: We all have our former leaders. I mean, don't forget Don Chipp was a Liberal; Don Chipp supported a GST in the past too, and the party didn't. We just agree to disagree. Malcolm Fraser has been telling the Liberal Party for the past few years, you know, you're going too far down the economic rationalist track; and they agreed to disagree too.

I think the issue is you can't expect us just to change our policy because there's a Coalition Government. I mean, Don has a view; but Don is not in the Parliament at the moment, and he's not out there talking to people, and we believe that we are and our national executive has reconfirmed our position.

CATHERINE JOB: But doesn't he have a point that it's very difficult to claim a mandate on any particular issue when so many of them are thrown up in a campaign. In this case, most Australians would want to see the environment protected, but opinion on the sale of Telstra is very much more divided. So couldn't you very easily argue that more Australians want to see the environment protected than want to see Telstra preserved?

CHERYL KERNOT: I don't think so. I think all this debate about mandate is .. it's confusing and it's subjective. I think the fundamental point is people voted for a change of government; the Coalition Government got a 2.5 per cent increase in their vote; but on the way to changing government, a huge number of Australians took out political insurance in the Senate. Now, we could argue about mandate until the cows come home, but the other point which musn't be overlooked is that for eight years or more our policy has been against the sale of publicly-owned assets, and I just don't believe that we are the ones that should have to change our policy simply because John Howard is in government.

CATHERINE JOB: Are there any analogies here with 1973 when the Labor Party claimed the then Opposition continued to regard itself as the natural party of government, and with perhaps yourselves cast in the role of the DLP which joined with the Coalition in its endeavours to prevent the Whitlam Government from governing?

CHERYL KERNOT: I don't see any analogies or any parallels. Public debate moves on, and we've had an election; issues were clearly articulated in that election. I've said quite clearly what the Democrats' policy is, and I don't think anybody has the right to expect us to say 'Oh sorry, our policy is not important any more'.

CATHERINE JOB: In your briefing document from your conference this weekend, you quote 'a terrible performance by the Greens'; nonetheless, Bob Brown beat you in Tasmania. How are you going to manage to work constructively with him after all the bitterness of the election campaign?

CHERYL KERNOT: I don't have a strong intention of working with Dr Brown. I think it's very hard to work with someone who sent you a letter threatening to sue you for defamation; a person who's used tactics in an election campaign of bringing down to Tasmania a dumped and disgruntled former Democrats' Leader, and regards all of this is okay politics. Take a long time to heal some of the wounds that he's opened up as a result of the kind of politics he played in this election campaign.

CATHERINE JOB: On a separate issue altogether: you're calling for national gun laws, and you're quoting both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister in support of that. Will you, the Democrats, introduce national gun legislation?

CHERYL KERNOT: Well, I'm looking in to how I can do it. I'm determined to do what I can, and I can't see why .. Mr Howard is on the record in the past. I mean, it's always a different matter once you're in government. But I can't see why any legislators would be frightened to take action - a totally necessary action because we've lagged behind for so long now, and so many people have been killed unnecessarily. We don't want Dunblane to happen in Australia. It is necessary to act. I'd be happy for their support.

ELLEN FANNING: Democrats Leader, Cheryl Kernot.