There’s a big difference between New South Wales Senator David Leyonhjelm and his fellow political outliers. While One Nation members Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts are wilfully ignorant, the Accidental Senator is in fact well-educated and articulate. Talking to him, it’s easy to forget some of his more outrageous statements: did he really say last year that Australia’s tough gun control laws were an “emotional reaction” to the Port Arthur Massacre? And was he actually behind the controversial push to relax the ban on the seven-round Adler lever-action shotgun, saying there was “no compelling reason” for the weapon to be illegal? (Yes to both.)
He’s also in favour of arming the population, saying last night, “How then is it possible to keep the government in check if the only people with guns are those in government uniforms?”
The issue with the former vet and agribusiness consultant, who also has a law degree and an MBA, is that unlike most politicians, he doesn’t care what you think of him or even whether you agree. What he is interested in is talking about his particular brand of libertarianism, which he says is based on John Stuart Mill’s harm principle: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”
Last night he launched the book of his collected writings, Freedom’s Salesman in Sydney. In it, he tries to tell Australians that their “lives would be more prosperous, more fulfilling and happier if they did more for themselves and the government did less”.
Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial and get Crikey straight to your inbox
The launch was held, appropriately, in a room at Sydney’s City Tattersall’s Club, surrounded by the pinging noise of hundreds of poker machines. If the role of government is to allow its citizens to pour their money into gambling, and then tax the promoters’ profits, a registered club is a perfect backdrop. If the NSW government was any more wedded to gambling revenue, state Parliament would be held in a casino.
Leyonhjelm crashed onto the political stage in the 2013 federal election when he won the political lottery and gained the first position on the ballot for his political party, the Liberal Democrats. A direct beneficiary of the donkey vote plus the people who thought they were voting for the Liberal party, he scored 3.91% of the primary vote — the ABC’s Annabel Crabb said he was elected by “Liberal voters who can’t spell.” Since then, due to his role on the crossbench, he has become very powerful.
Economically, he believes in cutting “red tape”, and lowering taxes.
“Intervening in markets is a form of coercion. Market failure is a consequence of government intervention, not a justification for intervention. And of course, taking our money from us, in the form of taxation, and using it to do something that we could do for ourselves, is a serious coercion.”
Several people have given endorsements for the book: Malcolm Turnbull said that Leyonhjelm was a “fierce advocate for freedom”. Last night, the competitive pistol shooter said that he liked the PM and had “a friendly relationship with him. And I have a video of him claiming that he is a libertarian. Before he became Prime Minister, he used to tell me he is the second most libertarian person in Parliament.”
“Andrew Bolt and Cory Bernardi are economic libertarians. They agree the government should get out of our pockets, but don’t oppose the government having a say over our social lives. We tend to apply the word conservative to describe people like Andrew and Cory, although that’s not an historically accurate use of the term.”
The Greens’ Scott Ludlam says on the back cover, “I think I even voted with this guy once.” Leyonhjelm said last night that “the Greens find me difficult. They support freedom sometimes, which is why Ludlum and I worked together to try to protect some fundamental rights in the context of counter-terrorism legislation. But then, way too often, they revert to complete control freaks.”
The book was launched by former Business Council of Australia head Tony Shepherd, who basically believes in small everything.
Shepherd said that, “Free trade is vital to a small country of 24 million with only two industries left which are globally competitive — the demonised resources sector and agriculture. We were also good at minerals processing but governments made sure they killed that off through their crazy short-sighted energy policies.
“We survived the GFC and prospered … from the massive and unprecedented investment in the commodity boom. Now coal, iron ore and gas exporters are the devil incarnate despite the obvious fact that through taxes, royalties, jobs and huge investment in infrastructure they are keeping us afloat.”
The main issue I have with people like the 73-year-old Shepherd and all the other old, white men in the room (I counted four walking sticks and about eight women) is that they will all be dead and buried before climate change renders much of the planet uninhabitable. And by that stage, it will be too late.
Although the Senator and I disagree on guns, we are both cat-lovers (although I don’t refer to mine as a “fur-child”). He and his wife used to have four felines (sadly, now three) and he was often photographed stroking a fluffy white Persian, making him look exactly like Bond villain Ernst Blofeld.
Two years ago, he wrote an article for The Guardian, saying that:
“Cats are natural libertarians. I’m managed by four of them, and I speak from experience. They are all individuals and refuse to identify with groups … I’ve always liked Winston Churchill’s quip to the effect that dogs look up to us, cats look down on us, while pigs treat us as equals … But when George Orwell wrote in his novel Animal Farm that ‘all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’, he could just as easily have had cats in mind instead of pigs. Cats will accept being equal, but nothing less is acceptable. It’s very libertarian of them.”