The New, Libertarian Conscience Of the Senate

I said the other week that I agreed with Paul Keating’s famous denunciation of the Senate as “unrepresentative swill”. It’s now looking highly likely that, due to complicated preference deals which few voters understood or were even aware of, six or possibly seven of the new Senate seats will be filled from outside the major parties. This would be great, if it represented the will of the people. But in several cases, it demonstrably does not. With six Senate seats on offer in each state, the quota is about 14.3%, or one-seventh, of the total formal vote.

Yet, for example, in Victoria, Ricky Muir from the Motoring Enthusiasts’ Party is set to be elected to the Senate with just 0.5% of the primary vote, or about 3½% of a quota. In Western Australia, Wayne Dropulich from the Australian Sports Party has been elected with just 0.22% of the vote, or 1½% of a quota! In South Australia, Family First’s Bob Day gained 3.3% of the vote, or 23% of a quota—somewhat better—while in Queensland, Clive Palmer’s candidate, rugby league legend Glenn Lazarus, has a more reasonable claim to legitimacy with 10.3% of the vote, or about 72% of a quota.

And then there’s New South Wales, where David Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Australia’s only Libertarian political party (I know that’s confusing for British readers), has won a seat. Being the beneficiary of a “perfect storm” of factors—drawing column “A” on the vast ballot paper, which was printed in just 6-point font, and having a party name that looked a lot like the Liberal Party, resulted in the LDP in NSW receiving an astonishing 8.91% of the primary vote, or 62% of a quota. In doing so, it out-polled the Australian Greens in NSW (7.67% at latest count). A labyrinth of preference deals and a fortuitous order of elimination of other minor and “micro” candidates helped the LDP over the line.

Leyonhjelm (pronounced lion-helm), a former veterinarian and agribusiness owner, in interviews over the past few days, has summarized how he will vote on all major issues. While he broadly respects the mandate of the incoming government, he will be guided, he says, by two simple Libertarian principles:

  1. he will never vote for an increase in taxes, and
  2. he will never vote for a diminution of Liberty.

This means, for example, that he will support the Abbott government’s repeal of the Carbon and Mining Super-Profits taxes. But he will vote against Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme which, he says plainly, is a scheme designed to take money from people who do not have newborn babies, and give it to people who do.

He explained the LDP’s policies in this radio interview last night with Andrew Bolt and Steve Price. Leyonhjelm, while generally appealing to both men, clearly made them palpably nervous. It was also obvious that neither Bolt nor Price had ever heard of the LDP before the election, though Price has been to their website recently and has looked at their policy platform. For Bolt, who often professes Libertarian beliefs on his blog, television and radio appearances, it was a clearly confronting experience for him to be faced with a real, live Libertarian politician, who calmly explained to them the rationale for gun law liberalization (the issue that prompted Leyonhjelm to quit the Liberal Party in 1996), marijuana legalization and voluntary euthanasia (which the LDP refer to as assisted suicide). Though it’s a radio interview and audio-only, you can almost visualize Bolt and Price scurrying back into their safe, comfortable and familiar conservative shells, exposing the statist streak within.


As I see it, Leyonhjelm’s influence in the Senate may be to hold the government to account in a way that the Opposition cannot: that is, to ensure they remain a truly liberal party. Any temptation by the government to gain votes by populist spending, or to slide into social engineering, nanny-statism or other tax-and-spend tendencies, he will fiercely oppose. He will give encouragement and confidence to the more Libertarian-minded government MHRs and Senators, to pursue policies that reduce the tax burden and increase the Liberty of the individual—much like Ron Paul in the United States Congress. He will be, in fact, the Libertarian conscience of the Senate—something rare in parliaments in a Western world almost completely converted to social democracy.

The Senate outcome, but for chance, could have been far worse than it has turned out. Labor and the Greens now have only a total of 35 Senate seats, four short of having power of veto over legislation. This figure is sure to go down at the next half-Senate election in 2016. I speculated the other week that two extremists—unreconstructed racist Pauline Hanson and Wikileaks fugitive Julian Assange—could easily have wound up with control of the balance of power in the Senate, and with it, the nation. Had the minor parties been eliminated in a slightly different order, this may well have come to pass. After all, they both polled a higher primary vote than several of the elected Senators.

Of those minor party Senators, Muir and Dropulich at least sound like reasonable fellows in the interviews they have given; they are unlikely to become rabid obstructionists. A little horse trading on their single issues should see them compliant in supporting government legislation. Glenn Lazarus, long a public figure in Australia and used to media attention, is a reasonable fellow; but the extent to which he will be beholden to his boss, the very unreasonable (and at times downright unhinged) Clive Palmer, is unclear. Family First’s Bob Day, a successful businessman, former Liberal Party candidate and past Secretary of the H.R. Nicholls Society, has a detailed policy platform which you can read here; he is likely to vote with the government on most issues. And Nick Xenophon, having sat in the Senate now for six years, is a known quantity, has a similarly detailed platform, and with an incredible 25% of the primary vote, can hardly be called a minor figure any more; he is far and away his state’s most popular politician.

But it’s all academic now; we have the Senate we elected, democratically and according to our own laws. I suspect a couple of the single-issue, neophyte Senators will end up leaning heavily on Leyonhjelm and Day, political veterans, for guidance on issues of substance. And that bodes well for the cause of Liberty. In all likelihood, he won’t be re-elected in six years’ time—the “perfect storm” of factors is extremely unlikely to be repeated. Furthermore, there may well have been electoral reform in the meantime and, as he will by then be 67 years old, he probably won’t want to go round again anyway. But he does have six years of media attention ahead of him, which gives him the opportunity to raise the public profile of Libertarianism generally and the LDP specifically. So who knows?

It may well end up being our best Senate ever.

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16 Responses to The New, Libertarian Conscience Of the Senate

  1. Kitler says:

    Well I hope he works out and makes a difference.

  2. Ozboy says:

    Well, if rumours are correct, at least David Leyonhjelm won’t have to spend the next six years being dazzled by the brilliance of fellow NSW Senator, Labor’s Bob Carr.


  3. Ozboy says:

    The Sydney Morning Herald’s Mike Carlton was pretty funny about thirty years ago. But he’s been on a long slide since, decaying into a supercilious champagne socialist (emphasis on the champers, from what I’ve read) and Labor Party mouthpiece.

    He’s always been an elitist twit – comes of his posh schooling, I imagine. But I never realized he has grown to hate everyday Australians quite this much. How dare those ignorant peasants vote for someone other than who I tell them to?

    “Tahiti looks nice.” “Simon – Tahiti”.

  4. Luton Ian says:

    Just spared you a long climate change post, by fly tipping it over at Knotted Prop

    Thanks Ian, I’ve linked back in your text.

    Whaddya reckon about our new Libertarian Senator eh? Oz

  5. Luton Ian says:

    Whaddya reckon about our new Libertarian Senator eh? Oz

    He would only use the ring for good?

    If he uses his elected position as Ron Paul has, to spread the message of Liberty, and if he does indeed only vote to reduce coercion and increase liberty, then he might do a little bit of good.

    Unfortunately I’m very pessimistic about the possibility of using corrupt and coercive means to achieve good ends, and my reading of past experience suggests that he’s more likely to end up either irrelevant or corrupted, or perhaps even lending a totally undeserved legitimacy to the state.

    That’s about what I thought you’d say.

    The parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters will produce a report on the 2013 election which is all but certain to recommend electoral reform of the Senate. Making the return of a Libertarian extremely unlikely granted the LDP’s current level of recognition. So Leyonhjelm has just six years to raise awareness among the public, and just maybe continue its presence beyond 2020 – Oz

  6. Ozboy says:

    Group ticket voting high farce today – sex, lies and facsimiles.

  7. Me says:

    What the h=ll is a ‘Sex Party’? Now I’ve seen everything!

    They’re a civil liberties party, like the LDP, albeit with an obvious emphasis. Their website is here.

    Right now the ASP’s Robbie Swan is favoured to win the final Senate spot for Tasmania. So I’ll be represented by them myself – Oz

  8. Me says:

    Thanks, Oz. I get the picture. It’s yer basic Lefty up-with-the-people’s-upness with, I greatly suspect from my fly-by, a short paragraph of contempt when the essay subject is: ‘Liberty that is not licence: discuss’. And if you can actually parse the sentence I just wrote, even though it makes sense to me, I salute you ;^)

    Liberty is indeed not license, which falls into the category of Libertinism, not Libertarianism. Libertinism has always marked the end of great civilizations, just as it is appearing to do in the West right now. Luton Ian and I have canvassed this in a previous thread.

    I actually would like to do an article sometime on Palaeolibertarianism, Lew Rockwell and the American Old Right, as it’s where I’m starting to see my own version of Libertarianism heading. Someday when I have time, maybe – Oz 🙄

  9. Luton Ian says:

    I’d enjoy an examination of the “old right”, and despite spending so much time rummaging through the literature over at, which Rockwell founded and still guides, I don’t know much about Llew Rockwell.

    Regarding the libertarian versus libertine relationship, and potential accusations of “permissivness” on the part of libertarians;

    My own position is culturally quite conservative, I don’t want to live near or particularly want to associate with libertines, and I deffinitely don’t want to be afflicted with the long term consequences of their high time preference behaviours.

    That said, so long as they don’t aggress , then there is no excuse for for anyone to use coercion on them.

    There is also no excuse to use coercion on me, to force me into dealings with them. For example, let’s say that I refused to have dealings with someone on the basis that they are let’s say gay, or perhaps that they have a 9 year old “wife” (hopefully not both examples at the same time).

    The unstated corollary of freedom to associate is freedom to choose not to associate, or to put in in blunt language, the freedom to discriminate.

  10. Me says:

    Sounds interesting, Oz. I’ll be one of your readers if and when your article appears.

  11. izen says:

    All I know of Lew Rockwell is that he and his site promotes woo type fad diets, AIDS virus denialism and anti-evolution tracts.

    I have also seen claims he is a white supremacist, but have not seen any direct evidence of that.

    As for libetarianism including the freedom to discriminate, I suspect that conflicts with contract rights and responsibilities.
    Can a libertarian either sell their rights and voluntarily become a slave, or can a libertarian buy another person as a slave if they make a voluntary contract to do so?

    Rockwell is no white supremacist (that would make a mockery of everything else he stands for) but once upon a time, he was possibly guilty of being a lazy sub-editor. I’m sure he regrets it now.

    Posting interviews on one’s blog with people holding non-mainstream ideas, does not necessarily mean the interviewer concurs with them, any more than allowing you to post here makes me a warmist 🙄

    Still, I’m glad the term “denialist” is getting a run with someone different for a change. I’m sure the term could be equally applied to many famous personages throughout history; Euclidean geometry denialist (Einstein), geocentrism denialist (Copernicus and Galileo), etc, etc. The science is settled, dammit!

    Libertarianism begins with an indissoluble property one holds in oneself, which would preclude selling oneself into slavery – even if someone really wanted to – Oz

  12. meltemian says:

    Hey Oz’ I’ve just heard that the ‘Flim-Flam-Man’ is a gonner.
    At least someone has finally seen sense.

    G’day Mel,

    Yep, happened yesterday morning our time. And Flannery and the Climate Commission are only the beginning. There is a disgracefully huge array of bureaucracies set up by Rudd and Gillard under the pretext of caring for the environment, but in reality are little more than jobs programs for favoured mates, dispensation of patronage and largesse. Billions a year. And they’re all on their way out. Hallelujah! Oz

  13. Ozboy says:

    Actually, James zoomed in on part of Flannery’s background. It turns out that Professor Flannery doesn’t actually hold an undergraduate science degree. Like our God-emperor, he’s an English Literature graduate, who then snagged a government grant to study fossils in a Masters’ program at Monash, and subsequently became a museum curator. I don’t want to be unkind about this, but Lord Rutherford’s famous epithet and the term glorified stamp collector do spring to mind.

    What this means in practice is that this man, who holds himself out as a scientist, never received the rigorous undergraduate training in the core disciplines – pure and applied mathematics, statistics, physics and chemistry, as well as the philosophy of science – as did most of us in these parts who are science majors. His understanding of falsifiability and the scientific method appear to be tenuous at best. So, for example, when Tim Flannery looks at a graph, he almost certainly sees things that Luton Ian, Kitler, myself and others around here do not see (watch his unhinged performance below and you’ll suspect, as I do, that the same applies when he looks at an ink-blot). Which left him vulnerable to manipulation, and the perfect front-man for Rudd/Gillard/Rudd’s grand wealth redistribution agenda masquerading as a Canute-like attempt to Save The Planet.

    Talk about the Peter Principle!

  14. Ozboy says:

    Speaking of Tony Abbott: if you believe the MSM’s unrelentingly negative accounts of him, you may well have him pegged as an ultra-conservative Catholic dinosaur. The real Tony Abbott bears no resemblance to the bien-pensant caricature of him; check out this story from Michael Smith’s blog.

    This is a man of real character, unlike so many of his contemporaries; a man in whom people from all political backgrounds can find much to admire. A man worthy of the office he now holds.

  15. Ozboy says:

    Better and better… a good profile on Leyonhjelm and Bob Day in today’s Weekend Australian.

  16. Ozboy says:

    And another profile here at Catallaxy, which I’ve commented on and linked back to.

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