John Wayne Olsen, AO (born 7 June 1945) is a former Australian politician, diplomat and football commissioner. He was Premier of South Australia between 28 November 1996 and 22 October 2001. He is now President of the Federal Liberal Party, Chairman of the Australian American Association, Chairman of the Adelaide Football Club and Deputy Chairman of the Adelaide Oval Stadium Management Authority.
Olsen was twice the parliamentary leader of the South Australian Division of the Liberal Party of Australia in the South Australian House of Assembly, from 1982 to 1990 and again from 1996 to 2001. He unsuccessfully led the party to both the 1985 election and 1989 election. After the 1989 election he left South Australian parliament to fill a casual vacancy in the Australian Senate. He returned to the South Australian parliament in 1992, but was defeated for the Liberal party leadership by Dean Brown.
However, in 1996, Olsen successfully challenged Brown for the Liberal leadership, and hence became Premier. He led the party to a narrow victory at the 1997 election, and remained Premier until 2001. He was resigned in 2001, after he was found to have misled parliament during the Motorola affair. Olsen is the longest-serving Liberal Party of Australia Premier of South Australia and the fourth-longest-serving Leader of the Opposition.
After politics Olsen worked as a diplomat and political lobbyist. He became the State President of the South Australian Liberal Party in June 2017. He previously held that position from 1976 to 1979. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in January 2007.
Olsen was born on 7 June 1945 in Kadina, South Australia, the son of Joyce Rosalind (née Heath) and Stanley John Olsen, and the nephew of South Australian Politician Leslie Heath. When he was 18, his father suffered a fatal heart attack while driving the family speedboat. He attended Kadina Memorial High School, later completing a certificate in business studies at the University of Adelaide and becoming a fellow of the National Institute of Accountants.
Olsen began his working career in 1962 as a clerk with the Savings Bank of South Australia. He later became managing director of the family business J. R. Olsen & Sons Pty Ltd, a car and machinery dealer. He served as president of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce of South Australia from 1974 to 1976.
Olsen was elected to the Kadina Town Council in 1971. He served as mayor from 1974 to 1977, reputedly “South Australia’s youngest ever mayor”. He was the final mayor before the town was merged into the District Council of Kadina.
In 1976, Olsen was elected president of the Liberal Party of Australia (South Australian Division), serving until 1979. He was first elected to the South Australian House of Assembly at the 1979 election as a Liberal in the Barossa Valley seat of Rocky River. He represented this seat, renamed Custance at the 1985 election, until 1990.
Olsen’s political career was marked by a bitter rivalry with Dean Brown, the two representing the conservative and moderate wings of the South Australian Liberal Party respectively. After the 1982 election and the electoral defeat and retirement of David Tonkin, Olsen defeated Brown for the state Liberal Party leadership and became Leader of the Opposition. Up against the Labor premier John Bannon, Olsen lost both the 1985 election and 1989 election. In the latter election, the Liberals won a majority of the two-party vote (52 percent) with a five-seat swing. However, most of that majority was wasted on landslides in the Liberals’ rural heartland. Even with the likely support of the one National Party MP, the Liberals were still one seat short of making Olsen Premier.
Olsen resigned as state Liberal leader soon after the election and returned to the backbench. He was appointed to the Australian Senate in 1990 to fill a casual vacancy caused by the resignation of Tony Messner.
However, in 1992, after less than two years in the Senate, he resigned to return to state politics. The Bannon government was under pressure from the collapse of the State Bank of South Australia. However, Olsen’s successor as state Liberal leader, Dale Baker, was unable to gain significant ground. Baker resigned as state Liberal leader in 1992 and called a spill for all leadership positions, intending to hand the leadership back to Olsen as soon as he was securely back in the legislature. To facilitate this, former Deputy PremierRoger Goldsworthy, a leading member of the Liberals’ right wing, resigned his seat of Kavel, based on Mount Barker, and handed it to Olsen. However, several members of the party’s moderate wing were unwilling to see Olsen take the leadership uncontested. They arranged for leading party moderate Ted Chapman to give up his seat of Alexandra and hand it to Brown so Brown could challenge for the leadership. Olsen returned to the House of Assembly at the 1992 Kavel by-election, on the same day as Brown at the 1992 Alexandra by-election. This time, Brown narrowly defeated Olsen in the leadership ballot, and thus became premier when the Liberals won the 1993 election in a landslide where the Liberals won 37 of the 47 seats available, the most that any party has won since the abolition of the Playmander. Olsen became Minister for Industry and Minister for Infrastructure until 1997, when a cabinet reshuffle saw him become Minister for Information Technology and Minister for Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs.
Soon after taking office, Olsen led negotiations with Motorola to build a software centre in Adelaide. Motorola decided to open the centre in April after winning a number of incentives, including becoming the supplier for a government radio network, and a contract was signed in June. During a September Question Time, Olsen stated that there had been no discussions with Motorola about the radio contract. This statement would ultimately prove to be his undoing.