Thorner: Australian lawmaker talks Libertarianism at Heartland Institute

April 20, 2017


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By Nancy Thorner –  

The Heartland Institute on April 12 hosted “An Evening with Sen. David Leyonhjelm,” a lawmaker that 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.

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 Partyresembles 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 in Australia.

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 Parliament.
  • 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 his country.

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 nanny state.

3. Promoted an inquiry on Red Tape. Senator Leyonhjelm, representing New South Wales, chairs the committee as the 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 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 while impaired.

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?

(Watch his presentation here.)

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