e held a press conference with a giraffe to show how far he’d stick his neck out. He walked a mule down Adelaide’s Rundle Mall to demonstrate his stubbornness. He showed up to Capital Hill with a submarine cake to remind Tony Abbott of his commitment to build 12 subs on home soil. He fanged a miniature toy car into South Australian parliament to protest against political car perks. Then, a few months ago, he ridiculed a marathon sitting of Senate by showing up in his pyjamas, clutching a pillow. But behind the cultivated image of a prankster, Nick Xenophon is a serious politician. And on July 2 we’ll learn how serious the 57-year-old former lawyer, and inveterate stirrer, is. Many pundits are tipping this year’s double-dissolution spill to land the maverick South Australian the balance of power in the Senate – outright control of the chamber and up to four seats for his Nick Xenophon Team. Or, as he wants them known, the ‘We’re Not As Bad as the Others Party’. Today, wielding a staple gun and wisecracking between shots, Mr X is his typical quicksilver self, in a dervish of Dad jokes (“Chin up? Which chin?”) and nerveless energy. He talks of days playing The Clash records on student radio, crying in courtrooms defending the weak, missing his 6’5” son Aleksis, getting tear-gassed in Malaysia, trying to order coffee from Grindr and defending his rigid $100 clothes cap to GQ – proudly wearing a Target suit, Lowes shoes and Kmart undies. As he calls for 10 seconds silence to mourn the passing of Prince, it gives us pause to consider Nick Xenophon’s rise. And rise. Raised by Theo and Georgia (“I’m 50 per cent Greek, 50 per cent Cypriot, 100 per cent Aussie”), he graduated from law and joined a suburban firm specialising in compensation cases. Divorced from his physiotherapist wife, Sandra, in 1995, Xenophon’s anti-poker machine stance made him the first independent in 60 years to be elected to South Australian parliament in 1997, with 2.86 per cent of the vote. By 2006 he had 20.5 per cent of the electorate (more than Labor could manage) and the cult of Xenophon was thriving. Buoyed by successful crusades for asbestos victims, food labelling, water security and online gambling reform, he went federal in 2008, introducing himself to the Senate by declaring to be a kindred spirit of Woody Allen (“Life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness… and it’s all over much too quickly”), evoking left-wing warhorse Tony Benn (“First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you”) and closing with his personal credo: “I would rather go down fighting than still be standing because I stayed silent.” And so it has gone to the point where he now jangles the keys to power. As we sit down, one thing is clear – Malcolm may have misplaced his mojo, but Nick still has the ‘X’ factor.
GQ: Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke always said Australians get the government they deserve – will this eventuate in 2016? Nick Xenophon:
Who knows? Everything’s been turned on its head. We’ve seen a Queensland government with a regular majority swept out of office with massive swings of up to 25 per cent. There are a lot of nervous people out there. It means no politician, me included, can take their seat for granted.
GQ: Hand on heart, what’s the best outcome for Australia at the next election? NX:
Well, maybe I’m being selfish but I’m being selfish for the country. I’d really like to be in a balance of power situation, where the politics of the sensible centre is where it’s at, and it’s not about left or right, or red team and blue team, but it’s about getting a decent outcome for people. There are very big issues at stake at this election.