John Olsen

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For other people of the same name, see John Olsen (disambiguation).
The Honourable
John Olsen
AO
John Olsen (1).jpg
42nd Premier of South Australia
Elections: 1985, 1989, 1997
In office
28 November 1996 – 22 October 2001
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor Sir Eric Neal
Deputy Graham Ingerson
Rob Kerin
Preceded by Dean Brown
Succeeded by Rob Kerin
Senator for South Australia
In office
7 May 1990 – 4 May 1992
Preceded by Tony Messner
Succeeded by Alan Ferguson
33rd Leader of the Opposition (SA)
In office
10 November 1982 – 12 January 1990
Preceded by John Bannon
Succeeded by Dale Baker
Member for Kavel
In office
9 May 1992 – 9 February 2002
Preceded by Roger Goldsworthy
Succeeded by Mark Goldsworthy
Member for Custance
In office
7 December 1985 – 9 May 1992
Preceded by Constituency Created
Succeeded by Ivan Venning
Member for Rocky River
In office
15 September 1979 – 7 December 1985
Preceded by Howard Venning
Succeeded by Constituency Abolished
Personal details
Born (1945-06-07) 7 June 1945 (age 69)
Political party Liberal

John Wayne Olsen, AO (born 7 June 1945) was Premier of South Australia between 28 November 1996 and 22 October 2001.

Parliament[edit]

Olsen was first elected to Parliament in 1979 as a Liberal from the Barossa Valley seat of Rocky River. He represented this seat, renamed Custance in 1985, until 1992.

Olsen's political career was marked by a bitter rivalry with Dean Brown, the two representing the conservative and moderate wings of the South Australian Liberal Party respectively. After the 1982 election and the electoral defeat and retirement of David Tonkin, Olsen defeated Brown for the state Liberal Party leadership and became Leader of the Opposition. Up against the Labor premier John Bannon, Olsen lost the 1985 and 1989 elections. In the latter election, while the Liberals won a majority of the two-party vote (51.9 percent) and scored a five-seat swing, they came up one seat short of making Olsen premier.

Olsen resigned as state Liberal leader soon after the election and returned to the backbench. He was appointed to the Australian Senate in 1990 to fill a casual vacancy caused by the resignation of Tony Messner. However, in 1992, he accepted an invitation to return to state politics. The Bannon government was reeling from the collapse of the State Bank of South Australia, but Olsen's successor as state Liberal leader, Dale Baker, had been unable to gain much ground. Members of both factions each persuaded a sitting member in a safe seat to stand down so Olsen and Brown could return to parliament and run for the leadership. Former Deputy Premier Roger Goldsworthy resigned his seat of Kavel in the Adelaide Hills and handed it to Olsen. Olsen returned to the legislature at the 1992 Kavel by-election, on the same day as Dean Brown at the 1992 Alexandra by-election. This time, Brown defeated Olsen in the leadership ballot, and thus became premier when the Liberals won the 1993 election in a landslide where the Liberals won 37 of the 47 seats available, the most that any party has won since the abolition of the Playmander.

Premier[edit]

In 1996 however, Olsen again challenged for the party leadership, this time succeeding and subsequently became South Australian Premier, the first time a Leader of the Opposition became Premier without winning an election first. The Liberal Party narrowly won the subsequent 1997 election, losing 14 seats from the large majority Olsen inherited from Brown. The Liberals were forced into a minority government with the SA Nationals and independent MPs. It was the first time that the main non-Labor party in South Australia had won a second term since adopting the Liberal Party label in 1974.

Policies[edit]

Among a number of controversial policies, Olsen's government undertook the privatisation of the state-owned electricity industry (ETSA), partly to improve the government's parlous financial situation due to the State Bank disaster and partly in response to the introduction of the Australian National Electricity Market, despite promising not to do so at the 1997 election. The fiscal arguments for privatisation were vigorously criticised by a number of economists.[1] Sharp increases in the retail price of electricity, a consequence of the working of the National Electricity Market, contributed to the growing unpopularity of the government.[2] The management of the state's water supply was privatised in 1996 with a $1.5bn 15-year contract being awarded to United Water, a subsidiary of Veolia.[1][2]

Olsen steered water management and conservation projects, including the recycling of water from Adelaide's Bolivar Water Treatment Plant to the Northern Adelaide Plains. He also endorsed and facilitated the Barossa Water Project, a water distribution scheme from the River Murray to the Barossa Valley floor, alleviating the Barossa Valley winegrowers' water irrigation problems and boosting annual production by $30 million.

While in office, he negotiated a $850 million ‘smart-city' redevelopment of Adelaide's northern suburban area (Mawson Lakes) and facilitated the contract negotiations and construction of the Adelaide-Darwin Rail line.

He pursued a vigorous program of economic reform through the corporatisation and privatisation of government services which included the single largest public outsourcing project of its kind at the time in the world – the outsourcing of the State's water industry, a contract which included the establishment of a private sector water industry.[3]

Resignation[edit]

Olsen resigned as Premier following an adverse report from an inquiry into his questionable dealings with the Motorola company in 2001, known as the Motorola affair, which revealed that Olsen had misled parliament, as well as representations made by Olsen to Chief Magistrate Jim Cramond labelled "misleading and inaccurate", "dishonest" and had "no factual basis".[4] The report indicated Olsen was not the recipient of any direct personal benefit, financial or otherwise.

Olsen denied any wrongdoing by saying “...I absolutely refute Mr Clayton's assertion. The report clearly indicates there are no criminal activities, no illegal activities.”[5]

Since leaving South Australian politics, Olsen was appointed by the John Howard federal Liberal government as Australian Consul-General to Los Angeles.[6] On 7 December 2005, his Liberal Party colleague and fellow South Australian, the then Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer announced that Olsen would become the new Australian Consul-General in New York.[7] He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in January 2007.

Most recently, Olsen was appointed as Deputy chairman/CEO of the American Australian Association Ltd.

As of 2014 Olsen is the President of the South Australian National Football League (SANFL), and is also the Chairman of the SA Football Commission, positions he has held since 2010. He is also a Life Member of the West Adelaide Football Club with whom he was the No. 1 ticket holder for 17 years.[8]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
John Bannon
Leader of the Opposition in South Australia
1982–1990
Succeeded by
Dale Baker
Preceded by
Dean Brown
Premier of South Australia
1996–2001
Succeeded by
Rob Kerin
Parliament of South Australia
Preceded by
Howard Venning
Member for Rocky River
1979–1985
District abolished
New district Member for Custance
1985–1990
Ivan Venning
Preceded by
Roger Goldsworthy
Member for Kavel
1992–2002
Succeeded by
Mark Goldsworthy
Party political offices
Preceded by
David Tonkin
Leader of the Liberal Party in South Australia
1982–1990
Succeeded by
Dale Baker
Preceded by
Dean Brown
Leader of the Liberal Party in South Australia
1996–2001
Succeeded by
Rob Kerin