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Conservative MPs warn PM on possible split

Politics

Conservative politicians have fired warning shots for Malcolm Turnbull to renew faith with the party's base if he wants to keep the Coalition united.

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Nationals MP George Christensen has warned while he’s loyal now, there could come a time when he couldn’t stay in the party any more.

And South Australian conservative firebrand Cory Bernardi is reportedly preparing to split from the Liberals, with his Australian Conservatives group promising a “massive 2017”.

Christensen says with satisfaction with democracy at an all-time low, he hopes 2017 “heralds a new way of doing things for the Turnbull government and for politics in general”.

Many people had urged him to “pull the pin on the government” and break away.

“However, I am loyal to (Nationals leader) Barnaby Joyce, loyal to the Nationals, and – most of all – loyal to local LNP members who selected me to be their candidate,” he wrote on Facebook today.

“What the Turnbull government needs to do is start being more loyal to the voters and the party members who sent us here or there will come a time when remaining inside the tent is no longer tenable to my conscience or my voters.”

Bernardi and Gina Rinehart met key members of incoming US president Donald Trump’s team, sparking fears of a split bankrolled by the mining magnate, The Australian reported today.

But the South Australian senator dismissed renewed suggestions he was poised to leave the Liberals as gossip and speculation.

The senator set up the Australian Conservatives movement after the July federal election to rival the left-wing protest and campaigning group GetUp.

A Christmas message on the conservative group’s website says more than 60,000 Australians have signed up to its mailing list despite it operating with “modest staff numbers and a bare bones website”.

“This is all set to change in 2017,” it says, promising a state-of-the-art website and “a number of important campaigns”.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott said Bernardi’s comments when setting up the new movement had been right.

“It’s best for the Australian people to have a strong, cohesive and sound Liberal Party,” he tweeted today.

Abbott later strengthened his support, again using Twitter to say: “To be strong & united, the Liberal Party cannot take the base for granted & must convincingly argue for its values & principles.”

In July, Bernardi ruled out his defecting but in the months since he’s been outspoken on several issues including the review of the government’s climate policies and consideration of an emissions intensity scheme for power generators.

Last week he said the major political parties were desperately seeking to reconnect with disenfranchised people.

“We will have to wait and see if it works or whether the erosion of faith has gone too far for the current system to be restored,” he wrote.

Liberal backbencher Luke Howarth said his message as a right-wing politician would be for Bernardi to stick with the Liberals.

“My advice to him would be stay in the Liberal Party, keep advocating for the issues that you think are important to Australians and remain in the tent,” Mr Howarth told Sky News.

“We need you in the Liberal Party … we’re a diverse party and I think that’s healthy.”

AAP

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