|Senator for New South Wales|
Assumed office |
1 July 2014
David Ean Leyonhjelm|
1 April 1952
Nhill, Victoria, Australia
|Political party||Liberal Democratic Party|
|Domestic partner||Amanda Downes|
University of Melbourne|
David Ean Leyonhjelm (pronunciation: // "lion-helm"; born 1 April 1952) is an Australian politician who is a Senator for New South Wales, representing the Liberal Democratic Party. Having been elected at the 2013 federal election, he took office on 1 July 2014, and was re-elected in the 2016 full Senate election. Before being elected to parliament Leyonhjelm worked as a veterinarian and then as an agribusiness consultant. He also writes columns for several Australian publications, with a concentration on rural issues.
Personal life and business career
David Leyonhjelm was born in Nhill in the Wimmera, in western Victoria and was raised in Heywood, on the dairy farm of his parents Bryan and Jean Leyonhjelm. The family is of Swedish noble origin; the 'Leijonhielm' barony granted 1719. He was the oldest of four children, and as a teenager trapped rabbits and worked in a shoe shop to help support his family. When he was 15, his parents separated, and he lived with his mother in Melbourne, where he attended Dandenong High School. Leyonhjelm later won a scholarship to study veterinary science at the University of Melbourne, studying alongside Denis Napthine, a future Premier of Victoria. He has since completed Bachelor of Laws and Master of Business Administration degrees at Macquarie University. After gaining his initial degree, he worked as a practising veterinarian for a time, both in Australia and overseas, and later became involved in marketing and management roles in the animal health industry.
In 1989, Leyonhjelm was a founding director of Baron Strategic Services, an agribusiness consultancy firm with which he remains involved. He later served as director of the federally funded Gene Technology Information Unit (GTIU), which was established by the Keating Government to offer "accurate and unbiased advice about the new gene technologies". Leyonhjelm lives with his wife, Amanda, in Sydney, but also owns a rural property in Hargraves, a locality near Mudgee in the Central West region of NSW. A shooting enthusiast, he is the president of the Sydney-based Inner West Hunters Club, and takes pleasure in his success in winning his grade in New South Wales for several years, shooting metallic silhouette targets with small-bore pistols. Also a former secretary of the Farm Writers' Association of New South Wales, Leyonhjelm had a column in Rural Business magazine for 20 years. He also wrote a column, "Agribuzz", for Fairfax Rural Media (formerly Rural Press), and for "Business Spectator" and writes regularly in The Australian Financial Review.
Early political activities
Politically, Leyonhjelm was a member of Young Labor during the 1970s, and worked on the successful "It's Time" campaign that helped elect Gough Whitlam, with the goal of ending compulsory military conscription. He later joined the Liberal Party, but resigned his membership in 1996 in protest against the stricter firearm laws introduced by John Howard. Leyonhjelm had been a member of the Shooters Party since 1992, and was chair for a period of 5 years. Having fallen out with its founder, John Tingle, he later left the party to protest what he perceived as its increasing social conservatism and status as a "single issue party".
After leaving the Shooters Party, Leyonhjelm became involved with the federally registered Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which contests New South Wales elections as the Outdoor Recreation Party, in 2005. He has served as the treasurer and "registered officer" of both parties at various stages, and ran the LDP's national campaigns at the 2007, 2010, and 2013 federal elections. At the 2007 federal election, Leyonhjelm unsuccessfully contested the Division of Bennelong for the LDP, which ran as the Liberty and Democracy Party after the Australian Electoral Commission initially refused to register it under its original name due to the use of the word "Liberal". For the Outdoor Recreation Party, he unsuccessfully contested the 2010 Penrith state by-election, drawing 1.87 percent of the first-preference vote, and then was listed first on the party's group ticket at the 2011 state election, which drew 0.75 percent as a group.
Running for the Australian Senate in New South Wales at the 2013 federal election, Leyonhjelm was elected to the fifth of six vacancies. The Liberal Democrats polled 3.91 percent of the first-preference vote based on five states, receiving 523,831 primary votes above the line in NSW. The result for the LDP in New South Wales was partly attributed to the "donkey vote", with the party occupying first position on a ballot paper with a record number of candidates. Confusion with the Liberal Party of Australia and other similarly named parties was also thought to have played a part, with a writer in The Age suggesting Leyonhjelm was "probably the only senator elected because people mistook his party for another".
Leyonhjelm assumed his seat on 1 July 2014, and was sworn in on 7 July, making his maiden speech during the same week. In the first sitting week, he successfully moved to have the government's Clean Energy (Income Tax Rates and Other Amendments) Bill considered by itself, instead of being grouped with other legislation. The bill, which subsequently failed to pass, would have repealed personal income tax cuts that were to be introduced as compensation for the carbon tax. In September 2014, he announced that Helen Dale, a writer and lawyer who won the Miles Franklin Award in 1995 (as Helen Demidenko), would be a senior adviser on policy matters. In November 2014, Leyonhjelm introduced as a private member's bill a Freedom to Marry Bill, which would allow same-sex marriage.
In August 2015 Leyonhjelm negotiated a deal to include a 12 month sunset clause on the temporary ban on importing the Adler lever action shotgun. The Government imposed the ban in July, while it reviewed the technical specifications of weapons in the wake of the Martin Place Siege. The Federal Government has agreed to allow the importation of the shotgun, in exchange for support on migration laws. A week prior to the ban lapsing as a result of the sunset clause, the Government reimposed the ban.
LDP/FFP economic voting bloc and IPA membership
Leyonhjelm has been described as a "libertarian purist" who wants government "wound back to a minimal role in society". In interviews, he has stated that he was initially drawn towards socialism, but turned away from it after travelling to socialist countries in Africa and Eastern Europe, and was later influenced by the writings of economist Milton Friedman. Along with Bob Day of the Family First Party, who was also elected to the Senate at the 2013 election, Leyonhjelm has been compared to Ron Paul, a former U.S. Representative and noted libertarian. Their election has been associated with a rise in the popularity of libertarian and classical liberal ideas in Australia, with one commentator suggesting his election might "spark a libertarian renaissance [in Australia]".
In the 44th parliament along with seventeen other crossbenchers (including 10 Greens, independents and representatives from four other parties), the Liberal Democrats shared the balance of power in the Senate. Leyonhjelm has been described as the newly elected senator with "perhaps the most clearly articulated and consistent views". He supported the repeal of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and carbon tax, but opposed the Abbott Government's proposed paid parental leave and "direct action" on climate change schemes as "bad in principle" and "a waste of taxpayers' money", respectively. The LDP's position on climate change is that the scientific evidence is not yet "compelling" and that "changes in human activity could realistically reverse those consequences", but the party "would favour market-based options" if the science is confirmed by further study. Notably, Leyonhjelm has proposed charging a fee for permanent residency in Australia, as a way of discouraging people smuggling. He also supports same-sex marriage, and the decriminalisation of marijuana and assisted suicide. In his "Agribuzz" column, he generally advocates deregulating the Australian agriculture industry, including removing barriers to free trade, genetically modified organisms, and foreign ownership of Australian land.
Leyonhjelm was criticised following the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis when he argued that Australians should be allowed greater access to weapons for self defence. He put the view that the outcome may have been different if at least some citizens were allowed to be armed.
During the 2016 Australian federal election campaign, Leyonhjelm attracted criticism after he suggested women's sport was not "interesting enough" to receive government funding. Labor leader Bill Shorten responded, suggesting Leyonhjelm was a "stone age man".
During the same campaign, satirical television show The Chaser parked a campervan across the road from Leyonhjelm's house daubed in Wicked Campers slogans that Leyonhjelm had previously defended, with Leyonhjelm's name replacing derogatory references to women in the original slogans. On the assumption they were following him inside his front gate, Leyonjhelm reacted by threatening to call the police and told the Chaser team to 'f*** off'. He subsequently told women's rights activist Melinda Tankard Reist to "STFU" when she accused him of hypocrisy.
Speaking to BBC News in November 2016, Leyonhjelm questioned the motives and integrity of anti-poverty charity workers: "The people who work for those charities have their careers tied up in the continuation of that charitable work. If they were too successful and poverty was eliminated, they wouldn't have jobs anymore. They have a very long history in Australia of talking up poverty."
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