UPDATE 12:57pm Conservative senator Cory Bernardi has told the Senate that he will be leaving the Liberal Party to form his own party.
Mr Bernardi informed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of his decision on Tuesday morning, after reports of the move emerged on Monday.
On Tuesday afternoon Mr Bernardi told the Senate the decision was one of the toughest of his life. He also slammed the “self-serving” conduct of some in the Liberal Party.
“I was [once] in awe of its [the Liberal Party] traditions and the great captains that guided us on our way, but now as the seas through which we sail become ever more challenging, the respect for the values and principles that have served us well seem to have been set aside for expedient, self-serving, short-term ends.”
Earlier, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he is “disappointed that more effort has not been made” to keep Mr Bernardi in the Liberal Party.
On Tuesday it emerged Mr Bernardi had spoken to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to advise him of his decision to defect from the Liberal Party and begin his own conservative party.
“While Cory and I have sometimes disagreed I’m disappointed that more effort has not been made to keep our party united,” Mr Abbott said in a statement.
“The Liberal Party needs more people, like Cory, who believe that freer citizens will make a fairer society and a stronger country and who are prepared to speak out and make a difference.”
Reports emerged on Monday that Mr Bernardi would quit the party on Tuesday, citing growing differences in values between the South Australian and the Liberal Party.
Speaking on Tuesday morning, Peter Dutton – regarded as the leading conservative inside Mr Turnbull’s cabinet – slammed Mr Bernardi.
“I think people will be angry about any defection, angry about the betrayal of the Liberal Party values,” the immigration minister told ABC radio.
Mr Dutton said he didn’t believe other coalition MPs would follow Senator Bernardi who is tipped to announce the formation of the Australian Conservatives party when he publicly reveals his future to the Senate later on Tuesday.
Following the news of Mr Bernardi’s conversation with Mr Turnbull, Christopher Pyne lashed out.
“Cory Bernardi was elected as a Liberal,” Mr Pyne tweeted. “The honourable course is for him to resign his seat and for him to re-contest it as an independent.”
Nationals MP George Christensen said he sympathises with Mr Bernardi’s frustrations with the Liberal Party, but confirmed he will not be following his far-right colleague out of the Coalition if he announces his defection as expected on Tuesday.
The Member for Dawson did, however, appear to have inferred there is a time limit on his support for the Turnbull government.
Mr Turnbull’s year has gone from bad to worse with influential senator Bernardi reportedly set to split from the Coalition.
The senator’s decision to form his own party comes as the Turnbull government recorded its worst poll result since Tony Abbott was prime minister.
Experts say the defection would be a big headache for the Prime Minister and is likely to embolden right-wing figures within the party.
Speaking on ABC’s 7.30 on Monday night, Mr Christensen said if Senator Bernardi does announce he is leaving the Coalition, “it obviously has been a torturous and agonising decision for him”.
“He may have come to the conclusion that change cannot be affected within the government. I disagree with that and that is why I am still here,” he said.
But Mr Christensen was quick to ensure the Prime Minister does not take his continued loyalty for granted.
Speaking on Sky News, Mr Christensen said he sympathised with Senator Bernardi’s point of view, while also outlining the danger he could pose on the crossbench.
“I have a great deal of sympathy for Cory, I think he’s a massive intellect within the Liberal party,” he said.
“He is someone who by rights should be a frontbencher with the talent he has, the ability he has to bring a whole swathe of conservative folk behind him.”
Senator Bernardi’s impending announcement comes at a time when far-right politics is flourishing, with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation surging in popularity, claiming 8 per cent of the national primary vote in the first Newspoll of the year – double its Senate vote at the July election.
Party would have ‘influential backers’
In July 2016, Mr Bernardi formed the Australian Conservatives movement which by August boasted 50,000 members, he claimed.
Then in December, Mr Bernardi began a political movement called “Australian Majority” at this website.
Mr Bernardi has previously been suspected of wanting to start a new party for voters who don’t feel represented by mainstream political organisations.
He is a self-confessed admirer of United States President Donald Trump.
Mr Bernardi won a six-year Senate term at the 2015 double dissolution election. He was the first Senate candidate on the Liberal Party’s South Australian ticket.
-with reporting by Luke Henriques-Gomes, AAP and ABC