|Senator for South Australia|
1 July 2008
|Member of the South Australian Legislative Council|
11 October 1997 – 15 October 2007
29 January 1959
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Nicholas "Nick" Xenophon (born Xenophou; 29 January 1959) is an independent Senator for South Australia. Xenophon was born in Adelaide, South Australia, to Greek migrants. He attended Prince Alfred College and studied law at the University of Adelaide, attaining his Bachelor of Laws in 1981. Xenophon established and became principal of his own law firm, Xenophon & Co. in 1984. Between 1994 and 1997 he served as president of the South Australian branch of the Australian Plaintiff Lawyers' Association.
No Pokies, the name of his independent ticket in the South Australian Legislative Council, garnered 2.9 percent of the statewide vote at the 1997 state election getting to the 8.3 percent quota on preferences, and won 20.5 percent of the vote at the 2006 election (or 2.5 quotas), which was unexpected by political commentators. He was elected to the Australian Senate at the 2007 federal election, receiving 14.8 percent statewide. This was still 0.5 percent over a full Senate quota, gaining election without the need for preferences. However, at the 2013 federal election Xenophon received a record vote of 24.9 percent. Xenophon shared the balance of power with the Greens and Family First during the 2008–11 Senate parliamentary session, with the Greens holding the sole balance of power since July 2011. Xenophon will share the balance of power with a record 18-member crossbench from July 2014. Whilst his original 1997 platform centred on anti-pokies, he has since become an advocate in many other areas. Xenophon has been reported in the media as "left-of-centre", while Hansard reveals that Xenophon and the Greens have found common ground on a number of issues.
Education and legal career
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. In 1984, he established and became principal of his own law firm, Xenophon & Co., located in Paradise, South Australia, which deals solely with workers compensation and personal injury claims. In this field he became successful, and between 1994 and 1997 he served as president of the South Australian branch of the Australian Plaintiff Lawyers' Association. 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.
South Australian Legislative Council
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. This made Xenophon the first Independent elected to the Legislative Council in 60 years.
Following the 1997 election, the Olsen Liberal government required 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. The bill became law when Cameron and Crothers voted with the Liberal government. Following the election of the Rann Labor government at the 2002 state election, the government required 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. 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.
Xenophon is best known for his many media-friendly publicity stunts that have gained him both deep respect and ardent criticism. 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. 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. 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. His total was 5.46 per cent less than the Liberal Party, and he outpolled the Liberals in some booths, including the entire electoral district of Enfield. Political analysts said Xenophon's vote at the election was drawn almost equally from the two major parties, and that Xenophon had become the new "third force" in South Australian politics. With the Labor government requiring 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.
2007 election campaign
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. His platform consisted of anti-gambling and pro-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.
Following the announcement, ABC election analyst Antony Green predicted that Xenophon would easily win a seat, with Centrebet speculating he would begin on a favourable $1.50 for and $2.70 against. Nick Minchin, a Liberal senator from South Australia and a leader of the party's right faction, urged people not to vote for Mr Xenophon. Xenophon attracted preferences from minor parties such as the Greens, Democrats and Family First, whose preferences would be crucial were he to win less than 14.3% of the vote. Due to differences between federal and state electoral laws, Xenophon's name did not appear above the line on the ticket, and he was represented only by the letter "S" above the line, with voters having to search for his details.
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. The Rann Labor government agreed to Xenophon's choice of former valuer-general John Darley, who had stood as the third candidate on Xenophon's ticket in 2006. 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. 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." Some people whose causes Xenophon had championed also came forward to defend Xenophon. Di Gilcrist, whose husband's hit and run death resulted in the Kapunda Road Royal Commission, was vocal in her rejection of Bressington's comments. 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 over the last two campaigns and in between, Nick is passionate and he cares and he is empathetic. And he is truly committed." Lower House Independent Kris Hanna also defended Xenophon, arguing Bressington had "obviously been out to do some damage" and injure Xenophon's chances of being elected to the Senate.
During the campaign, Xenophon also complained to the Australian Electoral Commission about political advertisements which falsely claimed he would not support rolling back the unpopular WorkChoices laws if elected.
During the final days of the campaign, Xenophon executed his final campaign stunt – walking a large mule down Rundle Mall, allegedly to demonstrate his stubbornness. Xenophon received a total of 148,789 votes, representing 14.78% of enrolled electors. 30,054 of these – about one in five – voted below the line. Only the Labor and Liberal parties (each receiving about 35%) polled more votes.
Xenophon's addition to the Senate in mid-2008 resulted in him sharing the balance of power in the Senate with the Australian Greens on five seats and Family First on one seat, the Rudd Labor government requiring the support of all seven, or the opposition, to pass legislation. Xenophon's election was at the expense of a Liberal candidate, without his presence the Coalition may have retained 38 out of the 76 Senate seats, enough to block legislation in the Senate. Xenophon indicated plans to work closely with coalition renegade Barnaby Joyce. Xenophon has been reported in the media as "left-of-centre", whilst Hansard revealed that Xenophon and the Greens find common ground on a number of issues.
In February 2009, the Rudd Government's $42 billion economic stimulus package struggled to see passage through the Senate. After some amendments, the package was supported by Labor, the Greens, and Family First, however Xenophon voted against the package. The package was reintroduced the next morning and this time Xenophon voted with it after some requests were agreed to by the Government. With Xenophon's support the package passed the Senate. Xenophon convinced 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, $200 million in water saving and water management grants for local communities, and $200 million in stormwater harvesting projects.
In a speech to the Senate on 17 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, echoing other criticisms of Scientology. Xenophon quoted from a letter he received written by Aaron Saxton, a whistleblower on Scientology who had previously served as a senior official within the organization in Australia and the United States. Kevin Rudd stated he shared some of Xenophon's concerns, and would consider the call for a parliamentary inquiry. The federal opposition were not so keen on an inquiry. State Crime Command of New South Wales Police confirmed the following day that they had received statements from Xenophon by seven former members, with investigations commencing. A request for a Senate inquiry was not successful, though the Greens voted with Xenophon in support of the proposal. After a subsequent Senate Committee investigation was carried out, a federal parliamentary committee of the Australian Senate recommended on 7 September 2010 that a charities commission be formed, with the purpose of investigating and monitoring transparency of charitable organizations. This recommendation received bipartisan support. Senator Xenophon commented on the report of the committee, "I believe reform is now inevitable. We can't continue to have business as usual when it comes to organisations that have been beyond any reasonable level of accountability." Xenophon emphasized the investigation began as a result of his concerns about Scientology, "This inquiry came about because of legislation I introduced for a public benefit test for religions and charities, and it was as a direct result of being approached by many victims of the Church of Scientology. Their evidence, their complaints played a key role in triggering this inquiry." In September 2011, Xenophon said he was disappointed with a Fair Work Ombudsman's final report into the Church of Scientology.
From July 2011, Xenophon lost his shared balance of power position, with the Greens taking the sole balance of power after a strong showing at the 2010 election. He nominates key issues he will pursue before he is up for re-election at the 2013 federal election as gaming machine reforms, stopping palm oil from being sold in Australia and breaking up the supermarket duopoly, as well as better deals for Riverland irrigators in the Murray-Darling Basin rescue plan. He said his lack of power won't translate to a diminished voice... "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. That's what I have done for the past three years and I will continue to do that. I can honestly say I plan to be a pesky, persistent bastard in and out of the Senate for the next three years".
Xenophon's anti-pokies stance was bolstered when independent Andrew Wilkie was elected to the federal lower house seat of Denison at the 2010 election. Wilkie was one of four crossbenchers who supported the Gillard Labor minority government following the hung parliament result. Wilkie campaigned heavily against pokies at the election and immediately began forging ties with Xenophon as soon as it was apparent that he was elected. Wilkie claims that problem gamblers in Australia lose $5 billion each year on pokies. In exchange for Wilkie's support, the Labor government are legislating for mandatory "pre-commitment" technology which would require people using high-bet machines to pre-commit how much they are willing to bet on a machine before they begin to play, as well as introducing safer $1 maximum bet per spin machines, which would not require pre-commitment. The plan came under sustained attack from sporting clubs and various businesses which financially benefit from poker machine use. Xenophon accused them of misrepresenting plans and creating hype. The Abbott Coalition opposes the plans, with Abbott saying "it is not Liberal Party policy" and it will be "expensive and ineffective." According to polling, the Labor government's plans are supported by a clear majority of voters across the spectrum. AFL boss Andrew Demetriou rejected suggestions that the AFL was joining Clubs Australia in their media campaign. Clubs Australia created www.WontWorkWillHurt.com.au as part of their campaign. Commentators from the Nine Network gave planned political arguments without disclosure during commentary of a Semi-Final NRL game, prompting the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to investigate, stating "Channel Nine broadcast political material without adequately identifying it as such during the NRL first preliminary final". One of the accused commentators stated that the remarks were a "directive from up top that it be read by at least somebody". Investigations are predicted to take months. GetUp attempted to counter the anti-pre-commitment campaign by running political commercials during the NRL grand final. Xenophon created a website, www.ItsABigFatLie.com.au, in attempts to counter the attacks. Clubs Australia accidentally posted private content on their website which indicated that clubs are purposely exaggerating the impact of the pre-commitment plans. 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 are 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.
In September 2011, Xenophon controversially used parliamentary privilege to accuse a South Australian Catholic priest of rape, in regard to accusations made about 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 when made in 2007. All three men deny the Senator's claims. Xenophon decided to use parliamentary privilege after receiving an "unsatisfactory" response from the Church when advising them of his intentions and ultimatum. Cappo, introduced by Mike Rann early in his premiership as South Australia's head of his Social Inclusion unit, was set to take on a national role by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Due to the claims, Cappo stepped down from the new position after just one week, as well as from the Social Inclusion Board. 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.
In 2012, Xenophon was on a fact-finding mission to Malaysia when he was caught up in anti-government protests in Kuala Lumpur. Subsequently, on 2 May 2012, the New Straits Times published an article written by Roy See Wei Zhi and headed "Observer under scrutiny". The report replaced words from a 2009 speech made by Xenophon and turned it into an attack on Islam, ostensibly to pit Malay-Muslim opinion against the senator, who was a known associate of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. In fact the speech had been an attack on Scientology and is recorded as such in the Hansard of the Australian Senate. Xenophon threatened to sue the New Straits Times for defamation and the newspaper quickly removed the offending article from its website. The gaffe sparked media outrage in both Malaysia and Australia, and has greatly reinforced public perception that the New Straits Times and most mainstream media merely serve as propaganda mouthpieces for the ruling Barisan Nasional. As at 4 May 2012, Senator Xenophon has confirmed that he would sue NST in spite of their apology.
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. Other members of that Parliament of Australia cancelled their plans to travel to Malaysia while the matter was resolved. Meanwhile, his case had been subject to comment and intervention by the Foreign Minister, Senator Bob Carr.
The Prime Minister's Department of Malaysia has confirmed that Xenophon was not part of the Australian Delegation scheduled to meet Parliamentary Affair's 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.
2013 election campaign
At the 2013 federal election Xenophon increased his vote to 24.9 percent, a few percent short of two quotas. From July 2014, Xenophon will share the balance of power with a record crossbench of 18 – the Greens on 10 seats, Palmer United on 3 seats, with other minor parties and independents on 5 seats – the LDP's David Leyonhjelm, Family First's Bob Day, Motoring's Ricky Muir and incumbents Xenophon and the DLP's John Madigan. Muir will vote in line with Palmer United. The Coalition government will require the support of at least 6 non-coalition Senators to pass legislation.
A record number of candidates stood at the election. 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. Sports' Wayne Dropulich won a Senate seat on a record-low primary vote of 0.2 percent in Western Australia, his party placing coming 21st out of 28 groups on primary votes. Motoring's Ricky Muir won a senate seat on a record-low primary vote of 0.5 percent in Victoria. Previous examples of winning with low vote shares include Family First's Steve Fielding in 2004 on 1.9 percent in Victoria and the Nuclear Disarmament Party's Robert Wood in 1987 on 1.5 percent in New South Wales. Family First's Bob Day won a seat on a primary vote of 3.8 percent in South Australia, and the DLP's John Madigan won his seat in 2010 on a primary vote of 2.3 percent in Victoria. Xenophon and larger parties including the incoming government are looking at changes to the GVT system.
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- Official website
- Parliamentary biography
- Maiden speech, South Australian Legislative Council, (4 December 1997)
- Maiden speech, Australian Senate, (27 August 2008)