Meg Lees

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Meg Lees
Leader of the Australian Democrats
In office
15 October 1997 – 6 April 2001
Preceded by Cheryl Kernot
Succeeded by Natasha Stott Despoja
Senator for South Australia
In office
4 April 1990 – 30 June 2005
Preceded by Janine Haines
Personal details
Born (1948-10-19) 19 October 1948 (age 67)
New South Wales
Political party Democrats (1990–2002)
Independent (2002–03)
APA (2003–05)

Meg Heather Lees (née Francis, born 19 October 1948) was a member of the Australian Senate from 1990 to 2005, representing the state of South Australia. She represented the Australian Democrats from 1990 to 2002, and was an independent senator between 2002 and 2005, adopting the party designation Australian Progressive Alliance from 2003 to 2005. She married Adelaide lawyer Matthew Mitchell in December 2000. Between them they have six children.

Early life[edit]

She was born in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. She became a teacher at Ingleburn High School and married Keith Lees, a fellow teacher, in about 1971. In 1974 they moved to Mount Gambier, where their two daughters were born. After both Keith and Meg became involved in the Australian Democrats, they moved to Adelaide, but the pressures of political activity led to the breakdown of their marriage.[1] She was elected to the Senate in 1990.

Leadership of the Australian Democrats[edit]

Cheryl Kernot defected to the Australian Labor Party in October 1997, and Lees was called upon to stand in as acting leader. She was officially chosen as Kernot's replacement in December, with Natasha Stott Despoja becoming her deputy.

During her time as leader, the Democrats strengthened the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act, improved the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, negotiated the GST tax reform and maintained the general oversight role of the Democrats in the Senate through a number of Senate inquiries.[2]

In 1999, Prime Minister John Howard proposed the idea of a Goods and Services Tax. It was opposed by the Labor Party, the Australian Greens and independent Senator Brian Harradine, which meant that it required Democrat support to pass. In an election fought on tax, the Democrats publicly stated that they liked neither the Liberal (GST) tax package or the Labor package, but pledged to work with whichever party was elected to make their tax package better. They campaigned with the slogan "No GST on food". A majority of the senators in the party room agreed to pass the bill if some amendments were made, mostly to exclude fresh food and essential items such as basic medicines. Stott Despoja stated that she was unhappy with the outcome, particularly the GST on books. Both Stott Despoja and Queensland Senator Andrew Bartlett would ultimately cross the floor to vote against the GST package.

However, a significant number of Democrat members remained unhappy with the GST deal, and began to agitate for a change in leadership. Under the Democrat constitution, a petition of 100 members can trigger a leadership ballot of all the members. On the initial ballot, Meg Lees was returned unchallenged. Subsequently the Democrats faced a decline in the polls which, by April 2001, were indicating that several senators would lose their seats at the elections due for later that year. The members agitated again for a leadership ballot and, this time, Stott Despoja announced her intention to challenge Lees for the leadership, and was successful, replacing her on 6 April 2001.

In mid-2002, Lees began vocally opposing Stott Despoja's leadership, claiming that it had moved the party too far to the left. This culminated in Lees leaving the party to sit as an independent in July 2002.

Australian Progressive Alliance[edit]

In April 2003 Lees announced the founding of the Australian Progressive Alliance, which she claimed would have a more centrist view than the Democrats. However, she was defeated at the October 2004 election and her term expired on 30 June 2005.


  1. ^ Gerald Ryle "Meg Lees: The Unauthorised Story", Sydney Morning Herald, 19 June 1999
  2. ^ Wright, Tim. (ed), 2007, 30 Years Australian Democrats
Party political offices
Preceded by
Cheryl Kernot
Leader of the Australian Democrats
1997 – 2001
Succeeded by
Natasha Stott Despoja
Preceded by
Leader of the Australian Progressive Alliance
2003 – 2005
Succeeded by