All sides of politics have savaged renegade Senator Cory Bernardi who on Tuesday resigned from the Liberal Party to guide his political movement, the Australian Conservatives.
Senator Bernardi said it was a “difficult” decision, but he was “relieved” to be able to pursue a more conservative brand of politics which would “be united by a desire to create stronger families, foster free enterprise, limit the size and scope and reach of government whilst seeking to rebuild civil society”.
“We will give hope to those who despair at the current state of Australian politics and who demand a better way for themselves, their children and their country,” he told the Senate.
But the move has infuriated his former Liberal colleagues who alluded to the maverick senator’s betrayal and hypocrisy, in yet another blow for a Turnbull government limping from one disaster to the next in 2017.
Fellow South Australian, Senator Simon Birmingham blasted the move 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 …
“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.”
Given Senator Bernardi’s resignation comes just seven months after the federal election, several MPs called on the senator to vacate his Senate seat and contest it under the umbrella of his new party.
Attorney-General George Brandis launched a scathing attack 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.”
Former senator Sean Edwards, who was fifth on the party’s Senate ticket in SA, alleged Senator Bernardi had misled the party’s preselectors.
“It’s a gross misrepresentation. He has misled the preselectors of the Liberal Party and indeed the voters,” Mr Edwards said.
“He talks about principled policy making. I would expect that he would adhere to those things and answer questions when they’re posed to him in a principled way.”
Senator Bernardi denied betraying Liberal voters, arguing his principles had remained consistent.
MP for the West Australian seat of Canning, Andrew Hastie, who describes Senator Bernardi as a good friend and someone he respects, predicted the move would only worsen the legislative gridlock in the Senate.
“Our political institutions are fragile and all MPs need to work together — as far as our convictions will allow — to deliver reform that keeps Australia safe and prosperous,” Mr Hastie wrote.
But the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) gave a veiled thumbs-up to Senator Bernardi’s defection.
Director Lyle Shelton said while the ACL lamented the further fragmentation of politics, it hoped it would offer “greater competition for voters who care about marriage, freedom of speech and the truth about gender”.
“Disruptions like (Donald) Trump and now Bernardi here may sadly be what is needed to cause politics to become more responsive to mainstream concerns again,” director Lyle Shelton said in a statement.
Pollies ‘out of touch’, voters forgotten: Bernardi
Senator Bernardi said the level of public disenchantment with the major parties, lack of confidence in politics and concern about the direction of the country were strong motives behind his decision.
“This is a direct product of … the political class being out of touch with the hopes and aspirations of the Australian people,” he said.
“It really is time for a better way — for a conservative way,” he said.
Senator Bernardi said his new party, the Australian Conservatives, would focus on limiting the size of government and provide hope to “those who despair at the current state of Australian politics”.
The 47-year-old senator has been a controversial figure in the Liberal Party and is known for his inflammatory remarks on gay rights, Islam and climate change.
He said the government’s position on energy and climate change was one reason behind his decision to leave the party.
He also cited the toppling of Tony Abbott in 2015 and the “revolving door” of leadership.
Senator Bernardi insists he hasn’t approached any other MPs about joining his party and will reportedly not field Senate candidates at the next election.
What they said today
“In Senator Bernardi we have 6.5ft of ego but not an inch of integrity. Not an inch!”
– Greens leader Richard Di Natale.
“This resignation is a consequence of the failure of leadership by the prime minister.”
– Opposition Senate leader Penny Wong.
“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.”
– Former prime minister Tony Abbott.
“I wish that he had attended the Liberal Party room meeting this morning, looked us all in the eye and explained his reasons.”
– Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie.
“I think people will be angry about any defection, angry about the betrayal of the Liberal Party values.” – Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.
“With one or two exceptions he’s never laid a glove on the Labor Party. Every time he’s been in the headlines it’s been about criticism of his own parties.”
– Trade Minister Steve Ciobo.
“I know he’s got name recognition in his own lunchbox.”
– Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young
– with AAP