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A manifesto for a crossbencher

By David Leyonhjelm - posted Monday, 1 April 2019

Based on the count so far, it is evident I have been elected to the NSW Legislative Council, the upper house of the NSW parliament. This is the state equivalent of the federal Senate from which I resigned at the beginning of March.

Final numbers will not be known until April 12, but it is already clear that the Berejiklian government will require the support of most of the crossbench in order to pass contested legislation in the NSW Legislative Council. This will make it similar to the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government which, since 2014, has required the support of most of the crossbench to pass legislation in the Senate.

I spent almost five years on the Senate crossbench, where my vote was regularly crucial in determining what passed. With my election to the NSW parliament, I will be in a similar position for eight years. This is a responsibility I do not take lightly.


Unlike most other parties, the policies of the Liberal Democrats are based on principles rather than feelings. We believe the government should be our servant, not our master, and should largely keep its hand out of our pockets and off our backs.

In terms of regulation we subscribe to JS Mill's famous harm principle: "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."

When I was first elected to the Senate in 2013 I declared that I would never vote for an increase in taxes or a reduction in liberty. I expect to maintain that promise in the NSW Legislative Council. I will always vote for lower taxes, liberty over safety, the individual over the collective, and personal responsibility over victimhood.

However, having the occasional power of veto in the upper house is not a formula for unrestrained power. Governments are formed on the basis of a majority in the lower house, in the expectation that they will implement their election promises. A crossbench member in the upper house can introduce a bill, but it is largely an exercise in futility unless it has government support.

It is also not appropriate for a crossbencher to seek to highjack a government's agenda. While I don't subscribe to the mandate argument, which is about an unelected House of Lords obstructing an elected House of Commons, my inclination is to allow the government's bills to pass so long as they do not involve increasing taxes or reducing liberty.

In the Senate this regularly meant I voted in favour of a bill provided it was amended to remove or correct such things as retrospective liability, removal of the right to silence, or reversal of the onus of proof.


But inevitably there will be situations where the government lacks the numbers to win a vote. With some crossbenchers basing their position on feelings and others inherently opposed to voting with the government, there will regularly be an opportunity to negotiate.

I have a long list of things I would like to see changed, not least the nanny state and red tape issues identified in the two Senate inquiries that I chaired. For example, NSW continues to prosecute bicycle riders who do not wear a helmet, when the rest of the world leaves it to adults to decide. Cannabis remains illegal despite the rest of the world waking up to the fact that prohibition is a failed policy. Sydney's lockouts destroy the late night culture and live music sector, while Melbourne laughs at our immaturity. Our highly restrictive approach to e-cigarettes costs the lives of tobacco smokers who would otherwise switch.

I am also frustrated that NSW rural communities suffer because water is sent to South Australia to keep a lake artificially fresh, that our speed limits remain stuck in the sixties despite vast advances in car and road safety, that we cannot seek help to end our own lives, and that we consign women and vulnerable people to victimhood by denying them the legal right to carry anything that might protect them from thugs.

So when the government comes seeking my vote, I will bring out my list. And if there is agreement to make progress on something, there is a good chance it will get my vote.

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Article edited by Margaret-Ann Williams.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

Previously published in the Australian Financial Review, Friday, March 29, 2019.

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About the Author

David Leyonhjelm is a former Senator for the Liberal Democrats.

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