‘I feel like a weight has been lifted off me’: The MP who broke with Peter Dutton on signature stand

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Leeser and I are having luncheon astatine O’Bombay, an Indian-fusion edifice successful Hornsby. He is wearing spectacles, a pin-striped suit and a tie, and looks overmuch similar the solicitor helium erstwhile was – Leeser worked concisely astatine Mallesons aft graduating Arts/Law with Honours successful Political Science.

The Thali sheet  astatine  O’Bombay.

The Thali sheet astatine O’Bombay.Credit: Louise Kennerley

He has besides worked arsenic an advisor for Tony Abbott and Philip Ruddock, headed the Liberal enactment deliberation vessel the Menzies Research Centre, and served arsenic an enforcement astatine the Australian Catholic University (he is Jewish).

Leeser is affable with the restaurant’s owners, and helium chats to our server astir concern (she says radical are budget-conscious and eating retired less) earlier we some bid Thali plates – the champion determination to marque successful an Indian edifice erstwhile you can’t marque a decision.

Leeser says that since helium exited the Opposition frontbench, helium is often stopped by constituents thanking him oregon congratulating him.

As if helium cued it, this happens aft we wage the measure and permission the edifice – a chap patron comes up and acknowledgment him (she besides says she astir apt won’t ballot Liberal astatine the adjacent election).

“They say, ‘We’re truly pleased you made that decision’, oregon ‘We’re not definite we hold with the determination but we are pleased you took a stand’,” Leeser tells me.

“I deliberation that’s what radical are looking for successful their parliamentarians.”

Now Leeser is liberated to run for the Voice, astir which helium is passionate, helium is making last-ditch efforts to get the authorities to alteration the wording of the amendment referendum question, to region the words “executive government” and to instrumentality retired the symbolic language.

Next week successful parliament helium volition determination amendments to this end. This week helium gave a code connected the instauration of the referendum legislation.

Our nutrient arrives – 2 steaming platters with a broadside of naan for me, and roti for Leeser.

We person a enactment of goat curry, food chicken, prawn moilee, raita and achromatic lentil dal.

I guarantee Leeser, an ardent Monarchist, that helium volition beryllium treated similar the Queen – that is, we won’t photograph him eating.

We tuck in. Leeser loves India. He honeymooned determination with his barrister wife, Joanna. He is the lawman seat of the Parliamentary Friends of India, and connected Tuesday helium joined the Narendra Modi festivities successful Sydney and met the Indian premier curate and Foreign Minister Dr S Jaishankar.

“It’s specified an breathtaking spot to go,” helium says. “You truly bash consciousness the future’s there.”

Julian Leeser loves India and met Narendra Modi connected  Tuesday.

Julian Leeser loves India and met Narendra Modi connected Tuesday.Credit: James Brickwood

Leeser is besides a constitution seed – helium was fixed a transcript of the Australian constitution for his 10th birthday, and that sparked a lifelong involvement successful constitutions of each kinds.

He does not hold with the number of ineligible scholars and erstwhile judges who pass of a question of ineligible challenges to the Voice.

Leeser besides believes determination is nary inherent occupation with the Voice advising the enforcement authorities (as opposed to conscionable parliament).

“I don’t deliberation there’s a large ineligible issue,” helium says. “But I deliberation there’s a governmental issue, and you know, astatine the extremity of the day, you request to triumph the referendum.


“If the referendum is lost, that’s a unspeakable setback – for our country, a unspeakable setback for Reconciliation, and, obviously, we don’t get the Voice.

“So my presumption is you’re amended with a lighter interaction law proviso that gets you determination and moves the referendum to safer crushed than it is today.”

His statement is compelling, not slightest due to the fact that helium served arsenic a subordinate of then-prime curate John Howard’s No run during the 1999 referendum for a Republic, and successful 2000 helium was subordinate to Justice Ian Callinan connected the High Court. Callinan is simply a law blimpish who is opposed to the Voice.

In different words, Leeser is an emissary from the campy of law and societal conservatism, idiosyncratic intimate with the kinds of “soft-No” voters the Voice run needs to triumph over.

But Leeser is highly improbable to get his mode connected the amendment.

Won’t it beryllium hard for him to reason the “Yes” case, fixed helium has been truthful vocally captious of the projected wording, and the process down it?

Julian Leeser (far left) was a subordinate   of the Constitutional referendum ‘No’ Committee.

Julian Leeser (far left) was a subordinate of the Constitutional referendum ‘No’ Committee.Credit: Fairfax Media

He elegantly dodges the question. “Everybody acknowledges that the strategy is broken,” helium says. “Everybody acknowledges that this is simply a fantastic state to unrecorded in, that we person immoderate of the champion societal and economical show successful the world, but we person this persistent spread that, contempt goodwill and each sorts of politics, contempt important funding, is conscionable not moving.”

This is due to the fact that argumentation has been formulated by well-meaning politicians and bureaucrats successful Canberra who haven’t consulted radical connected the ground, Leeser says.


“You get amended results for your spending by consulting and engaging with radical who are straight affected. You get a amended outcome. You’re capable to set the programs and you get buy-in. And I deliberation those things person been missing successful Indigenous affairs for excessively long.”

As for arguments the Voice is radical exceptionalism – a enactment Opposition person Peter Dutton argued this week erstwhile helium said it would “re-racialise” the country – Leeser is calmly dismissive.

He points retired the Constitution already contains a “race power” (section 51 (xxvi)).

“Since Federation, the lone radical we person ever made laws astir connected the ground of their contention are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” helium says.

“I judge they should beryllium fixed a close to beryllium consulted astir what those laws and policies are. We are not dividing radical connected race, determination is not immoderate benignant of peculiar privilege.

“I mean, archer radical successful distant communities they are someway privileged.”

Leeser volition not beryllium drawn connected what a palmy “Yes” run volition mean for the Liberals oregon for his leader.

I inquire him astir his appetite for struggle – helium seems to maine overmuch milder than the accustomed governmental personality.

“I don’t bask struggle for conflict’s sake,” helium tells me. “I similar having a statement astir ideas.”

Leeser, photographed astatine  Macquarie Lighthouse, was elected to the Woollahra Council erstwhile   helium  was 19.

Leeser, photographed astatine Macquarie Lighthouse, was elected to the Woollahra Council erstwhile helium was 19.Credit: Brendan Esposito

Apart from his flirtation with Goth culture, 2 different things happened portion Leeser was a uni student.

First, astatine the property of 19, helium was elected a councillor of Woollahra section assembly successful Sydney’s east. This acquisition proved seminal. Leeser learned that grassroots consultation is integral to palmy outcomes – cognition helium brings to the Voice debate.

The 2nd happening that happened erstwhile Leeser was lone 20 was that his father, an accountant, died by suicide. He spoke astir this movingly successful his archetypal code to parliament successful 2016 – Leeser was inactive surviving astatine location and recalls with clarity his mother’s distress connected uncovering the termination note.

I inquire him however this calamity impacted his personality.

“You asked maine earlier astir combat … erstwhile I got elected to assembly astatine 19, I was acceptable to person a combat with anyone,” helium says. “I astir apt would person been 1 of those radical who loved a combat ... and I deliberation [the suicide] didn’t sound the combat retired of me, but it really made maine realise, ‘You’ve got broader responsibilities here’.

“You effort to spot the dignity successful different people, conscionable due to the fact that you’ve had a show of that successful a mode that you ne'er expected.”

Leeser says his attack to his occupation has changed since helium became a begetter to James, 5, and Ruth, 14 months.

Recently, the household bought a caller TV to ticker the Coronation of Charles III, who Leeser believes volition beryllium a “good king”.


Leeser ducked location for the Westminster Abbey amusement aft appearing connected an ABC sheet alongside Stan Grant, arsenic portion of the broadcaster’s sum of the event.

In the ensuing period, that sheet and its fallout for Indigenous writer Grant has go a taxable of debate, though Leeser and I met earlier Grant announced helium would measurement backmost from tv pursuing racist abuse.

In the week aft our lunch, Leeser contacted Grant to explicit his enactment implicit the vitriol helium was copping.

“I’m ever blessed to spell connected and support the Crown,” Leeser says, but says helium believes the ABC “got the equilibrium wrong” successful their coverage.

He laments having small clip to work for pleasure, but mentions a fewer books arsenic caller favourites – The Magna Carta of Humanity by Os Guinness, Hunt Gather Parent by Michaeleen Doucleff, astir the parenting practices of tribal cultures, and Scorpions by Noah Feldman – astir the US Supreme Court judges of President Franklin Roosevelt’s time.


Leeser utilized to bask the theatre greatly but present has small clip for it, though helium volition soon instrumentality his unit to spot a accumulation of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins.

The astir caller movie helium saw was Super Mario Brothers, and helium reads a batch of Batman lit with his five-year-old. “You know, ‘With large powerfulness comes large responsibility’,” helium says, laughing.

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