Letter: Australian Democrats leader repliesby Senator Meg LeesNews Weekly
, January 27, 2001
In his November article "Economic conversion of Democrats' leader?", Colin Teese casts doubt on my credibility as an opponent of economic rationalism for two "supposed" reasons.
In the first instance, he is under the mistaken impression that my opposition to economic rationalism is the result of a "sudden conversion".
The fact is that, since the foundation of the party in 1977, the Australian Democrats have attempted to use our influence in the Senate to make successive federal governments recognise the importance of balancing their economic policies with social and environmental imperatives.
A position held with vigour by all Democrats since the inception of the party in 1977 can hardly be termed a "sudden conversion".
Most recently, we have repeatedly called for the Howard Government to spend at least some of its budget surplus on the desperately under-funded health and education sectors. We cannot see the point in the Government's obsession with retiring debt as Australia has the fourth lowest public sector debt in the OECD.
The Democrats compare this Government's obsession with debt reduction to a married couple trying to pay off their mortgage so quickly they cannot afford to feed and clothe their children.
Secondly, Mr Teese believes the Democrats have become a "de facto member of the Coalition" simply because we negotiated with the Government over the GST.
I point out to the redoubtable Mr Teese that the Democrats were also accused of being aligned with the Labor Party by Coalition supporters when the ALP held the Treasury Benches. A strong comparison can be made with the ABC which attracts criticism of bias from both sides of politics. I suggest to Mr Teese that trenchant criticism from both sides suggests independence rather than alignment.
The fact is the Democrats do not endorse or support either of the major parties. We have promised our supporters that we will examine each issue on its merits in accordance with balloted Democrat policy.
With regard to tax reform, the Democrats stayed at the tax reform negotiating table because we believed tax reform was a necessary step for Australia to take.
In doing so, and wringing significant changes from the Government, we ensured that the resultant GST would be fairer for low-income earners and better for the environment than the status quo - and certainly better than the original package proposed by the Howard Government.
I am fascinated that Mr Teese was able to base his entire article on my "supposed" ideas without consulting me once before publication. Hardly fair or assiduous on his part.Senator Meg Lees,
Leader, Australian Democrats,