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Democrats Senator pays tribute to Leader, Natasha Stott Despoja, but is still angry about the treatment of former Leader, Meg Lees.

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Tuesday 13 August 2002


Democrats Senator pays tribute to Leader, Natasha Stott Despoja, but is still angry about the treatment of former Leader, Meg Lees.



MARK COLVIN: Good news for Australian democrats supporters who've been praying for a return to sweetness and light in the party's parliamentary ranks. After weeks as an effective party renegade, Democrat Senator Andrew Murray finally paid tribute to the leader Natasha Stott-Despoja. 


He described her as a person of 'terrific talent' and someone with 'many great attributes'. The outbreak of affection, however, did contain one barb. Senator Murray 'hoped' that this current crisis would force Senator Stott-Despoja into changing aspects of her leadership style. Chief political correspondent, Catherine McGrath. 


CATHERINE McGRATH: Andrew Murray has put on the record before just what he thinks of Natasha Stott-Despoja’s leadership. But he hasn’t outlined the positives like he did today to Liam Bartlett on radio in Perth. 


ANDREW MURRAY: I mean I recognise Natasha’s got extraordinary talents and has many great attributes. I’ve been very careful not to go off at the person.  


CATHERINE McGRATH: I just see Natasha’s a person with terrific talents who has some very good quality people available to her within the party and indeed within the party room. And that I think she has the opportunity and through the terrible consequences of driving out Meg Lees which I just find amazing, I think that shock to the system she can address the matter and turn it round. 


CATHERINE McGRATH: So his compliment had a sting. Andrew Murray is still prepared to stick with Natasha Stott-Despoja despite what he said over the last two weeks but he wants changes and he’s still extremely angry about the treatment of former leader Meg Lees. 


ANDREW MURRAY: I think the difficulty we have is the public and the private voice. I glanced at the newspaper today and it confirms things I’ve been told.  


That is, on the one hand publicly Natasha was saying I should come back to the party room. On the other hand, at the national executive meeting which wasn’t held in Canberra, in front of 40 people she said she would resign as leader if I did come back. So I think she wants me and doesn’t want me which you know other people can probably [laughs] understand. But the fact is from my point of view I’m not in there about personality issues. 


CATHERINE McGRATH: His complaint is about the direction of the party and he believes Natasha Stott-Despoja’s staff are unprofessional and divisive. 


ANDREW MURRAY: We are losing people because of a style which has resulted in a surge of what I call intolerant fundamentalism and a denial of the freedom of speech. And the approach is compounded by an ill-disciplined staff, some staff who act unprofessionally and the senators have had enough of it. 


Now let me give you an example. Immediately after the party room meeting yesterday, I was getting phone calls and so on which say, "Well, a probation line is out there," and I said, "Who’s it coming from?"  


They said, "Well, it’s coming from Natasha’s spokeswoman." 


Now she wasn’t at the party room meeting, the party room meeting did not use that word, that word has never been raised before. It was a line that was being run. 


CATHERINE McGRATH: Andrew Murray was forthcoming in this interview and he knew it. 


ANDREW MURRAY: I’ve been very open with you, but I suppose it’ll give me some trouble. 


CATHERINE McGRATH: It probably will. In Sydney, Natasha Stott-Despoja said she was unwilling to discuss the matter further. However, she did repeat her comment of yesterday, that she expected unqualified support from Andrew Murray. Today’s performance shows that this is a long way off. 


MARK COLVIN: Catherine McGrath.