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Opinion

One simple question for Nick Xenophon

Opinion

As the federal election campaign begins, former state Liberal leader Iain Evans says every voter should be asking Nick Xenophon and his candidates one crucial question.

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There is only one question for Mr X to answer during the eight-week federal election campaign: if he wakes up on Sunday morning after the election and holds the balance of power in the Lower House, will the Xenophon team back Bill Shorten’s Labor or Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberals to form Government?

Well Nick – is it Bill or Malcolm?

Mr X will insist he will support the party that offers the best deal for SA. Sounds good doesn’t it? The best deal for us!

The only problem is that he is running candidates in other states as he tries to build a national party and profile. So guess what?
He will be telling NSW voters that the Xenophon team will support the party that offers the best deal for NSW. He will tell Victorian voters the same thing.

The problem is that what is good for SA might be bad for Victoria.

A good example is the recent submarines announcement that benefited SA – other states wanted some or all of that spend. Do you think Xenophon’s Victorian candidates are telling Victorian business and voters that it’s great SA got all that work?

The Xenophon team might end up supporting Labor in one state and the Liberals in another.

Why would they do this? Simple. Unlike Labor, Liberal and other established parties, Xenophon’s team is based on populism, not a philosophy. So it can take the most popular policy position in each state to win seats. They will not have to take tough policy decisions knowing it may hurt their vote in other states. The lack of national mainstream media scrutiny for Xenophon’s policies means he gets away with positions the major parties could never propose.

The two major parties are so busy trying to win government they often don’t spend time and resources exposing Xenophon’s policy flaws. Or they  may not want to expose his policy flaws because they want Xenophon’s preferences.

However, they may have no choice but to attack his policies during this election campaign because Xenophon’s team could potentially win some Lower House seats. He will say the attacks on his policies are negative and aggressive – old-style politics from the old parties – but it will really just be him suffering the same scrutiny major party MPs face every day.

As a party that will never be in Government, the Xenophon team can promise the world to voters, pick the politically popular line and then, when elected, deliver nothing and blame the Government. The Xenophon team will never have to craft a budget or run a department, make decisions and be held accountable for those decisions. They can spend all day thinking up funny lines for the media and shooting from the sidelines.

In SA, his candidates include former Liberal staffer Rebekha Sharkie. There will be Liberals in Mayo naively thinking they may vote for Sharkie as they are not happy with the Liberal incumbent. As Rebekah was a Liberal after all, when push comes to shove she would support Malcolm if we have a hung Parliament, wouldn’t she?

They should think again. Sharkie joined Xenophon having worked for three different Liberal MPs but she did not progress through the party in the way she believed she deserved.

Is Sharkie wakes up on the Sunday morning after the election holding the balance of power, will she really vote to help the Liberal Party into government?

History might be a guide, particularly the examples of Peter Lewis, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor. When was the last time a conservative with the balance of power backed the conservatives? And of course we shouldn’t forget Rory McEwen, Karlene Maywald and Martin Hamilton-Smith – all conservatives who agreed to serve in Labor governments.

Will Sharkie rule out putting Bill Shorten into power? If not, you can draw your own conclusion.

Will Sharkie even have a say in the matter if she is elected and Xenophon’s team holds the balance of power, or will there be an edict from Nick? Sharkie might be consulted but will she have a real say?

Out in Labor-held Wakefield, will Xenophon candidate Richard Inwood tell Labor voters thinking of voting for Xenophon’s team that he will support Bill Shorten as Prime Minister? Will he rule out putting Malcolm Turnbull in the Lodge? If not why not? I am sure Richard’s donors and business supporters would be interested in a firm commitment about who he will support.

Surely the voters deserve to know? After all Xenophon has held hundreds of media conferences calling on governments of all colours to be transparent.

Here is Xenophon’s chance.

Iain Evans is a former state Liberal leader who provides training in political risk. Views expressed are his own.

Read his other InDaily columns here.

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