|Senator for Western Australia|
19 May 1997 – 30 June 2008
|Preceded by||John Panizza|
11 August 1936 |
Port Lincoln, South Australia
|Political party||Liberal Party of Australia|
Lightfoot was born in Port Lincoln, South Australia and was educated at first the Adelaide, and then Kalgoorlie School of Mines. In the 1950s, he spent time as a weekend soldier, as a result of national service. Lightfoot joined the Liberal Party of Australia soon afterwards. He worked as a mounted policeman between 1959 and 1962. In 1972, Lightfoot became a pastoralist and grazier, a line of employment he subsequently occupied for twenty years.
His political career began in 1986, when Lightfoot won the seat of Murchison-Eyre in Western Australia's Legislative Assembly. It was here that he first caused controversy, when he wrote to United States Secretary of State George Shultz, urging the US Government to dump subsidised wheat in Australia's international wheat markets in Russia and China. He later retracted the statement.
He retired from the Legislative Assembly in 1989, but made a comeback in 1993, representing the North Metropolitan Region in the Legislative Council. While in state parliament, he also advocated for the secession of Western Australia from the rest of the country.
In 1997, Western Australian Senator John Panizza died, and Lightfoot, having been selected to fill the vacancy, moved to federal politics. He soon became a controversial figure within the party, and was rebuked by Prime Minister John Howard for telling the Senate that Aborigines in their native state were the lowest colour on the civilisation spectrum.
He was one of a small group of Liberal MPs willing to make a preference deal with controversial MP Pauline Hanson and her One Nation party. However, this was to assist him in gaining re-election in 2001. His comments led to numerous moves to oust him from membership of his own party, but he hung on, as he was seen to represent a movement of rural conservatives in Western Australia.
Lightfoot has been an active campaigner for the rights of white Zimbabwean farmers displaced by the regime of Robert Mugabe. In 2002, he made the suggestion that some could be given residency in Australia, but denied that this should apply to black farm workers as well. This was due to Robert Mugabe's "Africa for Africans" policies and not allowing for the travelling rights of many oppressed peoples at that time.
In 2003, Lightfoot was involved in an altercation on the floor of the House of Representatives during a visit by United States President George W. Bush. Australian Greens senators Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle were attempting to hand Bush a letter from the wife of Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen who at the time was being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, following his apprehension by United States forces in either (this is disputed) Afghanistan or Pakistan. Lightfoot physically blocked the path of the senators, elbowing Brown and reportedly telling Nettle to "Fuck off and die".
On 17 March 2005, News Limited newspapers reported that Lightfoot, while on a parliamentary tour to Iraq, smuggled US$20,000 into the country on behalf of Woodside Petroleum as a donation for the Kurdish government, having been issued with a pistol for personal security. The newspapers published photographs of Lightfoot appearing with Kurdish militants wielding an AK-47. Lightfoot strenuously denied the allegations and threatened legal action against the newspapers carrying the story. Lightfoot denied handling the money personally, saying he merely witnessed the money changing hands. After speaking to Howard, Lightfoot issued a statement in which he said he felt "uncomfortable" having the gun with him and did not carry it personally. The newspapers in turn refused to retract the reports and accused Lightfoot of contradicting himself.
In April 2007, facing near-certain defeat in a preselection challenge by Liberal Party vice-president Mathias Cormann, he announced he would retire at the end of his term in the Senate. Cormann was subsequently preselected to replace Lightfoot, but then selected unanimously by the WA Liberal Party State Council to replace Ian Campbell in the Senate, after Campbell announced his surprise resignation in May 2007. Michaelia Cash instead became Lightfoot's preselected replacement. Lightfoot retired from politics in 2008.