Conservative senator Cory Bernardi has told the Senate that he will be leaving the Liberal Party to form his own party, citing a “failing” political system and “self-serving” colleagues for his move.
Mr Bernardi informed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of his decision on Tuesday morning, after reports of the split emerged on Monday.
Then on Tuesday afternoon Mr Bernardi entered the Senate where he explained 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.”
Mr Bernardi went onto blame politicians and the political system itself for his desire to “find a better way”. He also said the decision to remove Tony Abbott as prime minister added to his anger with the party.
“The body politic is failing the people of Australia. It is clear that we need to find a better way,” he said.
“The level of public disenchantment with the major parties, the lack of confidence in our political process and the concern about the direction of our nation is very, very strong.
“This is a direct product of us, the political class, being out of touch with the hopes and aspirations of the Australian people.”
Mr Bernardi said he had been ignored when he spoke up about problems he felt were hurting politics.
“For many years, I have warned of the consequences of ignoring the clear signs. I have spoken of the need to restore faith in our political system and to put principle back into politics.
“I regret that too often these warnings have been ignored by those who perhaps needed to hear them most. It really is time for a better way. For a conservative way.
Attorney General George Brandis immediately branded Mr Bernadi’s decision “the wrong thing” to do and that “we [Liberal Party] do not condone what he has done”.
“Because only seven months ago Senator Bernardi was elected by the people of SA to serve in the Senate as a Liberal senator,” Mr Brandis said.
“Seven months ago Senator Bernardi was happy to stand before the people of SA to say he sought their endorsement to serve for a 6-year term as a Liberal senator.
“But in the seven months since the federal election, nothing has changed … we find it perplexing.”
While he said the Coalition would deal with Mr Bernardi amicably and that personal friendships would endure, Mr Brandis was scathing of the newly-independent senator.
“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,” Mr Brandis said.
“What Senator Bernardi has done today is not a conservative thing to do because 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.”
Tellingly, the Coalition side of the Senate chamber was bare – save for Mr Brandis and Mr Bernardi – when the announcement was made.
What prompted the split?
Mr Bernardi later said at a press conference that he left the Liberal Party (despite being elected seven months ago as a Liberal) because conservative voters were leaving the party to vote for others.
“I want to give them a principled, credible and stable alternative in which they can vest their vote in the Senate,” he said.
“What I seek to do over the longer term is to actually strengthen a Coalition government by giving them an anchor in the Senate that the Australian people can rely on as being principled.”
He said the Cabinet authorisation to look into what Mr Bernardi described as “the investigation of an emissions trading scheme” was a policy decision that added to his dissatisfaction.
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“I thought why do I need to continually fight within my own party? I can’t struggle within the tent all by myself.”
He also said the celebration of the Coalition’s slim and “lacklustre” 2016 election win was a “problem”.
Mr Bernardi said he had not approached any Liberal MPs or Senators to join his party. he said several times that he would not be changing any of the principles he current stands for.
Mr Bernardi was elected to a six-year Senate post in the 2016 double dissolution election. He was the number-two Liberal Party candidate on the South Australian Senate ticket.