Australian libertarian identities

There has been some recent discussion about the latest list of top “public intellectuals”. I’d like to pursue a variation on that theme and ask you, dear readers, who are Australia’s top libertarian identities?

To start things off I’ll nominate some people, in no particular order: Andrew Norton; Peter Saunders (CIS); Jason Soon; Malcolm Turnbull; Sinclair Davidson; John Roskam; Sukrit Sabhlok; Allan Oxley; PRODOS.

Now over to you. Please nominate your favourite Australian libertarian thinkers, writers, bloggers or activists for the inaugural ALS awards.

60 thoughts on “Australian libertarian identities

  1. John Hyde. John Humphreys. Ron Manners. Lang Hancock. Jeff Kennet. John Hewson.

    They are the most influential libertarians in Australian history.

  2. “Lang Hancock was a strong believer in small government, and resented interference from the Commonwealth Government in Western Australian affairs. He declared before a state Royal Commission in 1991 that “I have always believed that the best government is the least government”, and that “Although governments do not and cannot positively help business, they can be disruptive and destructive.”[8] Hancock bankrolled an unsuccessful secessionist party in the 1970s, and in 1979 published a book, Wake Up Australia, outlining what he saw as the case for Western Australian secession. The book was launched by Gina Rinehart and Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.”

    Lang Hancock was a friend of Ron Manners’ and John Hyde and bankrolled the Workers’ Party.

  3. Jeff may not be a libertarian – I am unaware of his views on drugs, gambling or other stuff like that – but he certainly set the standard when it comes to slashing the size of government.

  4. I’m all embarrassed. Thanks for that.

    Jeff had very liberal views on drugs. As I recall his government wanted to relax marijuana laws so that each household could grow enough for personal use. Got knocked over by the more traditional elements in the Kennett government. One of my students was very excited and had organised for half the school to grow a plant on her behalf. (Mind, I don’t know if these were Jeffs views, or just part of his government.) The Kennett government did relax gambling laws.

  5. Surely Rafe Champion should be added to that list – and if we are accepting deceased ones add in Hal Colebatch, almost alone through the early part of this century.

  6. Cato – add Hal Colebatch as a person who ran for office – being (from memory) in turn a WA MLC, minister, premier, Senator, Agent General in London and then an MLC again.

  7. And of course yourself Mr C8to! 🙂

    Libertarians who have run for office recently also include Duncan Spender, Darren Kennedy, Joseph Clark & Steve Clancy. A list of very smart, capable people — but not very high profile.

    Other political libertarians are David McAlary and David Leyonhjelm — as the two key personalities at the top of the LDP at the moment.

    Other ambassadors for the cause in the blogosphere are Sam Ward and Andrew Reynolds.

    Jon Singleton used to be a libertarian and I guess he still is. Dick Smith also makes noises in that direction sometimes.

  8. Jase, skeptic… what you fail to understand is that the point of a libertarian political party isn’t to get power, it’s about promoting ideas.

    To get an idea into the ivory towers you can lob them into journals. To get an idea into the blogosphere is simple. But to get an idea in front of average households you need to put it in front of them. In a newspaper. On the nightly news. On the radio. As part of a major election. As part of a controversy. All easily doable as a political party.

    People have heard of the Greens and of One Nation and of Family First. The average punter out there hasn’t heard of Catallaxy. Hopefully (with a bit of support, cough, cough) they might hear of the LDP and our ideas come next election.

    If nobody knows about your ideas, then they will never become popular.

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  10. John is spot on with the point of a libertarian party. However I still think the name LDP sounds like a “me too” name. I would have prefered something direct such as “The Smaller Government Party”.

  11. yeah jason and skepticL thats working really well…i mean the government share of gdp is just going down and down…

    jason just likes that idea because of his own aversion to being involved in politics…

    in the long term technology leads economics leads politics…but its worth giving it a shove in the short term…especially australia: the US there is a strong libertarian mindset but in australia hardly anyone thinks freedom is a natural right – the ideal status quo only to be removed in extraordinary circumstances…we’re a nation of planners and meddlers, and thus need a strong libertarian political programme to arrest this…

  12. liberal democratic party is a great name…in fact i think it should become slightly more softcore and become the third party in australia, but always arguing for lower tax, and less meddling…

    then this broad party could have a libertarian wing…

  13. I think that the ACT party in New Zealand illustrates Johns point nicely. They were never going to be in power but they have had an effect on thinking.

    The following speech from the last NZ election makes the point.

    In 2002, ACT was the only party campaigning for tax cuts. Now every party bar Labour is in favour of tax cuts.

    In 2002, only ACT was campaigning on welfare reform, now every party is.

    In 2002, only ACT was standing up for one law for all New Zealanders, now every party is.

    ACT has gone from a lonely voice to being part of a babble of voices.

    I take heart from that. We have lead the debate and other parties have followed. That’s ACT’s role.

    It’s been ACT who has held Labour to account. It’s us who have been responsible for scraping the Teflon from Helen Clark.

    We have in Don Brash an ACT man heading up the National Party.

    He has stood up for low tax, free enterprise and welfare reform. That’s good. He’s had a model to work from. It is called ACT’s manifesto. And Don Brash has moved through it very well.

    And so the ACT agenda that we set out over ten years ago is now the agenda for this year’s election.

    ACT has not won power and is a long, long way from ever doing so. However it has had most of its ideas stolen by other parties which should be great for New Zealand.

  14. I don’t like “Free Radicals” as a party name. Anything with the word radical is likely to be a big turn off for most voters. I like the idea of a party that is in favour of “smaller government” rather than “small government” because the former idea is likely to appeal to a broader audience and yet still move things in the same direction.

  15. “in fact i think it should become slightly more softcore”

    That’s what I thought for a while too, but LDP’s other role is to make it easier for the Liberal Party to take more libertarian positions because they will seem moderate compared to us. So I disagree.

    It’s true the pressure to convert to a freer society has usually come from the mess caused by socialism. At that point even normal people who know nothing about politics sense something is wrong.

    India for example went bankrupt in 1991 and had to beg for assistance from the World Bank – which forced it to institute reforms. It has no classical liberal party but the sheer impracticality of statism has led socialist governments towards pragmatism.

    What parties like LDP do is attempt to speed the process up, and remind people that freedom is more than just an intellectual idea.

    By the way, I consider ‘classical liberal’ and ‘libertarian’ to mean the same thing – those who think they are different are usually moderates, or neither.

  16. That’s what I thought for a while too, but LDP’s other role is to make it easier for the Liberal Party to take more libertarian positions because they will seem moderate compared to us. So I disagree.

    Is this a stated goal of the LDP or just your interpretation? I mean if it is one of their *goals* it makes is seem like some sort of Liberal Party front group running just to manipulate public opinion and slightly dishonest.

    I was under the impression that it actually stood for something distinctly different from the social conservatism of the Liberal Party. Rather than trying to give a leg up to the Libs, the goal would be to transform the debate along different lines. It this helps either say, Turnbull or Emerson push a line in their respective parties more conducive to libertarian ideals then this is a win

  17. Ideally we would have a competition between Turnbull and Emerson to occupy the libertarian political space. That would be so sweet. New Labor versus New Liberal if you like.

  18. I don’t speak for the party, so this is my interpretation.

    Allowing the Liberals room to move would be one of the likely effects of pursuing a hardcore (well publicised) libertarian policy platform.

    At the moment they seem to be getting attacked from all sides.

    “I was under the impression that it actually stood for something distinctly different from the social conservatism of the Liberal Party.”

    The LDP is not socially conservative. See this statement for more.

    “Rather than trying to give a leg up to the Libs, the goal would be to transform the debate along different lines.”

    That’s exactly what I meant.

  19. No I underderstand the LDP aren’t socially conservative, I was saying the Liberal party are. The LDP are staking out a new section of political territory in Australia. Hopefully you can tug everyone in that direction,

  20. “…the point of a libertarian political party isn’t to get power…”

    Agreed – the entire point must be to SEIZE power, draw up extensive lists of suspects, and bring out Madame Guillotine quicksmart. So long as I’M the chairman of the Committee, I promise everything will be all roses in two weeks.

  21. If the LDP wants to be effective at promoting a libertarian agenda then I think its policy messages should be simple and also reasonably hard core.

    In my view the core LDP message currently seems to be:-

    1. The LDP believes in maximum individual freedom.
    2. The LDP wants lots less tax.
    3. The LDP want less regulation.
    4. The LDP believes in legal equality for homosexuals.
    5. The LDP believes in a fair go for shooters.

    This seems like a reasonably concise set of message to me.

  22. 1. What makes Malcolm Turnbull a libertarian?

    2. Why is the Jason Soon/skepticlawyer dream of wearing down government any more sensible than, say, Marx or John Lennon’s Imagine? It might be libertarian as all-get-out, but it’s not sensible and hardly much of a ‘philosophy’.

  23. I’d also add voluntary euthanasia and an end to welfare micromanagement to his list.

    I can see euthanasia as a polarising issue, but ending welfare micromanagement seems a little detailed to be a wedge issue amongst the electorate. Reducing welfare expenditure should really be tied into tax reform, with the negative flat tax an attractive compromise to the complete dismantling of the welfare state.

    Australians are addicted to welfare like crack addicts, we need to sell welfare reform by making getting your welfare hit simpler and ultimately fairer, while at the same time weaning us off of the welfare. Like methadone, negative taxation may not be the same hit as the welfare, but you can get it without any hassle and as part of the tax system.

  24. If it is all about spreading ideas rather than winning votes, there can be no reason not to adopt the most extreme platform imaginable. A 30% income tax is better than what exists now, but inferior to the imperative of denouncing all income taxation as a moral outrage.

  25. The ALS is the forum for discussing the theory behind the ideas and why they are so sensible and logically consistent.

    The LDP presents the ideas in a workable form such that people can see how they are immediately relevant in the real world, and how much better they are than the status quo. For example, if you called for the abolition of welfare you would be dismissed by the majority. Propose ‘Reform 30/30’ and the majority will at least listen to what you have to say. The most extreme platform imaginable probably isn’t the best approach for winning the battle of ideas.

  26. I agree with Michael also. Although I still think the idea of zero income tax needs to be communicated even if via some means other than the LDP and even if to a more narrow audience to start with.

  27. I’ll jump on the bandwagon too — well said Michael.

    However, I have wondered if it would be worthwhile if the LDP stated that we have a long-term goal of getting rid of income tax. Introduce 30/30 now and then steadily bring down government spending over time until we can remove the remaining tax on work.

  28. and replace income tax with what? arbitrarily valued land tax?

    I am for moving to greater reliance on land tax but I have my doubts about sole reliance on it. It could end up degenerating into tax farming and extortion.

  29. Does anyone know what Peter Walsh get up to these days? He isn’t exactly a libertarian (he favours a wealth tax for instance) but at least on regulation is damned well closer to being one than most members of the Liberal party.

  30. I think more reliance on land tax is a good way to go. However rather than it being an annual tax based on a percentage of unimproved market value it should be an annual tax based on a percentage of original purchase price. It should also be used to abolish the stamp duty on puchases and only apply to properties bought after the introduction date (earlier purchases having being frront loaded with stamp duty).

    If when the Howard government came to power they had commited to a cap on annual per capita revenue then they could have pretty much abolished income tax by now. Imagine having the level of government services we had a decade ago but with zero income tax.

  31. Did ACT want to influence policy or exercise power ?

    “…not won power and is a long, long way from ever doing so. However it has had most of its ideas stolen by other parties…”

    The desire to exercise power almost by definition is anti-libertarian…

    Each policy adopted by others is the success of influence.

  32. Paul,

    I think the way that a minor party (like OneNation or hopefully the LDP) can be successfully influential is to threaten the power base of the incumbants. That only happens when you are doing the things that will earn you power. So the desire to exercise power is probably a necessary precursor to success.


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