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"Reluctant and relieved": Bernardi quits Liberal Party to establish new "movement"

Politics

South Australian senator Cory Bernardi has told Parliament he has quit the Liberal Party to establish a new conservative "movement", in words that echo Donald Trump's rallying call during last year's presidential election campaign.

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Bernardi told the Senate today he had quit the party this morning.

“I stand here today, both reluctant and relieved,” he told parliament. “Reluctant because this decision has weighed heavy on my heart, but relieved because whilst it is difficult, I believe it is the right thing to do.”

He said politics was failing the Australian people, the political class was out of touch, and a better way was needed.

He had warned for many years of the consequences of ignoring voters.

“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.”

He signalled the formation of a new political “movement” of Australian conservatives.

“It really is time for a better way. For a conservative way.

“The enduring beauty of the conservative tradition is it looks to the past, to all that is good and great, to inform the future. It is a rich paradox where the established equips up for the new.

“So today I begin something new, built on enduring values and principles that have served our nation so well for so long.

“It is a political movement of Australian Conservatives. A community of individual Australians who will share their unique gifts and talents to chart a better way for our nation.

“We will be united by the desire to create stronger families, to foster freedom of speech, to limit the size and scope and reach of government while seeking to rebuild confidence in 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, for their children and for the nation.”

The language has echoes of President Trump’s campaign, in which he repeatedly described the groundswell of support for his candidacy as a “movement”.

Earlier, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull refused to answer questions as he arrived for an ecumenical service in suburban Canberra.

But Peter Dutton – regarded as the leading conservative inside Turnbull’s cabinet – didn’t hold back.

“I think people will be angry about any defection, angry about the betrayal of the Liberal Party values,” the immigration minister told ABC radio.

Dutton said he didn’t believe other Coalition MPs would follow Bernardi.

Bernardi’s South Australian Liberal colleague, Cabinet minister Christopher Pyne, was also scathing, calling on the senator to relinquish his position and recontest it as an independent.

Pyne took to Twitter to attack Bernardi, writing that “The Liberal Party’s values are not limited to conservatism. We are Liberals because we are open to new ideas; tolerant of difference, modern and forward looking; we believe in reward for effort and sharing Australia’s good fortune with those in need.”

However, Bernardi said South Australian voters “knew what they were getting” when they voted for him at last year’s federal election.

While angry cabinet ministers took aim at Bernardi, former prime minister Tony Abbott says more effort should have been made to keep the Liberal Party united.

Abbott said he deeply regretted Bernardi’s move.

“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,” he posted on Facebook.

“While Cory and I have sometimes disagreed I’m disappointed that more effort has not been made to keep our party united.”

State Liberal leader Steven Marshall told InDaily it was “hugely disappointing for South Australian Liberal voters who voted to have a Liberal represent them in the Senate”.

“I think many SA Liberal voters will feel pretty betrayed by his announcement today, given they gave him their vote only six months ago,” he said.

Marshall denied Bernardi’s move would prompt any crisis of ideology within Liberal ranks, saying “the Liberal Party has always been the coming together of two great political ideologies, the progressive moderates and the conservatives, and they’ve always operated in that arrangement”.

“It’s been a great place for the conservatives for a long period of time – John Howard was a great Prime Minister of Australia and he was absolutely a conservative,” he said.

The front page of today's Daily Telegraph.

The front page of today’s Daily Telegraph.

Conservative Queensland government backbencher George Christensen said Senator Bernardi had never asked him to leave the Liberal National Party.

“At this point in time I’m very loyal to Barnaby Joyce – I sit within the National Party – it’s a party I’ve been a member of for more than two decades,” he told ABC radio.

“I’m going to continue here for as long as the party – and I believe the National Party always will be – in tune with conservative vales and in tune with regional electorates.”

Sean Edwards has more reason than most to be angry with his fellow South Australian. He was number five on the Liberals’ SA Senate ticket, well behind Bernardi at number two.

“It would be a gross departure as to – certainly six months into a six-year term – what people would have expected,” said the former senator who lost his seat at the 2016 election.

– InDaily with AAP

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