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The Progressive Alliance will fill the political vacuum in Australia's centre

By Meg Lees - posted Thursday, 1 May 2003

Nature abhors a vacuum and so does politics.

Over the past year, in conversations, calls and emails by the thousands, many thoughtful and concerned Australians have made me aware that they feel they are increasingly left out of Australian politics. The calls have come from those I once would have described as small "l" Liberals, small "l" Labor, big "D" Democrats.

These are the voters most devoted to the ideals of democracy in Australia, the ones who don't vote from habit and whose votes can't be bought. Their votes have to be earned but as the Liberals move to the right, Labor moves nowhere and the Democrats move down and out, these votes are not being earned.


These are the voters who cannot be dragged to the extremes by the Greens in any enduring way. These are the voters who want more choice in the mainstream, who want to be able to make a positive vote rather than just choose the lesser of several evils.

Sitting as an Independent, there were obvious limits to the extent to which I could respond to these calls. The Australian Progressive Alliance has been formed to earn the votes of concerned, considerate and conscientious Australians.

At a personal level, I don't need to do this. I have been an elected Senator for South Australia for 13 years and have been grateful to achieve much for my home state and nationally. But my job is not done.

I am fed up with watching politicians and political parties ride the politics of popular prejudice, make policy on the basis of opinion polling and fold up in front of powerful lobby groups. The results are an increasingly fragmented community where the irresponsible and unprincipled fan the flames of fear and suspicion, reward meanness and allow our environment to be abused to the point where it becomes an economic cost rather than our most basic asset.

The economy is important but focussing solely on economic efficiency comes at a high cost. That cost can be measured in environmental terms, for example in the degradation of the Murray-Darling Basin, and in social terms as we move to an Australia where the wealthy can look after their own health and education and others struggle to access under-funded public services. It takes courage to acknowledge, for the sake of our community, that we need to collect taxes and we need to spend the money on health, education and the environment.

I want the Australian Progressive Alliance to appeal to those who feel, as I do, that this country cannot progress too far unless we make reconciliation with Indigenous Australians real. We have got to make it real for our institutions, real in our landscapes and most of all real for Indigenous Australians. Reconciliation is not an obstacle but an opportunity.


And we cannot hold our heads high at home or abroad while we force refugees and asylum seekers into anything that resembles, however remotely, a concentration camp. Razor wire, guards and incarceration are not appropriate for men, women or children who have committed no crime. We cannot morally or realistically portray the advantages of being a freedom loving country to Iraqis in Iraq when we preach a quite different message to Iraqis in Australia.

The Australian Progressive Alliance has been carefully put together to fill a real political need for a party of the centre that holds to a firm basis of principle, takes each issue on its merits and is committed to negotiating and working towards the best policy outcomes. It is much better to work for and achieve 90 per cent of something than to end up with 100 per cent of nothing.

It will grow slowly, and it is best that it grows slowly. Australians do not deserve and nor will they want some flash-in-the-pan as the third force in Australian politics.

Who holds the balance of power is a very important choice for all Australians. It determines whether the Senate performs as a true house of review over the government of the day. It guards against a repeat of 1975 or the taste of chaos that was caused by the Greens during the 1993 budget.

Those who are trusted with it need to be fair, they need to be reasonable, and they need to have the best interests of all Australians uppermost in their mind. The Democrats used to do this well and it saddens me to say this, now they don't. They can't.

The Australian Progressive Alliance will now be there for those who want to vote for a strong economy, a fair society and the protection of Australia's unique environment.

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This article was first published in The Australian on 28 April 2003.

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About the Author

Senator Meg Lees is leader of the Australian Progressive Alliance. She was Leader of the Australian Democrats from 1997 to 2001 and is a Senator for South Australia.

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