Latest posts by Nancy Thorner (see all)
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The Heartland Institute on April 12 hosted “An Evening with Sen. David Leyonhjelm,” who distinguishes himself as the only libertarian in the Australian Parliament – the Rand Paul of the Senate Down Under. Leyonhjelm stopped at Heartland as part of his week-long tour of the United States. (Watch his presentation in the player above.)
In Australia, what Americans know as the Libertarian Party goes under the party name “Liberal Democrats.” While both terms may convey nasty connotations to some, not so if liberalism is referred to in its “classical” sense as a philosophy and ideology belonging to liberalism – in which primary emphasis is placed on securing the freedom of the individual, and upon the realization that a “Democrat” in Australia does not resemble America’s Democratic Party. The same applies to Australia’s main political parties: The Liberal Party resembles conservative-leaning Republicans, while the Labor Party is most like our Democrats, and Australia’s Green Party is America’s Socialist Party.
The Liberal Democrats were founded as a political party in Australia in 2001, although
Leyonhjelm didn’t join until 2005. Active in managing the Liberal Democrat Party in 2007,
2010, and 2013, it was in 2013 election that Leyonhjelm won his seat in the Senate representing
New South Wales as the first member of the Australian parliament from the classical liberal or
“Libertarian” Party. When Senator Leyonhjelm joined the party, its membership totaled 150
members. It now has more than 4,500. Review here the positions taken by the Libertarian Party
Australia’s Government Allows Minority Parties to Thrive
Jim Lakely, Heartland’s director of communications, introduced Leyonhjelm and suggested he
speak about the political disruption in Australia, and if it’s similar to what happened with the
election of President Trump in the U.S. and Brexit in Great Britain. Leyonhjelm agreed that there
has been a disruption of Australia’s major political parties but first wanted to explain the make-
up of Australia’s parliamentary system of government, which differs greatly from the U.S. in that it allows minority parties to exert influence.
There are 76 senators – 12 from each of the six states, two from each territory. The usual
term is six years. The support of the majority party never happens in the Senate.
Leyonhjelm is the only elected member of the Liberal Democrat Party in the Central
Government is formed in the lower House, the House of Representatives. Whoever wins
the majority in the House forms the government and who governs. In the Senate the
government never has majority support.
The House of Representatives does require the support of Senate members to pass
legislation. These Senate members are referred to as “crossbench” senators.
Presently there are 12 crossbench legislators in the Senate. Leyonhjelm is one of them.
Government needs the vote of 10 crossbench legislators to pass bills.
Senator Leyonhjelm then went on to speak about protest votes – which took place in Australia in
2012 and 2016 – and were not unlike what happened to elect Trump and with the Brexit vote in
Great Britain. In 2012, a protest party won three seats in the Senate, which no longer exists
because of disunity among its members. Then in 2016, another protest party formed and won
four Senate seats, which accounts for the12 crossbench legislators now in the Senate. Senator
Leyonhjelm is among them.
Conflict About Australian Immigration Policy
As Leyonhjelm explained, although Australia has always welcomed immigrants – and Australia
has very few illegal immigrants – immigration has now become an issue in the country. As the
Australian Constitution has no Bill of Rights to assure Freedom of Speech, immigration has
become linked with free speech. A pending law would make it illegal to “assault” with speech
anyone on the basis of their race, nationality, or color. It was in 2014 that Senator Leyonhjelm
said that some cultures are incompatible with Australian society, and that could become illegal in
Budget and Energy Issues Loom Large in Australia
On Australia’s budget, Senator Leyonhjelm said his country is not as close to the cliff as is the
U.S. and Europe, but it will get there soon if left unchecked.
Regarding energy, Leyonhjelm laid the blame of Australia’s energy problems – including rolling
blackouts in the state of South Australia – on poor government policy. A goal was set to have
23.5 percent of all energy by 2020 produced by renewable energy sources. As of now, Australia
is nowhere near that target. Leyonhjelm spoke of the high and rising costs of electricity, with no
one willing to build private baseline power plants because of regulation uncertainties.
His prediction: Black outs will be frequent next summer, and taxpayer money will be needed to
build fossil-fuel (coal) power stations that used to be funded by the private sector. Although there
is a ban on fracking in several Australian states, there is lots of coal and gas. There is also plenty
of uranium – which matters not, because nuclear energy is also banned in Australia. Senator
Leyonhjelm did take a stand last year against the need for a carbon tax or any other type of tax.
Senator Leyonhjelm’s Fight for Liberty in Australia
Despite being the only libertarian in the Australian Parliament, Senator Leyonhjelm described
his leverage vote in the Senate as a good one from time to time. He has two promises he strives
to keep: He’ll never vote to raise taxes, and he will always vote to increase liberty. While
holding that pledge from the crossbench seat, he’s been able to get concessions from the
government, such as:
1. Saved a rifle range in Sydney, Australia that was in danger of being shut down. Leyonhjelm
was able to extend its operation for 50 years.
2. Established an inquiry into the Nanny State, believing that good laws create freedom, not a
3. Promoted an inquiry on Red Tape. Senator Leyonhjelm, representing New South Wales,
chairs the committee as only Liberal Democrat Party member in the Senate.
4. Introduced the concept of Liberty Offsets, in keeping with his principle rule as a senator
mentioned above – that he will never vote to increase taxes or for a reduction of liberty. As
explained by Senator Leyonhjelm at a news conference in Canberra: “The whole idea of these
negotiations has been to offset any lost freedoms by introducing new ones.”
Additional Issues Facing Australia
In regard to Australia’s GDP, scheduled to be reported in May, it will not going up. This is not a
surprise to Senator Leyonhjelm, which he contributes to Australia’s immigration program and
the cost related to the free services provided. Such a practice does not contribute to elevating the
per capita income.
Concerning free speech issue in Australia’s High Court, the media is not permitted to report on
Court hearings. Senator Leyonhjelm does have a number of private bills in the Senate regarding
advancing the principle of free speech. Even though private bills aren’t usually passed, it does
force government to consider them. Leyonhjelm supports removing the ban for assisted suicide,
for the simple reason that we should own our own lives. If we are not free to end our lives, with
assistance if necessary, then we are not free at all.
In reference to Australia’s energy and budget crisis, Senator Leyonhjeim further related how
public politicians have NO appetite or the courage to cut back spending and reduce taxes.
Politicians might agree on what must be done, but don’t know how to do so to get re-elected, for
saying the right thing is not the same as doing it. Does this sound familiar? Notwithstanding,
Australia’a budget moves closer to the cliff every year. Leyonhjeim believes the energy crisis
will only be solved when more blackouts occur this summer.
Senator Leyonhjelm further believes that only a left-wing government would be able to give
government a haircut – much the way only Nixon could go to China. A left-wing government
could get away with it, while a right-wing government would be branded as heartless. Australia,
by the way, presently has a conservative government.
As to Senator Leyonhjelm's political life as a Libertarian in Australia, he admitted it was a lonely
one. Gratitude was expressed for the support Leyonhjelm receives from Libertarians here in
America, especially The Heartland Institute. Leyonhjelm also reminded attendees, only half in
jest, that there is no law in against contributing here in America to his party in Australia.
Personal Observations About Leyonhjelm’s Speech at The Heartland Institute
1. On the whole, Senator Leyonhjelm’s talk sounded quite reasonable as he never touched on
those hot-button issues that make libertarians unacceptable to those of who hold dear our
conservative Republicans values. Observe here the positions on issues set forth by the Liberal
Democrats (Libertarians) in Australia. They seem to closely mirror the libertarian political
philosophy here in America, down to supporting the legalization of use, cultivation, processing,
possession, transport, and sale of cannabis, with protection of minors and penalties for driving
2. I found this piece about Donald Trump written on March 20 by Senator Leyonhjelm. Perhaps
Leyonhjelm was hesitant at Heartland to admit what he really thought of Trump, knowing there
were likely conservative Republicans in the room?
[Originally Published at Illinois Review]