The Australian Libertarian Society (ALS) was founded by John Humphreys in January 2000, after a year of research and preparation. From the beginning, the ALS has been an organisation dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, free markets and shrinking the size of government.
Since 2013, the ALS has hosted the annual Friedman Conference, which is the largest annual libertarian event in the Asia-Pacific region, and since 2014 has included the presentation of the annual Liberty Awards.
The conference has attracted prominent and powerful speakers, including international guests such as Dr Tom Palmer (USA), Dr Eric Crampton (NZ), Phorn Bopha (Cambodia), Park Yeonmi (North Korean defector), Herve Novelli (France), Julie Borowski (USA), and Dr Pat Michaels (USA)… as well as prominent Australian professors Jason Potts, Judith Sloan, Sinclair Davidson, Jim Allan, Phil Lewis, and Henry Ergas… politicians such as David Leyonhjelm (LDP, Senator), Dr Peter Phelps (Liberal, NSW MLC), Dr Gary Johns (Labor, former minister), Alex Hawke (Liberal, federal MP & assistant minister), Mark Latham (Labor, former federal leader), Fiona Patten (Sex, Vic MLC), Dom Perrottet (Liberal, NSW Finance Minister), Sam Dastyari (Labor, Senator), and James Paterson (Liberal, Senator)… and other prominent thinkers including Cass Wilkinson, Chris Berg, Ben O’Neill, Mikayla Novak, Tim Wilson, Jeremy Shearmur, Simon Cowen, Trisha Jha, Andrew Norton, Helen Dale, and Parnel McGuinness.The role of the ALS has evolved over the years. Early on, members were involved in pro-trade protests (which got national media coverage), a radio debate on JJJ, publishing discussion papers and a newsletter (2000-2002), contributing to the Celebrate Capitalism campaign, and hosting the Canberra libertarian dinners.
In January 2003, on its three year anniversary, the ALS moved to its new online home at http://www.libertarian.org.au, and started a blog with continuous commentary on current affairs, public policy and libertarian issues. In 2006 the ALS blog merged with the “Thoughts on Freedom” group blog. Blog authors included Helen Dale, Terje Petersen, David Leyonhjelm, John Humphreys, Duncan Spender, Frank Redpath, Sukrit Sabhlok, Peter Rohde, Andrew Russell, Rafe Champion, Chris Vinall, Kirk Fletcher, and many others. Some articles from the ALS were also published at the online men’s magazine “get frank“.
In 2012 the blog was shut down and the forum for discussion was shifted from the blog to the ALS discussion group on Facebook, which remains the largest libertarian discussion forum in Australia. The ALS footprint on Facebook also includes half a dozen smaller discussion groups with niche interests such as crypto-currencies, anarchy, seasteading, drug law reform, Labortarians, and free speech.
The ALS has run occasional projects, including the “peace project” during 2003 which argued against the invasion of Iraq. In 2006 the ALS set up the “Kyoto campaign” which argued against drastic policy action on climate change, also co-sponsoring the 2nd, 3rd and 4th International Conference on Climate Change hosted by Heartland, and supporting the Stop Gillard’s Carbon Tax website. The ALS also contributed a speaker to the inaugural Festival of Dangerous Ideas (2009) and is an Associate Supporter of The International Coalition Against Prohibition.
In 2004 the ALS helped to coordinate several candidates at the federal election, running as independents (NSW Senate) or candidates for the “liberals for forests” (Queensland & Victoria Senate), or the “Outdoor Recreation Party” (Eden-Monaro, in NSW). The candidates in Queensland and Victoria helped to prevent the election of extra Green Senators. Since the federal registration of the Liberal Democratic Party, the ALS has not been directly involved in politics.
Since 2010 the ALS has run semi-regular “Friedman dinners” in Brisbane, which have included speakers such as Prof Jim Allan, Prof Jason Potts, the Hon Peter Reith, Prof Judith Sloan, Dr Jonathon Crowe, Dr Tom Palmer, Prof Deirdre McCloskey, Brendan O’Neill, and the Hon Dr Gary Johns.
To create a thoroughly unscientific and subjective list of active Australian libertarians, we ran an opinion poll at the ALS facebook page between 15-21 July 2016, with the following top-20 results:
- David Leyonhjelm, LDP Senator for NSW
- Tim Andrews, Executive Director for ATA
- John Humphreys, President of ALS & founder of LDP
- Tim Wilson, former “freedom commissioner” and Liberal MP
- Gabe Buckley, LDP national president & Senator for QLD (hopefully)
- Chris Berg, Senior Fellow at IPA & regular columnist
- Sinclair Davidson, RMIT Professor of economics & IPA Fellow
- Clinton Mead, LDP Councillor for Campbeltown
- Adam Frost, Anarchist activist
- Mikayla Novak, IPA Senior Research Fellow
- Trisha Jha, CIS Policy Analyst
- Simon Breheny, IPA Policy Director & libertarian Harry Potter
- Mark Hornshaw, ACU Lecturer of economics
- Margie Illiescu, Liberty on the Rocks & Ladies for Liberty
- Ron Manners, founder of Mannkal & supports CIS, IPA, ATA, ALS, etc
- Terje Petersen, ALS board member & LDP activist
- Jason Potts, RMIT Professor of economics & IPA Fellow
- Jessica Carswell, online activist & author
- Vikas Nayak, founder of Taking Liberties Radio
- Peter Phelps, Liberal member of the NSW upper house
There are plenty of important, active, and excellent libertarians who are not on this list, and it should not be taken as indicative of anything. Some great Australian libertarians have died or left the country, others work behind the scenes, some have a public profile that obscures their libertarian leanings, and many are still “up and coming” and will be famous soon enough. Sadly, the list gives little credit to the many excellent academics we have in Australia (Ben O’Neill, Henry Ergas, Judith Sloan, Alex Robson, Brad Taylor, Will Coleman, Jeff Bennett, Mark Harrison, Suri Ratnapala, Wolfgang Kasper, Vera teVelde, Jonathan Crowe, Trent MacDonald, John Thrasher, etc)… and even the inclusion of Professor Sinclair Davidson at 7th might have been helped by his role in running the Catallaxy Files blog.
The list is also quite biased towards people who have had a relatively high online profile, and so neglects many of the liberty warriors who helped build the movement during the early years. Particular credit should go to people such as Greg Lindsay (CIS) and John Roskam (IPA) who have helped to push Australian political debate in the right direction by running hugely important organisations, while not taking much credit for themselves.