Ultra-right-wing Liberal senator Cory Bernardi has dismissed as “gossip” speculation he is about to split from government ranks, but some inside the Coalition would love to see the back of him.
Reports on Thursday suggested Senator Bernardi was preparing for an imminent departure from the Liberal Party to sit in the Senate as an independent leading his Australian Conservatives group and trying to impose his agenda on the nation.
But while some of his conservative colleagues have expressed frustrations over the direction their government is taking, most are leaving it to Senator Bernardi to speak for himself.
He says a split is nothing but gossip, yet he is promising a “massive 2017”.
The public speculation has sparked some inside the Coalition to describe the South Australian senator as nothing but a trouble maker the party could do without.
Leading the charge was former Victorian Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett, who described Senator Bernardi as a political non-entity.
“He has no record of note in politics. He has hidden under the umbrella of the Liberal Party for years and if he was to walk down the main street of Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane not one person would recognise him,” Mr Kennett said.
“This is an individual who for some ego driven reason believes he has the answers to the world. He does not.”
A federal Coalition MP, who asked not to be named, agreed and said Senator Bernardi may as well pack his bags.
“He is a show pony with no substance, with an ugly political agenda, and good riddance to him if he does quit the party,” the MP said.
“I know we need every vote we can get in both chambers of parliament right now – but at what price?
“I don’t think we need or want Bernardi that much. He should just pick up his bat and ball and go home.”
Conservative senator Eric Abetz argued for Senator Bernardi to stay inside the party.
“I think it is important that anybody with a conservative disposition to Australian politics is part and parcel of the Liberal Party,” Senator Abetz said.
“That is the natural home for conservatives in Australian politics and I would encourage everybody of that disposition to either remain within the Liberal Party or if they haven’t done so to actually join with us.”
Fellow conservative MP, backbencher George Christensen said he has been urged to “pull the pin” of the government under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership.
Mr Christensen called on the Liberal National Coalition to be true to its grass roots and be more conservative than it currently is.
“What the Turnbull Government needs to do is start being more loyal to the voters and the party members who sent us here or there will come a time when remaining inside the tent is no longer tenable to my conscience or my voters,” he said.
“We are a conservative government. We should act like a conservative government.”
But Mr Christensen said while he would let Senator Bernardi speak for himself, he did not believe the maverick parlkiamentarian was about to leave the party.
“I don’t know that Cory is going anywhere at this stage,” he said.