NSW crossbench senator David Leyonhjelm is facing political oblivion, but not for the reasons you think.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young may be calling for his resignation for his comments about her sex life, but he’ll remain there until the next election, coming some time in the next 12 months.
At that point, like many at the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern end of politics, the sheer strokes of luck that kept him in the Senate for six years will have vanished and then the one-time Labor member, who then joined the Liberals, and then the Shooters, before finally settling on the Liberal Democratic Party, will return to relative obscurity.
There’s no doubt the Sydney-based farmer and agricultural consultant would like to keep his $200,000 job for another six years, but lightning has already struck his political place twice. The first was in 2013 thanks to the donkey vote (when you’re the first name in the top left of the Senate ballot paper) and the LDP’s squatting on the Liberal name, which combined to deliver a 9.5% primary vote. (The only time the party’s vote climbed about 5.5% in its previous 13 years was when there was no Liberal on the ballot paper).
The LDP scraped together enough preferences from fellow micro parties (in now-outlawed deals) that Leyonhjelm had a quota and was off to Canberra.
Three years on, Malcolm Turnbull’s 2016 double-dissolution federal election lowered the entry bar sufficiently to return Leyonhjelm, as well as various One Nation senators, despite the fact that there was a 6.4% swing against the LDP’s primary vote, which fell to just 3.1%. Preferences delivered more than half the support he needed to return.
At next year’s ballot he’ll need a combined vote of 14.3% to succeed. This week appears to be the keen hunter blasting away in search of that support base.
Oscar Wilde’s observation that there is “only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about” is particularly apt for an accidental senator. Under the new electoral laws, no recognition means doom.
The utopia of no responsibility
Right now Leyonhjelm desperately wants to be talked about, because it’s his only chance for re-election. NSW voters will need to enter polling booths favourably seeking his name. Right now, he’s the top story at every media outlet. Expect more outrageous comments. It’s his siren song to an angry group who feel wronged by society and life, especially if their previous behaviour has landed them in trouble.
And while the senator likes to espouse personal responsibility for your actions, he likes to combine it with a peculiar libertarian ideal in which you’re largely allowed to do whatever you please and any attempt by society to set boundaries is “Nanny state” interference and “political correctness”.
It’s a utopian responsibility of no responsibility for your actions.
But now a nation that didn’t really know the NSW senator existed until he told Hanson-Young to “stop shagging men” and then “f..k off” during Senate debate last week is now hearing about Leyonhjelm with monotonous regularity as he keeps ramping up his own brand of abusive pantomime.
While the senator enjoys pouring bile and scorn on those with a contrary view, especially via social media, he’s also quick to hit the block button on Twitter if challenged.
“Free speech carries no obligation to listen,” his Twitter account declares.
True, but surely being paid $200,000 a year by taxpayers as an elected representative of the state of NSW does come with some obligation to engage, even with the unpleasant and those who disagree.
Yet, it’s been a busy week. Taking offence to journalist Angela Bishop – daughter of former Parliamentary speaker Bronwyn Bishop – on TV, he called her a “bigoted bitch” on Twitter.
Then on Sunday, he made comments about Hanson-Young’s sex life that have her reaching for defamation lawyers.
On Tuesday afternoon, after being widely condemned by all sides of politics, who say he should apologise, Leyonhjelm turned his attention to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and declared he “should stop being such a pussy”.
“He is listening to the anti-misogynists, but he is not listening to the anti-misandrists,” Leyonhjelm said.
He’s offered to apologise to Hanson-Young if she meets conditions akin to apostasy.
His beef against Hanson-Young, and now others, is two-fold.
Like most playground arguments, it begins with a defence of his actions on the basis that someone else started it.
The Greens senator called all men rapists, he claims. She denies that’s the case.
He was just “calling out the double standard” in sexism.
The flash point was a debate about violence against women, the rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon as she walked home at night in Melbourne, and whether women should be armed with things like pepper spray.
Hanson-Young said in the Senate that “men should stop raping women”.
Leyonhjelm argues the implication is that “all men are rapists”.
“I believe there are many Australian men and women who, like me, are fed up with men being collectively blamed for the actions of a few sick individuals who assault, rape and murder,” he said in a statement today.
This is the same senator who in 2015, during an inquiry into policing of the Western Sydney Wanderers games, said: “Now there’s a saying, ‘ACAB: All Coppers Are Bastards’. Cops have earned that. They’ve got to un-earn it.”
His comments inflamed an already difficult situation and outraged police.
Two years earlier in Queensland, Leyonhjelm said he would be happy to let police “lie on the side of the road and bleed to death”.
Fast forward to 2016, following a now-deleted blog post about his right to criticise police, Leyonhjelm tweeted at Victorian crossbench senator Derry Hinch, writing: “You need to read this and apologise to me, you dumb heap of parrot droppings”.
While he proclaims on his Twitter account “blocks ad hom abusers”, that’s not a standard he applies to himself. Abuse is part of the stock-in-trade of his public life.
Far from defending some noble cause, Leyonhjelm now just appears to find considerable joy and pride in being unpleasant to those he dislikes.
Late last year, when the right wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos visited Australia on a speaking tour, Leyonhjelm invited him to speak at Parliament House.
It led to a skirmish with Hanson-Young who wanted Yiannopoulos – banned from Twitter in 2016 for abuse or harassment – banned from parliament.
In the end Yiannopoulos came and went to little impact, beyond the outrage generated on both sides during the visit.
However Leyonhjelm appears to have studied the former Breitbart editor and opinion writer’s playbook carefully. Brietbart News was a key rallying point for Donald Trump and his supporters during the 2016 presidential election.
There’s no doubt Australian politicians sense voters of a similar mind are looking for a local champion. Former Liberal Cory Bernardi is auditioning for the role, but his appeal has to be to South Australian voters. Pauline Hanson dabbles in it. Tony Abbott is a Promethean aside to the government.
David Leyonhjelm is hoping there are enough people in NSW to hear his displeasure, nod in agreement and return him to the Senate.
But to hear him, people will keep talking about him. This week is his election campaign launch.
The question for the media, especially those who condemned Sky News for airing his views on Sunday, is how complicit they want to be in a campaign with the allure of audience outrage.
The question for Leyonhjelm’s tiny number of supporters is why they don’t roll him and instead put someone forward who can both represent their views and conduct themselves like an adult.
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