Liberal Party defector Cory Bernardi may face an uphill battle with experts suggesting his breakaway political party is doomed.
The right-wing South Australian senator left to form Australian Conservatives on February 7, saying the Liberal Party was full of disgruntled members who believed the party had left its conservative base.
The socially conservative senator prompted speculation he was mulling a move last year when he announced the Australian Conservatives, then just a group, had amassed more than 50,000 online registrations.
But since his recent defection, no South Australian Liberal members have left the party, except Mr Bernardi and his wife, according to a report in the The Advertiser.
Political experts told The New Daily Senator Bernardi would struggle to gain traction amid a crowded field of minor parties, particularly on the Right of politics.
Monash University political expert Dr Nick Economou said he wasn’t surprised by reports Liberal members weren’t clamouring to join Australian Conservatives.
“I think Bernardi is trying to capitalise on what he sees as a groundswell of community support for his ultra-conservative social views. I don’t think people are interested in that at all,” he told The New Daily.
“The main driver of populism, be it in the United States, Australia or the UK, is a sense among certain sections of the community that they are losing out on economic policy.
“He’s got nothing to say to voters who might be disillusioned with the major political parties and would consider voting for Pauline Hanson or Jacqui Lambie or Nick Xenophon or Derryn Hinch, who are classic populists.”
To keep his seat, Mr Bernardi will also face challenges unique to South Australia, including the popularity of Mr Xenophon and Family First in the state, Dr Economou said.
“Presumably, he will re-contest the senate and he won’t keep his seat. He will be lucky to get half a per cent,” he said.
“There’s no room for anybody in South Australia other than Nick Xenophon and Family First. He might pinch Family First votes … [but] there’s just no room.”
Associate professor Haydon Manning, from Flinders University, said it had been presumed Australian Conservatives would immediately attract “a reasonable number of disaffected Liberal [rank and file] members” and potentially other conservative MPs.
“At this juncture, neither of these seem true. He has a support base from his website, but in terms of the membership and other MPs, it doesn’t seem like a very heartening start,” Professor Manning told The New Daily.
While the Liberal Party garnered 329,516 first-preference votes at the most recent election, Senator Bernardi received 2043 below-the-line votes.
Elected to a six-year term, he had been an outspoken critic of the Turnbull government before quitting the Liberals.
Speculation Australian Conservatives will be funded by billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart was denied by her spokeswoman when The New Daily contacted her office last week.
Australian Conservatives is yet to be registered as a party, according to the AEC’s current register of political parties.
Senator Bernardi’s office did not respond to a request for comment.