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Democrats’ Leadership Contest Causing Bitterness

The battle between Australian Democrats Leader, Senator Meg Lees, and her challenger, Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja, has grown increasingly bitter following an intervention by the party’s founder.

Former Senator Don Chipp, who founded the party in 1977 and served as its leader until 1986, on Sunday called for the Democrats’ membership to elect the 31-year-old South Australian senator.

Chipp claimed that it was possible that One Nation might control the balance of power in the Senate after this year’s federal election. He argued that this could only be resisted by a revitalised Australian Democrats led by Stott-Despoja.

Lees must go, Chipp argued, to save her party and to save Australia.

Lees’ leadership has come under challenge following the dismal showing of the party in the recent Western Australian and Queensland elections. The party lost its two members in the W.A. Legislative Council where the balance of power is now held by the Greens.

Lees appears to be suffering because of her deal with John Howard which delivered the Goods and Services Tax to the nation. Stott-Despoja voted against the legislation.

Unlike other parties, the Australian Democrats allow their parliamentarians a conscience vote on all issues, a principle which allowed Stott-Despoja to remain as deputy leader whilst voting against Lees.

The leadership ballot will take place over the coming month. All rank and file members of the party are able to vote in the contest.

A bizarre feature of the party’s rules is the ability that 100 members have to spark a leadership vote at any time between elections. Western Australian Senator Andrew Murray has criticised this “spill” provision, describing it as “absolutely mad”.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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