In an emailed message to supporters today, Xenophon blamed an “unprecedented multi-million dollar campaign against us by both major parties, unions and the poker machine lobby” for his party’s state election failure to pick up any lower house seats.
“I’m obviously disappointed,” he wrote of the result.
“The election result means that some changes are inevitable for both the federal and state parties, so that they can continue to thrive and grow.”
The three-person management committee of the federal Nick Xenophon Team today lodged an application with the Australian Electoral Commission to change the party name to Centre Alliance “to more accurately reflect its current and future parliamentary makeup”.
“Nick is fully supportive of these changes and will remain a voting member of the party,” the party said in a statement.
Senator Stirling Griff, the secretary and treasurer of the party’s management committee, told InDaily it was Xenophon’s choice to change the name, and “this wasn’t a decision made without him”.
“Nick always wanted his name to be away from the party and it was time to effect the change,” he said, adding that the new moniker “reflects what we are as a centrist political party”.
NXT had previously lodged a submission to change its name to SA-Best (Federal), in line with the state party start-up, but that plan has been abandoned after SA Best’s poor showing last month and with an eye to running candidates in other states in the future.
“We have a couple of key people very keen to run interstate at the next federal election,” Griff said.
“The reason that [SA Best Federal] application was withdrawn is because there was no direct linkages any more because Nick was the direct linkage between the two parties.”
He said Xenophon would remain “a voting member of both parties” but would not be involved in the “day to day operation” of Centre Alliance.
Despite losing the most politically saleable component of the party’s branding, Griff insists “we all believe in the future of the party”.
“We believe there’s a future for an alternative centrist party – that’s why the name was made Centre Alliance,” he said.
Xenophon did not return calls today, but in a statement he said the changes were “both welcome and necessary to ensure the party can build on existing levels of support”.
“When we started [NXT] in 2012, I used the words of Ralph Nader that ‘the function of genuine leadership is to create more leaders, not more followers’,” he said.
“I am very proud of the fact that [Mayo MP] Rebekha Sharkie [and senators] Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick have all proven themselves to be genuine leaders doing great work in the Australian Parliament for SA and their communities.
“I look forward to maintaining a strong association with all of my colleagues and welcoming future new parliamentary members, from SA and other states.”
The statement said the Alliance would focus on “responsible, transparent and accountable government and Australian industry and nation-building endeavours” but that “party members are free to vote on other matters as they see fit for their constituent base and advocate strongly for their respective state”.
It will retain “a strong and cooperative relationship with SA Best”, but Griff said there was no obligation for members to be enrolled in both parties. He said he was a “supporter member” of SA Best, which means he does not have a vote at party meetings.
Xenophon’s former media adviser – and now SA Best MLC – Frank Pangallo said SA Best would not adopt the ‘Centre Alliance’ branding but would shorten its name from the officially-registered ‘Nick Xenophon’s SA Best’.
“I think the plan is we continue as SA Best… we still have hundreds of members and volunteers, and we still have many candidates who have indicated they’d like to continue with the party – and even contest the next state election,” he said.
Office and administrative functions will continue to be shared between both state and federal parties.
“It was always the plan, even if Nick was elected, that the [SA Best] name would ultimately change,” Pangallo said.
“He was actually reluctant even to go to the election with his name on it [but] the party wanted him to stick to having his name attached.”
Pangallo conceded the differing brands “may be construed as being confusing” but “we don’t think it will be, because we’ll be working hand in hand with our federal colleagues”.
“It’s a logical move to make because you couldn’t have the federal party being called SA Best Federal – it wasn’t going to work… so it was decided that we needed a fresh approach and a name that reflected what we do on a federal basis.”
He said Xenophon, who is eschewing public life in the medium term, would “still play an important role within the party”.
“I’m sure he’ll still be able to make a significant contribution,” he said.
“Nick’s had 20 years’ experience in politics – he’s a brilliant political brain… I always welcome calls from him and any suggestions and ideas he has [so] I’ll be certainly not abandoning Nick Xenophon, that’s for sure.”
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