SINK OR SWIM
Will Nick Xenophon’s new party torpedo the Liberals and Labor - or scuttle his own reputation?
HE’S already helped bring down a sitting prime minister and early next month Nick Xenophon will unveil the team that could end the political careers of more politicians from the major parties.
The stunt-loving, pokies-hating independent senator has spent more than a year campaigning to ensure the Federal Government delivers on its promise to build 12 submarines at the ASC in Osborne.
After the then prime minister Tony Abbott signalled in 2014 that the Government could buy submarines manufactured in Japan, Xenophon threatened to run candidates against Liberal MPs in South Australia.
Concern among SA Liberals about losing votes to Xenophon and Labor over the submarine decision led many to back Malcolm Turnbull’s successful Liberal leadership challenge. Now Xenophon is poised to unveil a slate of candidates to run for the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) at the 2016 election. Their success may in part hinge on how many submarines the Turnbull Government decides to order and how much of the build is designated for Adelaide.
Xenophon received almost one quarter of the statewide Senate vote at the 2013 election. But Turnbull recently described him as a loner who might not be the right person to be leading a team of MPs.
Critics point to Xenophon’s falling out with running mate Ann Bressington when they served in the Upper House of State Parliament as evidence any political team he leads could prove to be unstable like the Palmer United Party.
Yet some (but not all) of his minor party and independent colleagues in the Senate say he is easy to work with.
The workaholic divorced father of an adult son guards the privacy of his family fiercely. Voters will decide next year whether to boost his influence in Federal politics. Today we ask friends, opponents and close observers, for their assessment of the man who would be kingmaker.
PROFESSOR CLEMENT MACINTYRE,
University of Adelaide
The replacement of Tony Abbott with Malcolm Turnbull has already seen a new level of confidence among Liberal MPs and a big recovery by the Coalition in the polls. But if this rise is coming at the expense of Labor rather than the Xenophon Team, then we may well still see upsets at the next federal election. Either way, expect both major parties to launch tough campaigns targeting Xenophon candidates.
It is too early to say whether the formation of a new political party bearing his name will succeed or whether it will crash. But regardless of the fate of his party, Nick Xenophon has been a strong advocate for South Australia’s interests, and has been a valuable third voice for the state.
TIM COSTELLO, Friend, anti-gambling campaigner and World Vision Australia chief executive
IT IS REFRESHING to have a politician who lives as if the age of entitlement is over, doesn’t just spout it. He refuses to ever fly business class on the taxpayers’ dollar; he does not use the Chairman’s Lounge or bother with any of the other perks of politicians; he has been transparently honest about politicians’ superannuation and he is tireless in the hours he puts in.
This is really walking the talk in the age of entitlement!
Nick has been a remarkable force for restoring the trust deficit that the public has with most politicians; this is a deficit which is even greater than the financial deficit and so-called “budget emergency”.
I think that goes to the heart of his success. Nick says what he does and does what he says. So people, ordinary people as well as his political colleagues, know where they stand with him, know they can trust him. We need more people, more politicians like Nick who are not captured or compromised, who remain fearless in both speaking the truth to power and in legislating in the public interest without fear or favour.
The Senate, and therefore our nation, would be all the poorer if Nick hadn’t been around to play the role he has in keeping the worst excesses of the Abbott-Hockey Government at bay.
Nick and I think alike on a lot of issues. I’ve worked closely with him on a number of topics over the years and I always enjoy our exchanges and collaborations, although he’s definitely the king of the stunts! He’s persuaded me to do a few things I never would have, like the time I found myself carrying a goat up Collins St, and I thought to myself: “How exactly did this happen?” NICK XENOPHON has been a South Australian politician for 19 years. In that time he has gone from being a relatively unknown member of the State Legislative Council, to one of the highest profile Senators in the federal parliament.
He built his name by playing to the media and championing political causes that the major parties didn’t bother with. Since moving from North Tce to the Senate he has shifted his policy focus and is now a key cross-bench Senator courted by both government and opposition.
There is no doubt that he has campaigned hard for South Australian interests. Nick Xenophon’s pursuit of a commitment over the local building of submarines clearly spooked the government and certainly contributed to Prime Minister Abbott’s downfall.
Now the question is can he translate his extraordinary level of support among South Australian voters into a force that will see members of the new Nick Xenophon Team elected. While Tony Abbott remained as Prime Minister, the polls suggested that his party posed a real threat to Liberal and Labor alike.