Conservative firebrand Cory Bernardi is reportedly preparing to split from the Liberal Party, with his Australian Conservatives group promising a “massive 2017”.
The South Australian senator and mining magnate Gina Rinehart met key members of incoming US president Donald Trump’s team, including campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, sparking fears of the split, The Australian reported on Thursday.
But Senator Bernardi dismissed renewed suggestions he was poised to leave the major political party as gossip.
The senator set up the Australian Conservatives movement after the July federal election to rival the left-wing protest and campaigning group GetUp.
A Christmas message on the conservative group’s website says more than 60,000 Australians have signed up to its mailing list despite it operating with “modest staff numbers and a bare bones website”.
“This is all set to change in 2017,” it says.
“Our new state-of-the-art website is almost ready to go, and we will be launching it early next year, along with a number of important campaigns.”
In July, Senator Bernardi ruled out his splitting from the Liberal Party but in the months since — including a three-month stint in New York observing the United Nations — he’s been outspoken on several issues including the review of the government’s climate policies including consideration of an emissions-intensity scheme for power generators.
— Cory Bernardi (@corybernardi) November 15, 2016
He also spoke of the probability of the government pursuing a “war on cash” on the day it launched a taskforce to target the black economy, and said the major political parties were desperately seeking to reconnect with disenfranchised people.
“We will have to wait and see if it works or whether the erosion of faith has gone too far for the current system to be restored,” he wrote.
On Thursday morning former Victorian Liberal premier Jeff Kennett teed off at Senator Bernardi, effectively calling him 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 told ABC morning radio.
“This is an individual who for some ego driven reason believes he has the answers to the world, he does not.”