Aaron Stonehouse is an MLC for South Metro in WA. He is the youngest member of WA Parliament, and the only member of the Liberal Democrat Party in Parliament.
Being the first Liberal Democrat in WA Parliament, has it been difficult to settle in?
Aaron Stonehouse: I don’t know that it’s been any more difficult for me than it has been for my colleagues from the larger parties. I’ve had to handle a lot when it comes to setting up my office with a small number of staff but on the other hand it can be liberating – I don’t have a party whip or a leader’s office looking over my shoulder, so to a large extent I’ve been able to look at each policy issue as it’s come up and ask myself: what would a libertarian make of this, “What would Ron Swanson do?”, and then act accordingly. As one of the small number of crossbenchers that the government needs to work with to pass legislation, I haven’t found myself short of friends from other parties, on either side of the chamber.
How has your career before Parliament shaped you as a politician and a person?
I didn’t take the usual path into politics, I was never a party staffer or a union organiser. I spent several years working in retail, including Telstra shops and JB HiFi. Communication is key when working in customer service and sales, so you naturally develop some speaking and listening skills working in that environment.
What led to your decision to run for Parliament in South Metro?
I’ve long held my views of individual liberty and limited government, but had no way to forward those views politically until the Liberal Democrats registered for the 2017 state election. When the Liberal Democrats began selecting candidates I put my hand up. I saw it as an opportunity to volunteer my time and contribute to a party that upheld my values.
I didn’t seriously consider the possibility of being elected until the night of the election and votes started coming my way. My first thought was “Shit, I need to quit my job”.
You’re the youngest WA MP in roughly 20 years, does this offer you a unique perspective?
A unique perspective, no – a lot of your readers are the same age as me, and would have a similar perspective. A unique opportunity, yes – I get the chance to elaborate on that perspective in Parliament, and to speak on behalf of millennials. As I did when we debated the First Home Owners Grant last month. My older colleagues, some of whom could easily be my grandparents, like to crack the occasional joke about my youth, but they’re also very aware that I hold the same mandate that they do, and so they listen. Hopefully they take on board at least some of my comments.
What do you see as the biggest issues facing young people?
I believe youth unemployment is the biggest issue facing young people. Unemployment may not sound like the most pressing issue, but studies have shown unemployment can lead to higher rates of drinking, smoking, a lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle. The unemployment rate for young people, particularly in the southern suburbs where I live, is as high as 15 percent in some areas.
The benefits of holding a job are numerous. Not only financial independence and increased living standards, but a sense of identity and self-worth. Getting even an entry level job at a young age is a foot in the door and allows you to gain valuable experience and opportunities to move upwards. I started out as a casual at Hungry Jacks when I was fourteen.
There are plenty of actions the state government could take to address youth unemployment, but a good place to start would be reducing Payroll Tax, which serves as a literal tax on jobs.
Do you think more young people should be getting involved in politics? What advice would you give those that are seeking to enter politics?
I’d love to see more young people becoming involved in politics. The average age of an MP is between 47 and 52 years old. People are beginning to wake up to the old 2-party duopoly and realise that there are alternatives. It’s great to see more minor parties and more diverse views being represented in Parliament.
Senator Hanson has argued young people don’t know anything about politics, and therefore shouldn’t vote. I’d argue the calibre of politicians we’ve seen in the past, and the direction they’ve steered the country instills little confidence in the judgement of mature voters.
On the voting age in general, it makes sense to me that voting being restricted to what we consider adults. If as a society we agree that adulthood begins at 18, and you’re old enough to consent to a contract, then it seems reasonable that the voting should be the same. We can make decisions about our own bodies, our own finances at 18 – we should have enfranchisement at that age too.
What do you see as the biggest issues locals are facing in South-Metro?
The southern and outer suburbs of Perth are a pretty good microcosm of the rest of Perth, and even, the rest of Australia. In my electorate you have working families, single people, retirees, small business, big business and every type of family arrangement or workplace in between. They each have their own unique set of challenges and aspirations in life but the big overriding theme between them is red tape and taxation.
At every stage in their lives’, the government hampers their ability to create wealth and pursue happiness. Whether it’s the 12-year-old kid who wants to mow the lawn of people in their street for pocket change but is told by “nanny” that they can’t because they’re too young and need a licence. Or the student at university who has to cough up $294 dollars per year for the Student Services Amenities Fee when they have no intention of using the services they’re paying for. Or the business owner who wants to hire a new graduate, but finds they can’t afford to, because the government taxes him through the payroll tax.
The majority of the people I’ve spoken to since taking office in May have told me the same thing – we’re being over governed. In that regard, I don’t think we’ve any different in South Metro than any other electorate in WA, or indeed in Australia. Everywhere you look, you’ll see people’s lives being curtailed by red tape. If I can cut even a small portion of that red tape during the term of this parliament, then I’ll consider it time well spent. I’d like my legacy to be a smaller, leaner government that gets out of the way, and doesn’t always have its hand in our pockets.
Shortly after election you expressed a desire to see a Libertarian movement emerge in WA, how do you see that emerging?
I think that if you ask young people on the street how they feel about any number of political issues, you’d find that most of them echo a libertarian sentiment. Whether it’s lockout laws, recreational cannabis, taxes, or same sex marriage. Most young people want the government to stay out of their pocket, and out of their bedroom.
The problem, and the challenge that I face, is most young people simply don’t know what libertarianism means. The brand of classical liberalism has been tarnished by the “Liberals”, who have really been anything but liberal, both in Western Australia and federally.
Libertarians have, to their detriment, been rather unsuccessful in cultivating the same sort of grassroots movement in Australia which exists in the United States. I see my role in pretty much picking up where others have failed and raising awareness about what libertarianism means, what classical liberalism means, and which political party in Australia best represents those ideals.
You’ve said to expect a difference in style between yourself and your federal colleague Senator David Leyonhjelm, what differences can we expect?
David and I both share the same starting point in politics. We have both read the same books as we were developing our political vocabulary, and we’re both members of the Liberal Democrats. So, we support the same policy platform which calls for lower taxes, small government and individual responsibility. David is however, a senator representing the state of New South Wales in the federal parliament and I am an MLC presenting the southern and outer suburbs of Perth in the Parliament of Western Australia. What this means is that we’re likely to talk about different things from a different angle and yes, even potentially disagree.
I should take a moment and say that David has been remarkably understanding when it comes to the unique experience of Western Australia. He supports WA secession, if that’s what Western Australians want. Interesting enough, that makes the Liberal Democrats the only political party in Australia where the federal leadership supports the right of its state representatives to break away and form their own country!
Next week you are delivering the Liberal Democrat’s Budget in Reply speech. What can we expect?
By the time your readers see this they may well be able to listen to my speech in its entirely online. For now, I’ll have to remain a little coy, and simply say that you can rest assured that I will hold to my mantra – no increase in taxes, and no decrease in liberty.
Can you tell us how you got involved in lobbying for Airsoft legislation, how did you first get involved?
As a young person, I quite like my games, in particular FPS and Mil-Sim, I’ve always enjoyed paintball and laser-skirmish, but they leave you wanting for something a little more authentic. Airsoft seems to offer the most realistic experience – if you’re not familiar, I would recommend watching some footage online, it looks like a hell of a lot of fun.
Being a pro-liberty party, I was happy to throw my support behind local Airsoft clubs lobbying to have the sport legalised in WA.
We know Senator Leyonhjelm is strong in favour of repealing Australian gun control laws, do you share this view?
I don’t advocate repealing all gun control laws. It is my view that government’s role is primarily to protect life, liberty and property. I concede some regulations are necessary to mitigate the risk to the public.
Shooting is a legitimate sport, I’m a member of a pistol club myself, yet law abiding firearm owners in WA are subject to the longest wait times and the highest licensing fees of any jurisdiction in the country. Too much focus is placed on restricting law-abiding firearm owners, rather than the criminals who illegally obtain their firearms.
Any regulation of firearms should be evidence based, and benefits to public safety should be weighed against the rights of sport shooters, hunters, and primary producers.
Given the recent shooting in Las Vegas, what actions do you think the US should be taking?
The deaths in Las Vegas are a human tragedy. I’m no expert on US firearm policy, but it’s worth noting that Australia and the US are two uniquely different countries with different demographics and cultures.
There is no simple policy prescription that would curb US gun violence. As tragic as the events in Las Vegas are, mass shootings account for about 1% of gun homicides in the US. Most gun homicides are committed with handguns in urban areas.
In all honesty, I would look to the societal factors that contribute to crime in the first place: the war on drugs, poverty, mental illness, education etc.
We know you support the legalisation of marijuana, do you think other illicit drugs should be decriminalised?
Yes. Ideally, all substances should be legal – ultimately, you own your body and no one else can claim ownership over you. It should also be clear to anyone that criminalising substances only drives their trade underground and creates organised crime. But pragmatically, I would like to see at least any substance proven to be less harmful than alcohol fully legalised. This would include cannabis, MDMA and LSD.
In addition to this, all substances should be decriminalised – that is to say, while they may still be technically illegal and trafficking in them is criminalised, simply using or being in possession of those substances would no longer be a criminal offense. Portugal took a similar approach in 2001, decriminalising even the harshest drugs, and saw a drastic decrease in overdose deaths since. Contrary to what some feared, drug use rates did not increase as a result.
At the end of the day, I believe in self-ownership, and personal responsibility. I personally have no interest in drugs, but throwing someone in jail for a non-violent activity I disapprove of is immoral, and causes far more harm than good. Not to mention the strain it puts on our limited police resources and the courts.
Do you have any interesting stories about pelicans?
We have a flock of pelicans that fly over Rockingham on an almost daily basis, and I’m always relieved (and I use the term advisedly) that they aren’t as incontinent as our seagulls – I mean, imagine the damage they could do to you from a couple of hundred feet in the air! I don’t think you can go past the limerick on the subject by Dixon Merritt’s, the American poet and humourist:
“A wonderful bird is the Pelican.
His beak can hold more than his belly can.
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week,
But I’m damned if I know how the hell he can!”
Interview by Mike Anderson