Publisher’s Note: Today I’m pleased to introduce a new face to our panel of contributors — New South Wales federal senator, David Leyonhjelm. Senator Leyonhjelm is somewhat of a controversial figure. He represents the Liberal Democratic Party in the Senate. The LDP is a libertarian party which advocates personal freedom and choice, and limited government. Anyway, I’m certain you won’t agree with all of the senator’s views, but that shouldn’t stop you from taking a moment to consider everything he has to say. I’m pleased to welcome David as a new contributor in the Port Phillip Publishing team.
Publisher, Port Phillip Publishing.
Ever since I was photographed with my beautiful white Persian cat Oliver, I have been compared to Dr Evil from the Austin Powers series.
For some people, this evil persona perfectly matches my unwillingness to hand out public funds or say things that politicians are supposed to say. However, I don’t think any of this qualifies me for super-villain status.
It’s always been my position that a real evil of government comes not from failing to give money away, but from taking it from people in the first place; and not when politicians say the wrong things, but when they don’t say what they think.
Nevertheless, it does give me pause for thought.
What if I decided that I wanted to live up to my image and become a truly evil senator? Are there some ways that I could undermine democracy without being too obvious about it? After a year in the job, I have learnt enough about the tricks of the trade, and I know I could do it.
One of the best ways to subvert democracy is to use appropriation bills. These are the huge lumps of your money that sail through the Senate like icebergs in the night — massive slabs of funding, unopposed, unscrutinised, unremarked, unnoticed and in my view, unconscionable. About a third of the commonwealth’s funding is handed out through these bills, typically in the tens of billions at a time.
Like all good evil things, appropriations bills have the blandest of names, which is one reason why journalists rarely take notice of them. I couldn’t come up with a better way to hide institutionalised theft if I tried.
As I pointed out when I put together an alternative budget earlier this year, it would be possible for the government to balance the budget within a year, simply by not throwing so much money away in appropriations bills.
However, since my task here is to subvert democracy, what I would do as an evil senator is put as much stuff into appropriations bills as possible. All of this would increase our debt burden and leave it to our children. Best of all, it would scarcely leave a trace.
This brings to mind those ‘Spending the Kids’ Inheritance’ bumper stickers you see on the backs of caravans travelling through the outback. But current government spending is even more evil than that — it’s about ‘Spending the Kids’ Future Income’. That’s a plan Dr Evil would sign up for if he were a senator. It’s the perfect political crime.
As this — and George Orwell — shows, if you want to subvert democracy, it’s important to get the language right. For example, a piece of legislation that floated through the Senate with the support of both the government and opposition without so much as a murmur from our political classes was a ‘Budget Savings’ bill. We all know that savings are good things, right?
In fact, the purpose of the bill was to claw back a small tax cut I managed to achieve last year, worth about $80 a year to most people. You could have spent this on anything you wanted, but now it will be sucked into the vortex of consolidated revenue where it will no doubt be spent by public servants with all the careful consideration of a sailor on shore leave.
If I were to be a truly evil Senator I would be all about ‘budget savings’, a name that applies to anything and everything involving ripping off taxpayers. I could describe each tax deduction as a cost, and each tax increase as a saving.
The same thinking could apply to ‘Senate voting reform’ because reform is a good thing, right?
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, made up of people from the major parties, has proposed an idea of which Dr Evil would be truly proud — to introduce Optional Preferential Voting for the Senate. This means in future, while around 25% of all votes in the Senate may be for minor parties, few if any senators from minor parties would be elected. Truly evil genius.
These are just a few of the things I could do if I aspired to live up to my Dr Evil image. But then, perhaps the simplest way to rip off taxpayers and subvert democracy without attracting attention would be to represent one of the major parties. It’s not only evil; it’s worked so far.
By David Leyonhjelm
Contributor, Markets and Money