UPDATE 10:03am Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for Senator Cory Bernardi to resign after he left the Liberal Party to sit as a conservative independent.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday morning, Mr Turnbull echoed calls made on Tuesday by Christopher Pyne.
”The honourable thing for Cory to do is to resign from the Senate and then run again at the next election as an independent or under his new party,” Mr Turnbull said.
On Tuesday evening, Senator Bernardi laid the blame for his defection squarely with the Liberal Party, saying it was the party’s views, values and principles that changed, not his.
In his first interview since announcing his split from the Coalition, Senator Bernadi told Sky News on Tuesday night his former party had turned its back on conservative voters.
“I joined the Liberal Party 31 years ago; I became a member of the Liberal parliamentary team about 10 years ago,” he said.
“Through that time my views and the values and principles I have upheld have not changed at all.
“What I have come to the conclusion is that the deterioration of the vote, the lack of faith, and confidence in the body politic and in the major parties is not going to stop.”
Senator Bernardi was roundly criticised by all sides of politics for his resignation only seven months after the federal election, but he said he knew he had to leave the Coalition after its narrow 2016 win.
“After the election, I recognised it was a disaster,” he said.
“I recognise that our base had turned away from us. We had pollsters and individuals saying ‘the base doesn’t matter, the conservatives have nowhere to go’.
“We saw a lacklustre campaign, it was bereft of ideas, and people ran away from us at a rate of knots.”
The disaffected South Australian senator, who will lead the new Australian Conservative party, said he will provide an alternative for conservative voters who have lost faith in the Liberal Party.
“No one can say the last election was a resounding endorsement of Labor or Liberal, in fact what it saw was one million votes in the Senate go to a disparate group of parties because people were looking for alternatives,” Senator Bernardi said.
Watch a segment of Bernardi’s interview below:
— The Bolt Report (@theboltreport) February 7, 2017
“And I want to give them one, because I don’t think those votes are going to come back to the Liberal Party, but my values are traditional Liberal values … and I haven’t changed.
“What’s changed is that too few in this place (the Liberal party) are prepared to advocate for them, and wear a bit of political pain to stand on principle, and that’s what people are desperate for.”
‘Dog act’: Cory Bernardi savaged
Earlier on Tuesday, Senator Bernardi’s defection infuriated his former Liberal colleagues and opposition alike, who alluded to his “betrayal and hypocrisy”.
Fellow South Australian, Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham, blasted Senator Bernardi’s change of heart as a “dog act”.
“This is something of a dog act for the hundreds of thousands of South Australians who voted for the Liberal Party at the last election,” the Minister for Education and Training said.
“It is deeply disappointing for party members, party voters and party supporters … 345,000-plus South Australians voted for the Liberal Party and they rightly expect that people will serve as Liberals when elected.”
Attorney-General George Brandis launched a scathing attack on Senator Bernardi, accusing him of “breaking faith” by quitting the Coalition, portraying the move as a betrayal of conservative values.
He reminded the senator he had been elected as a Liberal by South Australians only seven months ago. And in that time, the government had changed none of its policies, Senator Brandis said.
“If one seeks to restore confidence in the political class, it is a poor way to begin by breaking the promise one makes to one’s electors to serve for the political party on whose platform and whose ticket one stood,” Senator Brandis told the Senate.
“Breaking faith with the electorate, breaking faith with the people who voted for you, breaking faith with the people who have supported you through thick and thin for years and, indeed, decades is not a conservative thing to do.”
Greens leader Richard Di Natale chimed in to question Senator Bernardi’s integrity.
“In Senator Bernardi we have 6.5ft of ego but not an inch of integrity. Not an inch,” Dr Di Natale said.
— Richard Di Natale (@RichardDiNatale) February 5, 2017
Meanwhile, Opposition Senate leader Penny Wong turned her focus to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, calling his “failed leadership” the reason behind Senator Bernardi’s move.
“This resignation is a consequence of the failure of leadership by the prime minister,” she said.