Nick Xenophon

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Senator
Nick Xenophon
2009 07 24 Nick Xenophon speaking cropped.jpg
Leader of Nick Xenophon Team
Assumed office
1 July 2013
Deputy Stirling Griff
Preceded by position established
Senator for South Australia
Assumed office
1 July 2008
Member of the South Australian Legislative Council
In office
11 October 1997 – 15 October 2007
Succeeded by John Darley
Personal details
Born Nicholas Xenophou
(1959-01-29) 29 January 1959 (age 57)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia[1]
Nationality Australian
Political party Independent (1997-2013)
Nick Xenophon Group (2013-2014)
Nick Xenophon Team (2014-present)
Profession Lawyer
Politician
Religion Greek Orthodox Church[2]
Website www.nickxenophon.com.au

Nicholas "Nick" Xenophon (born Xenophou; 29 January 1959) is an Australian senator for South Australia and the leader of the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) political party in the Australian Senate since the 2016 federal election. Between 2008 and 2016 he served as an independent senator.

Xenophon has twice won reelection, at the 2013 and 2016 federal elections, and has recently began a six year term.[3] At the 2007 election he won 14.8 percent of the statewide vote. This increased to 24.9 percent at the 2013 election. NXT ran candidates in most states and territories at the 2016 federal election; it officially received 21.74 percent of the statewide vote in South Australia and 3.3 percent of the vote nationally.[4][5]

While his original 1997 platform centred on an anti-gambling policy, he has since become an advocate in many other policy areas. These include defence, education, health, infrastructure, regional affairs, national security, foreign policy, and civil liberties.

Early life and legal career[edit]

Xenophon (born Xenophou) was born in Adelaide, South Australia, to Theo Xenophou, from Cyprus, and to Georgia, from Greece. He is the older of two children. He has been interested in politics since he was a child.[6]

Xenophon attended Prince Alfred College and studied law at the University of Adelaide, completing his Bachelor of Laws in 1981. While at university he was for a period a member of the Young Liberals, who used vote rigging to secure him the editorship of the student newspaper On Dit, an incident Xenophon says helped turn him off party politics.[7] The publishers of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard's 2014 memoir were forced to apologise and retract "false" comments made about this incident in February 2015.[8]

From 1982 to 1983, Xenophon worked as a lawyer in private practice. In 1984, he established and became principal of his own law firm, Xenophon & Co. Lawyers, which deals primarily with workers compensation and personal injury claims on a no-win-no-fee basis.[9][10] In this field he became successful and from 1994 and 1997 he served as President of the South Australian branch of the Australian Plaintiff Lawyers' Association. During this time, Xenophon also taught law at the University of South Australia, where future political opponent Christopher Pyne was among his students.[11] After legislation was passed in 1992 by the Bannon Labor government that saw the introduction of poker machines (pokies) into South Australia in 1993, the increased incidence of problem gambling came to Xenophon's attention in his legal practice.[12][13][14]

Political views[edit]

Xenophon speaks to the media in a courtyard of Parliament House, Canberra.

Xenophon considers himself to be a centrist politician.[15][16] Political analysts have noted that Xenophon's vote at each election has been drawn almost equally from the two major parties,[17] and that Xenophon had become the new "third force" in South Australian politics.[18] Xenophon is best known for his many media-friendly but polarising publicity stunts.[13][19] Xenophon flew to Indonesia in an attempt to stop the execution of the death sentences of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran being carried out.[20][20] He has also been vocal on the Israel-Palestine conflict,[21] especially since his May 2014 trip to Hebron.[22] In 2012, Xenophon voted for same-sex marriage, although the bill failed to pass the Senate.[23]

Xenophon has also taken a strong stance against wind turbines and has co-sponsored with John Madigan legislation to restrict Government subsidies for wind farms. Xenophon's concerns about wind turbines are predominantly related to health and the reliability of wind-sourced power.[24][25]

The scientific evidence shows that low frequency noise does affect brain activity and can severely affect people’s sleep patterns...The problem with wind energy is that it can never replace coal powered energy because it’s not reliable enough for base-load power. The billions being spent on wind energy take away from investment in base-load renewable energies such as geothermal and tidal energy. Senator Nick Xenophon, Media Release, 2 August 2012.

South Australian Legislative Council (1997-2008)[edit]

At the 1997 state election, Xenophon stood for the South Australian Legislative Council under an Independent No Pokies ticket, advocating the reduction and abolition of poker machines (colloquially known as "pokies"). He received a vote of 2.86 percent, a statewide total of 25,630 votes – much less than the 8.33 per cent needed to be elected in his own right – but by receiving a large number of preferences first from microparties and then from Grey Power, he went from a quota of 0.34 to 1.08 and was therefore elected.[26] This made Xenophon the first independent elected to the Legislative Council in 60 years.[7]

Following the 1997 election, the Olsen Liberal government needed the support of an additional two non-Liberal upper house members in order to pass legislation, with the Australian Democrats retaining the balance of power on three seats. However, defectors from Labor in the upper house, Terry Cameron and Trevor Crothers, often brought Xenophon in to play. In 1998, Xenophon voted with Cameron and the government to proceed with the second reading of the ETSA power sale bill.[27][28] The bill became law when Cameron and Crothers voted with the Liberal government.[29] Following the election of the Rann Labor government at the 2002 state election, the government needed an additional five non-Labor upper house members to pass legislation, giving a shared balance of power to the Democrats on three seats, incumbent independents Xenophon and Cameron, with the Family First Party winning their first seat.

Xenophon was an activist for a range of issues apart from the elimination of poker machines, speaking out on consumer rights, essential services, the environment, taxation, and perks for politicians.[10] Xenophon was also vocal in the Eugene McGee hit-run affair, becoming an advocate for the victim's wife, with public opinion eventually forcing the Kapunda Road Royal Commission that led to harsher laws for hit-run offences.[30]

At the 2006 state election, he ran an aggressive campaign and attracted considerable publicity through a range of imaginative stunts, including riding a model locomotive "gravy train" outside Parliament House to protest MPs' superannuation entitlements, parading along Rundle Mall wearing a sandwich board to advertise his campaign, and bringing a small goat to Parliament urging voters not to "kid around" with their vote.[31][32] Despite media speculation that he would struggle to be re-elected due to the major parties preferencing against him, he attracted sufficient funding and volunteers to staff most state booths on polling day.[33] He received 190,958 first preferences or 20.51 per cent of the total vote, enough to not only be re-elected himself, but also to elect the second No Pokies candidate, Ann Bressington.[34][35] His total was 5.46 per cent less than the Liberal Party, and he outpolled the Liberals in some booths, including the electoral district of Enfield.[36] With the Labor government needing four non-Labor upper house members to pass legislation, No Pokies on two seats shared the balance of power with Family First on two seats, the Democrats on one seat, with the SA Greens winning their first seat.

Australian Senate (2008-present)[edit]

2007 election campaign[edit]

On 11 October 2007, Xenophon called a press conference at the Adelaide Zoo in front of the giraffe enclosure, declaring he would "stick his neck out for South Australia" by announcing his resignation from the South Australian Legislative Council in an attempt to gain election to the Australian Senate at the 2007 federal election.[37] His platform consisted of anti-gambling and consumer protection measures, attention to the water crisis affecting the Murray River, ratifying Kyoto, opposition against a "decrease in state rights", and opposition to WorkChoices.[17][38][39] Nick Minchin, a Liberal senator from South Australia,urged people not to vote for Xenophon.[40][41][42] Due to running as an independent Xenophon's name did not appear above the line on the ticket, instead he was represented only by the letter "S" above the line, with voters having to search for his details.[43]

As Xenophon had vacated his Legislative Council seat to run for the Senate, a joint sitting of the South Australian parliament was convened for 21 November 2007 to select Xenophon's replacement. Former valuer-general John Darley, who had stood as the third candidate on Xenophon's ticket in 2006, was appointed.[44] During the joint sitting convened to confirm the nomination, Ann Bressington criticised Xenophon, questioning his integrity and suitability for federal parliament, suggesting that his "anti-politician" image was more spin than reality.[45] She also said Xenophon had demanded she contribute $50,000 towards campaign expenses at the 2006 state election. Xenophon said in response that he was "shocked and hurt" and "deeply upset" that she had failed to share her concerns with him in person, saying "privately and publicly, I have been very supportive of her."[46] Some people whose causes Xenophon had championed also came forward to defend Xenophon, like Di Gilcrist, whose husband's hit and run death resulted in the Kapunda Road Royal Commission. In an interview the following day, Ms Gilcrist said "based on my experience not only as a victim who's dealt with Nick but also somebody who's worked with Nick and his office... Nick is passionate and he cares and he is empathetic. And he is truly committed."[45][47] Lower House independent Kris Hanna also defended Xenophon, arguing Bressington had "obviously been out to do some damage" and injure Xenophon's election chances.[48]

Towards the end of the campaign, Xenophon walked a large mule down Rundle Mall to symbolise his stubbornness.[49] Xenophon received 14.78 percent of the vote.[50][51]

First term (2008-2014)[edit]

Xenophon in September 2008

Xenophon shared the balance of power in the Senate with the Australian Greens and the Family First Party. The First Rudd Government required the support of two crossbench senators or the opposition to pass legislation.[52]

In February 2009, the Rudd Government needed to pass its $42 billion economic stimulus package passed. Xenophon voted against the package, but ultimately voted for it after amendments allowing it to succeed. Xenophon persuaded the government to bring forward $900 million in Murray-Darling basin funds and other water projects, which included $500 million over three years for water buybacks.[53][54]

In November 2009, Xenophon labelled the Church of Scientology as a criminal organisation, making allegations of members experiencing blackmail, torture and violence, labour camps and forced imprisonment, and coerced abortions.[55][56][57] Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stated he shared some of Xenophon's concerns and would consider an inquiry.[58][59][60] A request for a Senate inquiry was not successful, with only the Greens voting with Xenophon in support of it.[61][62] A Senate committee recommended on 7 September 2010 that a charities commission be formed with the purpose of investigating and monitoring transparency of charitable organisations.[63] This recommendation received bipartisan support.[63][63][63][64]

From July 2011, Xenophon lost the balance of power to the Greens. Of this he said:

"Most of your influence comes from being able to influence the wider debate on an issue, and if you are successful, you can actually change the way the major parties vote...".[65][66]

Xenophon's anti-pokies stance was bolstered when independent Andrew Wilkie was elected lower house at the 2010 election, which resulted in a hung parliament. Wilkie campaigned heavily against pokies at the election.[67] In exchange for Wilkie's support, the Gillard Government legislated for mandatory pre-commitment technology which would require people using high-bet machines to pre-commit how much they were willing to bet on a machine before they begin to play,[68] as well as introducing safer $1 maximum bet per spin machines, which would not require pre-commitment.[69] The plan came under sustained attack from sporting clubs and various businesses which financially benefit from poker machine use.[70] Xenophon accused them of misrepresenting plans and creating hype.[71] The opposition opposed this, with Tony Abbott saying "it is not Liberal Party policy" and it will be "expensive and ineffective." Polling indicated the proposals were supported by a majority of voters across the ideological spectrum.[72] AFL boss Andrew Demetriou rejected suggestions that the AFL was joining Clubs Australia in their media campaign.[73][74] Clubs Australia created www.WontWorkWillHurt.com.au as part of their campaign.[75] Xenophon created a website, www.ItsABigFatLie.com.au, in attempts to counter attacks waged by various sporting commentators against the proposals.[76] Clubs Australia accidentally posted private content on their website which indicated that clubs were purposely exaggerating the impact of the pre-commitment plans.[77] The Greens proposed a modification of the plan to remove the pre-commitment and simply institute the $1 bet limit side of the plan. Gillard and Wilkie indicated they were open to the change. Clubs Australia, which had so far amassed a $40 million federal election "warchest" including $250,000 from Woolworths, claimed it would do even more harm to clubs.[78]

In September 2011, Xenophon controversially used parliamentary privilege to accuse a Catholic priest of rape, in regard to accusations around events that occurred in the 1960s. Monsignor David Cappo and the Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, were accused of failing to properly investigate the allegations in 2007. All three men denied the Senator's claims. Xenophon chose such action after receiving an "unsatisfactory" response from the Church when advising them of his intentions and ultimatum. Capps, who was set to take on a national role by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, stepped down from the position after just one week, as well as from SA's Social Inclusion Board.[79][80][81][82][83] Several days later, after high-level media coverage, Xenophon indicated he might not have used parliamentary privilege had he known the person he accused was about to take a period of leave.[84]

Xenophon voted against the Clean Energy Bill in November 2011. The carbon pricing scheme passed with the Labor government receiving Green support for the legislation in the Senate.[85][86]

In 2012, Xenophon went on a fact-finding mission to Malaysia when he was embroiled in anti-government protests. On 2 May 2012, the New Straits Times published an article which included words from a 2009 speech made by Xenophon - a vocal supporter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim - but distorted into an attack on Islam.[87] The speech had been focused on Scientology. Xenophon threatened to sue the New Straits Times for defamation and the newspaper quickly removed the offending article from its website.[88] The incident sparked media outrage in both Malaysia and Australia.[89] On 16 February 2013, Xenophon was detained on arrival at Kuala Lumpur International Airport's LCCT and refused entry by the Malaysian immigration authorities. He was deported back to Australia on a flight early the next day.[90][91] The Prime Minister's Department of Malaysia confirmed that Xenophon was not part of the Australian Delegation scheduled to meet Parliamentary Affairs Minister Nazri Aziz submitted to it by an aide to Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader in response to claims that it had deliberately denied entry to Xenophon.[92]

2013 election campaign[edit]

At the 2013 federal election Xenophon nominated four key policy issues he would pursue if successfully re-elected: gaming machine reforms, stopping palm oil from being sold in Australia, breaking up the supermarket duopoly, and better deals for Riverland irrigators in the Murray-Darling basin rescue plan. Xenophon increased his vote to 24.9 percent, a few percent short of two quotas, with running mate Stirling Griff narrowly missing out on election.[93] From July 2014, Xenophon shared the balance of power with a record crossbench of 18: the Greens on 10 seats, Palmer United on 1 seat, with other minor parties and independents on 7 seats – the LDP's David Leyonhjelm, Family First's Bob Day, Motoring's Ricky Muir, and independents John Madigan, Jacqui Lambie and Glen Lazarus. The Coalition government requires the support of at least 6 non-Coalition Senators to pass legislation through the Senate.

A record number of candidates stood at the election.[94] Group voting tickets came under scrutiny because multiple candidates were provisionally elected with the vast majority of their 14.3 percent quotas coming from the preferences of other parties across the political spectrum. "Preference whisperer" Glenn Druery organised tight cross-preferencing between many minor parties.[95][96][97]

Second term (2014–2016)[edit]

Nick Xenophon speaks with the Rev. Tim Costello, 2014.

Since returning to a balance of power position in the Senate, Xenophon has been predominantly concerned with defence materiel, particularly the Collins-class submarine replacement project,[98] and cuts made by the Abbott Government in the 2014 Australian federal budget.[99] He voted against the tertiary education reforms proposed by Minister for Education and Training Christopher Pyne which would have seen a shift towards privatisation of universities in Australia.[100]

Xenophon opposed the amendments to the national security legislative framework, particularly on the issue of telecommunications data retention.[101] In his 2014 "spycatcher" speech to the Senate, Xenophon stated that the new laws would have a chilling effect on investigative journalism in Australia.[102] Xenophon negotiated with then Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison for the reintroduction of the Temporary Protection Visa.[103]

In 2015, he travelled to Indonesia with an Adelaide sheikh to seek clemency for the Bali Nine duo who were on death row.[20] Xenophon wrote an article in Bahasa Indonesia in The Sydney Morning Herald, the first time in the paper's 184-year history that it printed an article in a foreign language.[104] These efforts, and those of the Abbott Government, were unsuccessful.[105]

Xenophon supported the Abbott Government's Direct Action plan for combating Climate Change, enabling it to pass the Senate.[106] However, he later stated that the plan had been "neutered" because of changes made to it via regulation.[107]

Xenophon calling for an royal commission into the Australia-East Timor spying scandal in November 2015.

In late 2014, Xenophon publicly called for Prime Minister Tony Abbott to adopt a more conciliatory and less "confrontational" style in his leadership.[108] On the second anniversary of Tony Abbott's election victory, Xenophon appeared at the entrance to the Australian Senate with a submarine cake he made to remind the Abbott Government of its pre-election commitment to build 12 submarines in Australia.[109][110][111] On the night Malcolm Turnbull successfully challenged Tony Abbott, becoming the new Prime Minister, Xenophon's first act was to send a letter reminding him of the Government's submarine commitment.[112]

On 27 November 2015, Xenophon joined calls for a royal commission into the Australia-East Timor spying scandal.[113][114] Xenophon joined with the Australian Greens and the Government to support a reform of the Senate election system.[108] Other crossbench senators, like John Madigan and David Leyonhjelm, accused Xenophon of "political trickery of the highest order".[115] Xenophon has held this position since September 2013, some nine months before newly elected senators were sworn in.[116] He told the Australian Financial Review: "This puts the power back into the hands of the voters and away from the back-room operators and preference whisperers." [117]

2016 election campaign[edit]

Despite sustaining a 3.4 percent swing against the 2013 election result in South Australia, Xenophon will be joined by two other senators from South Australia and one member of the lower house.[118] During the campaign he was the subject of numerous attacks from both major political parties.[119] This included an attack levelled at his failure to declare a directorship of Adelaide Tower Pty Ltd, which involved his father. Xenophon accused proponents of this attack of a "partisan and personal campaign".[120] The ALP requested the Australian Electoral Commission investigate possible illegal loans given to Xenophon by businessman Ian Melrose.[121]

Third term (2016-present)[edit]

Xenophon and NXT colleagues have indicated that they will not support the proposed gay marriage plebiscite on the basis that it is not binding and a waste of public resources.[122] He has also thrown support behind the idea that Donald Trump as President of the United States would provoke a change in US-Australia relations.[123]

References[edit]

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