Who are the Liberal Democrats?

The Liberal Democrats look set to take a Senate seat in NSW after the party scored the best spot on the ballot paper. A libertarian party, the LDP’s website describes it as a "a serious, progressive, small-government alternative."

The party was formed in 2001 partly as a reaction to the policies of the Howard government. The LDP’s founders "had been exasperated by the Howard approach of big government, high taxes and restrictions on personal freedoms", the party’s Peter Whelan wrote on the Menzies House blog. Writing in the Australian, Cassandra Wilkinson describes the party as the "only group which is comprehensively and philosophically liberal".

Asked about Tony Abbott’s policies, the party’s likely senator in NSW, David Leyonhjelm, said: "We wouldn’t stop him from getting rid of the carbon tax … But when it comes to his big spending plans he may be in trouble, such as direct action on climate change and his paid parental leave – he won’t be getting any support from us."

According to the Liberal Democratic Party’s website:

The LDP’s philosophy sometimes confuses those who like to apply left and right labels to political ideologies. Free trade is considered to be right-wing while drug legalisation is left-wing. Cutting tax is right-wing but defending civil liberties is left-wing.

However, all of these positions share the common principle of decreasing the role of government. They differ from "left-wing" people who often want the government to control the economy but not our social lives, and from "right-wing" people who want the government to control our social lives but not the economy.

The LDP supports the legalisation of cannabis, the right to carry a concealed firearm for self-defence, same sex marriage, abolition of the minimum wage, the abolition of public housing, and limiting welfare benefits to Australian citizens. When running as a candidate for the Outdoor Recreation Party, David Leyonhjelm pushed for higher speed limits and the freedom to perform burnouts.

Some Coalition MPs have accused the LDP of stealing the votes of people too rushed or confused to correctly identify the Liberal Party on the ballot paper. Coalition senator Eric Abetz said the LDP: "simply used the name to garner votes to then distribute out to minor parties and came nowhere near the Liberal Party where it counted." The Liberal Party has tried unsuccessfully to convince the Australian Electoral Commission to prevent the LDP from using the name Liberal Democratic Party.

As David Leyonhjelm pointed out in a comment at Catallaxy, the Liberal Party preferenced Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats and the Family First Party ahead of the LDP.

Last month Crikey’s Andrew Crook revealed that LDP operatives controlled a "swag of right-wing micro-parties" including the Smokers Rights Party and Stop the Greens. Also last month, the Sex Party’s Robbie Swan complained that the LDP and the parties it controlled had failed to honour a preference deal by not lodging in Victoria.

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17 Responses to Who are the Liberal Democrats?

  1. Joe says:

    I call myself a libertarian, so I must say it’s good to see an article that doesn’t call the LDP an extreme/fringe/minor right-wing party. Hopefully libertarianism will get a wee bit more coverage in Australia now. Probably not the ideal way to get the LDP into parliament, but we did get the fifth-highest vote in the country in 2010, so it can’t have all been dimwitted Liberal voters :)

  2. Helen says:

    Leyonhjelm? Perhaps their vote was artificially boosted by poorly caffeinated hipsters wrongly reading his name as “Levon Helm”?

  3. Crocodile Chuck says:

    ‘hipsters’ would have NO idea who Levon Helm was

    let alone his musical/cultural significance.

    Good catch! ;)

  4. Sancho says:

    So, rather than get behind a single party, the business lobby is funding a bunch of small ones to gain the same effect without announcing a clear agenda.

    Ingenious. Undemocratic and bereft of anything resembling ethics, but ingenious.

  5. conrad says:

    I don’t see any problems with them (even where I don’t agree with their policies). If they can control other small parties and act within the bounds of legality, then good luck for them. If people are worried about funding, then the problem is with disclosure laws. It’s also not like there haven’t been other parties with similar names collecting votes presumably in part due to similar names as big parties, like the Democratic Labor Party, who basically became conservative Liberal Party stooges.

  6. Jim Rose says:

    All of the rum senators got in through aggregating micro party preferences. The s-x party gets 1 to 3 per cent every election and goes close to election in Vic.

  7. Gummo Trotsky says:

    I feel sorry for Robbie Swan – so clueless!

    “However, when it came time, the LDP failed to lodge in Victoria and so did the other parties that they controlled…

    The system allows it, but the system is corrupt. The system shouldn’t allow someone to make arrangement and then not be able to fulfil it.”

    Well, he’s wright and he’s rong at the same time. There is something corrupt about a political party controlling a few others that only exist to feed it Senate preferences and the system that permits it needs fixing. Robbie’s comments reveal a lot about the integrity of the LDP and the integrity of the S_x Party.

  8. Tyler says:

    I’m less concered by the proliferation of minor party senators. Between them (including xenophon which skews it a bit) they got something in the order of 20-25% of the national vote. Whilst determining which of the parties manages to sneak in on that basis is always a bit of a roulette the eventual outcome (a proliferation of minor party senators) is clearly in line with the vote.

  9. Alan says:

    The microparties problem has been known for along time. The ALP and LNP can hardly complain when there are easy solutions to this problem like optional referencing and ticket preferencing, both sued in the NSW legislative council.

    Equally they cannot really complain about the front parties operated by the LDP. That is again a problem that has been known for some time and one that would be easy to fix with legislation. The real problem for the big parties is that they are distinctly nervous about blowback. They do not have any great enthusiasm, for instance,about giving the AEC the resources to start investigations. Nor is there any federal equivalent of ICAC with a broad mandate to deal with corrupt conduct.

    The vast outbreak of piss and wind emanating from the media and the big parties is really just another version of their long running claim to be the only parties worth voting for. Even on as impeccable a source as Troppo we find a class of lottery senators that somehow includes Nick Xenophon, despite him receiving a higher first preference vote than one of the major parties.

  10. derrida derider says:

    The problem is the “Vote 1 only” above-the-line system in the Senate, which means ALL distributed preferences from a losing candidate go where that candidate’s party directs rather than where individual voters might prefer it. This makes preference deals really powerful and IMO defeats the whole purpose of preferential voting. It’s a system that empowers a strange alliance of political loonies and unelected party apparatchiks.

    There’s quite a few better ways to do this. Me, I’d go for proportional voting with a (say) 5% elimination threshold. As at present we’d have the balance of power held by minor parties in all but unusual circumstances (basically two big wins in a row by one party), but if you want to to become a Senator you’d need to persuade a meaningful chunk of the voters that they should want you to be one.

    I’m not picking especially on the LDP here – lord knows this system has and will throw up some groups loonier than them. But the LDP is getting there with just 0.39 per cent of the primary vote, which is ridiculous.

    Keating was right to call the Senate “unrepresentative swill”, and not just because Tasmania has the same number of senators as NSW.

    • conrad says:

      It’s also a system that allows minority opinion and minorities to be included in the political system (and hence presumably gives some of these groups more reason to care about politics).

      In particular, the main problem problem with the lower house for minorities is that in case, say, 15% of your electorate are racist, it basically means you will never get in because most seats are won on much smaller amounts. So you are essentially excluded from the political system by a small number of voters. This is why the only place some minority groups ever get in is not surprisingly in neighborhoods where many minority groups live.

  11. Alan says:

    Preferential voting already has a threshold. It is calculated by dividing the number votes cast by 1 more than the number of vacancies to be filled, and increasing the result to the next highest integer. While that figure is generally called the ‘quota’ in Australia in much of the world it is called a threshold.

    The difference with a preferential threshold is that it does not result in votes being chucked in the bin, which is what happens with MMP and ListPR thresholds. It’s easy to restore the integrity of the system without introducing arbitrary thresholds.

    All that’s needed is:

    1. better party registration rules

    2. optional preferential voting

    3. allow people to decide their own preferences between tickets, as in NSW

    4. (maybe) keeping a random ballot but placing parties that have a seat in either house ahead of parties that do not.

    The 5% threshold typically found in MMP systems does not apply to a party that wins a district in its own right so it is effectively much lower. In ListPR systems, which I think is what you are proposing, the threshold is typically much lower, ranging from 1.67% in the Netherlands to 4% in Sweden, although Sweden also has an alternate threshold if you win 12% in one of the regional constituencies.

    If you want a splendid example of what happens when you start mixing different PR systems into each other I’d refer you to the first two elections for the ACT legislative assembly.

    • Jim Rose says:

      alan, adam bandt tonight has suggested allowing voters to mark above the line 1,2, 3 and so on.

      restricting voting above the line 1,2, 3… for parties above the line would hurt the greens. 20% of their voters preference the liberals second and not all labor voters preference the greens second. with their vote 8% now, the greens will depend much more on labor preferences than in the past

      in the seventies, john halfpenny missed out on the senate because labour voters skipped him in their preferencing of the labor ticket. other than that, having to number all boxes made no difference for a lonh time before above the line was introduced in 1984.

      voting just for party lists would make it easy for everyone

  12. Alan says:

    I don’t necessarily accept the analysis that it would hurt the greens and in any case I;m looking for a system that;s fair, not one that favours or prejudices any party.

    Having a hereditary dictator would be easier than lists, but easy is not a good enough reason to adopt a bad system. Lists means MHRs are exclusive appointees of their party. We already have major parties that are far too disciplined. Adopting lists would mean a house of robots.

    • Jim Rose says:

      The strength of democracy is a small group of concerned and thoughtful citizens can meet in someone’s living room, band together with others that share their vision and change things by running for office and, in time, winning seats at elections.

      That is how new parties such as the ALP, the country party, DLP, and greens changed Australia. One Nation even had its 15 minutes of fame. The LDP could be next.

      the LPD is now 200 votes ahead of Palmer in Tassie now; the LIbs win now win the last seat on palmer united preferences.

  13. Tel says:

    Well I voted for them, and it was no mistake, I much prefer the LDP to the LIberal party, especially in the Senate which is designed as a house of review, and therefore should represent a diversity of opinions, not just party hacks.

    I prefered when they called themselves the “Liberty and Democracy Party” because any association with Nick Clegg is embarassing.

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