23 July 2018
The pride of Cory Bernardi would’ve taken something of a pounding during the last few months. Having walked out of the Liberal Party early last year to start his own political party, he imagined that his party would have an impact on the Australian political scene. But now it looks like the party won’t last much longer.
A prominent conservative, Bernardi first entered the Senate in 2006, following the resignation of Liberal stalwart Robert Hill. He became close to Tony Abbott, before the rise of Abbott to the Federal Liberal leadership. They remained close for years, during which time Abbott became Prime Minister. After Abbott lost the leadership to Malcolm Turnbull in 2015, the Liberals were gradually seen as less conservative than their strongest supporters liked. This degree of change might well have been what drove Bernardi out of the Liberal ranks.
Following Bernardi’s departure from the Liberals, a new conservative party came into being. This conservative mob ended up taking over what was left of another party regarded as conservative, the Family First Party.
Created more than a decade ago, Family First won a few parliamentary seats over the years. Its first seat was in the South Australian Parliament in 2002. A few years later, it won a seat in the Senate, with Steve Fielding elected in Victoria. It continued to have a presence in the South Australian Parliament for more than a decade, and while Fielding lost his Senate seat in 2010, it wasn’t out of the Senate for very long.
In 2013, the party won a Senate seat again, with Bob Day elected in South Australia.
Day held his seat at the most recent Federal election, in 2016. But when that year ended, he was gone from the scene.
Before entering Parliament, Day had established a massive construction business and was very wealthy, although he had to let go of ownership of the business when running for Parliament. In the second half of 2016, Day’s business collapsed, and Day felt that he couldn’t stay in Parliament because of this.
But before long, Day went back on his resignation, saying that someone had been willing and able to provide funds to keep his business afloat.
However, another scandal broke, surrounding his electoral office, and that caused his disqualification from Parliament, via a court ruling. All politicians have their own electoral offices, where they do work for constituents when they’re not actually sitting in their parliamentary chambers. Federal politicians, when they don’t attend Parliament in the national capital, go back to the states where they are based, and they do constituency work from offices in them. In the case of Day, his issue was having his electoral office in a building owned by his former business – he therefore got public funds from a governmental body which rented out an office within that building, and this was a conflict of interest. This ended Day’s career.
With Day gone from politics, Family First disappeared soon after. The remaining politicians in that party, and various resources, ended up joining Bernardi’s new conservative party.
Ironically, someone who declined to join Bernard’s party was the person running behind Day on the Family First Senate ticket in South Australia in the 2016 election, Lucy Gichuhi. After Day was disqualified, the Senate vote in South Australia from that 2016 election was recounted, and Gichuhi, the second Family First candidate, was declared the winner. But with Family First no longer existing when Gichuhi entered the Senate, she sat as an Independent. She’s since joined the Liberals.
At the start of this year, Bernardi might’ve thought that his party could win some seats at pending elections, including in his home state of South Australia. By then, his party had two seats in the South Australian Parliament, and one of those seats went up for grabs when a general election was held in South Australia in March.
But at that election, his party lost that South Australian seat, having won a rather small share of the statewide vote. In the aftermath of the election, the remaining State MP in Bernardi’s party, Dennis Hood, defected to the Liberals. One wonders whether Family First might’ve been considered an offshoot of the Liberals.
These recent events have almost certainly left a belittled Bernardi. But he’s still around the political scene and fighting. Because he was a Liberal candidate going into the last Federal election, and one of the first Senators elected, he won’t face voters again until the election after next, due in about 2022. The bad luck bearing down on him could wear off before then, but he no longer seems like the political force that he might’ve envisaged himself as.