Senator resigns and starts The Australian Conservatives Party
Senator resigns and starts The Australian Conservatives Party

Cory Bernardi: The one thing he hasn't told us


WE STILL don't know why Cory Bernardi quit the Liberals apart from his vague references to abandoned values and principles.

Why today, the first sitting of Parliament for the year, just eight months after his re-election?

His fascination in the Donald Trump mode of politics he witnessed at close quarters last year and the frustrations of being a minority of one within his party are two reasons.

A grim-faced Mr Bernardi took less than five minutes in the Upper House to announce his resignation from the Liberal Party, but gave no clear idea of what had driven him out.

The betrayed principles he insists had forced him to betray the South Australians who voted for him as a Liberal last year ago were not detailed.

He will have a further five years in the Senate thanks to those voters, but they were given neither explanation nor apology in the chamber.

The most savage reaction from his former colleagues came from Trade Minister Stephen Ciobo.

"If you look back over Cory's career - with one or two exceptions - he's never laid a glove on the Labor Party," said Mr Ciobo on Sky News.

"Every time he's been in the headlines he's been criticising his own party."

Mr Bernardi said "principles" quite a lot without identifying them precisely.

He later told reporters he wanted to provide a credible, principled, stable alternative for the one million voters who left the Coalition parties at the election.

He had decided that "working within the system" hadn't worked for him.

He hadn't changed over the past decade but others had and there was distressing to him: "The body politic is held in lower esteem today than it ever was."

On policy, he said he was upset by a proposal late last year for an investigation of an emissions trading scheme, offered the immigration rate was too high, and wanted tax cuts.

His comments to reporters were remarkably similar to those of former minister Eric Abetz, who in a statement urged a re-embrace of "more than a million voters who left the Liberal Party at the last election for more conservative minor parties".

Senator Cory Bernardi
Senator Cory Bernardi PAUL MILLER-AAP

In practical terms, newly independent Mr Bernardi will be one of 10 crossbenchers - possibly one of 12 after replacements are found for departed senators from Western Australia and South Australia.

The only certainty in the Senate is that the Bernardi shift makes Upper House numbers even more difficult to manage.

At present there are 74 senators rather that the full quota of 76.

That's because West Australian Rod Culleton's election as a One Nation senator was declared invalid, and former Family First senator for South Australia, Bob Day, has quit to handle the bankruptcy of building companies he was associated with.

The Senate vote in Western Australia will be recounted and the candidate behind Mr Culleton will take his place. It's not known when that will be completed or who will succeed.

Mr Day wants the second ranked Family First candidate to take his slot. However, the High Court today is hearing claims Mr Day's election also was invalid because of matters related to office leases, including his own electoral office, in a building he appeared to own.

If he loses the challenge there could be a South Australian recount as well.

Meanwhile, in the 74-seat chamber, the Government will have 29 votes and will need at least nine of the cross bench votes to get a majority against Labor's 26 and the Greens' nine.